To be fair, the Navigation program is still in “beta,” as a spokesperson from Google emphasized, and the company hasn’t created a car phone version of Google’s Contacts program yet. Google recommends having the car’s passenger manipulate the phone when the car is in motion.
On the other hand, Google’s engineers aren’t the first to attempt an interface that’s easy-to-use while driving. Garmin’s popular nüvi series of portable automotive GPS receivers have user interfaces with big buttons, big text, easy-to-comprehend menus, and colors that automatically adjust for driving during the day or at night.
Not only does the Nexus One lack these features, but also Google Maps won’t work when I’m driving in rural areas without cell phone coverage–despite the fact that my 8GB SD card has more than enough storage for a map of the United States. Perhaps Google should have spent more time studying the competition.
Little problems with the Nexus One become more annoying when you are driving. For example, I have a phone unlock pattern because I store lots of confidential information in my phone. But seriously–is there really a need for the phone to automatically lock itself when it’s safely in the dock and the car is moving at 65 on California 101? Ditto for the screen saver–why blank the screen when the battery is running off the car?
Many Nexus One users have complained about the touch screen’s lack of responsiveness and the phone’s tendency to eat through batteries. The touch screen isn’t worse when it’s in the dock, but it’s all the more frustrating when you are driving to have incoming calls go to voice mail because the phone didn’t register a finger swipe. As far as battery life goes–a three-hour Navigation session with the phone plugged into the dock left my phone with a battery that was only 50 percent charged–apparently the dock just can’t deliver enough current to run the GPS, the screen, and Navigation at the same time.
Probably the most remarkable automotive-oriented feature of the Nexus One is the real-time traffic display. Google takes anonymous speed and position reports from every cell phone that’s running Google Maps, Latitude, or other Google applications, tabulates this information, and sends it out live to every phone running Google Maps.
My nüvi, on the other hand, downloads traffic reports of major accidents and slowdowns over an FM subcarrier that’s broadcast in major metropolitan areas. Its coverage is necessarily spotty.
My Nexus One, meanwhile, tells me if there’s congestion on Campus Drive at Stanford University. Of course, that same information is available to iPhones running Google Maps–and even a 3G laptop that you might have in your car.
The upshot? I’m still using the Nexus One in its dock, but mostly to charge it. For serious road-tripping, I’ve got my Garmin.