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Nokia N78 and Maps 2.0 will make you think twice about buying a GPS.

I spent a good chunk of my vacation zipping around Europe with the Nokia N78 and Nokia Maps 2.0, courtesy of the Nokia Blogger Relations program.  Before leaving Canada, I made arrangements to get one of these phones and the mapping software, just so I could try it out and report back.

image The N78 is a successor to the N73, launched two years ago.  It’s a mid range phone with a 3.2 megapixel camera, 3G data, and a much upgraded GPS system.  Much as the N73 was the baby brother to the N95, the N78 is a baby brother to the soon-to-be-released N96, in my opinion.  With an upgraded processor and graphics capabilities, it can do some slick iPhone-like things visually and it’s a capable music and video playback device.

While in Europe, I used the N78 and Nokia Maps 2.0 for navigation in Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, and the Danish countryside.  I also brought my Garmin Streetpilot just in case I ran into trouble with the N78.

So what did I think?

  • The location technology in the N78 is a big improvement over the the N95 and some earlier Nokia phones.  For example, with its Assisted GPS technology, the N78 can acquire a satellite fix in seconds and hold onto your location information in some very unlikely locations – inside a building, or sitting in the floor mount cup-holder in my car, for example.
  • The quality of the maps is very good.  There were several occasions during our trip where the Garmin GPS lost our position, or was unable to find a location that N78 found without difficulty.  In addition, the Garmin maps had only sparse European Points of Interest data, whereas the N78 had a fairly rich database.
  • The maps are large.  So large, in fact, that you won’t want to download them over the air.  The best way to load them is to use the Nokia Map Loader to download them via a PC.
  • The quality of the N78 display is also very good.  It’s a passive reflective display of some kind which is clearly visible even in bright sunlight, and clearly illuminated for night time use.
  • I found vehicle navigation with the N78 very easy. Directions are spoken early,  with plenty of notice, and pronunciations are easily understood.  It could be improved if it also called out street names as my Garmin unit does.
  • I had high hopes for the pedestrian navigation mode and was somewhat disappointed.  It was difficult to keep the N78 consistently in pedestrian navigation mode, and the spoken directions were difficult to hear outdoors in a crowded environment.  Moreover, the 10M accuracy of GPS is perfectly accurate for in-vehicle navigation, but doesn’t provide tight enough resolution for navigation on-foot.
  • Battery life when running the GPS can be a problem over long distances.  If in vehicle, you will want to invest in a car charger.
  • Because I didn’t have a suction cup dashboard mount with the N78 (and one may not even be available), I missed the display that the Garmin and dedicated units provide.  If you were going to use N78 extensively, you’d want to invest in a dashboard mount cell phone holder.  That’s not particular to this device, however.  It’s simply good safety practice for all cell phones.

Net net?  If I was thinking about investing in a dedicated navigation device today, I’d give the Nokia N78 a hard look.  Available online for between $400 and $425, it’s a  phone, maps, camera, GPS and more all in a neat and very portable package.  There’s even a North American version now available.

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Nick Desbarats July 29, 2008, 5:11 am

    I'm making the exact dedicated-vs-phone GPS decision you mention at the end of your post, so this was helpful Alec. After reading your post and doing a bit of research, though, I'm going to buy a dedicated GPS for several reasons:

    1) Touchscreen. Unless the N78 has good voice recognition for address entry, I can't imaging using a numerical keypad to enter addresses.

    2) Map data loading. Having to remember to load map regions from a PC before traveling would be cumbersome, and having to reload my home region every time I get back would be even worse.

    3) Single user. My wife also wants to use the GPS, but would only be able to do so if I were in the car with her.

    4) Battery life. Knowing that every minute I'm using the GPS (unless the phone's plugged in) is killing off a couple of hours/days of standby time would be a deterrent for using it when I need it most -when traveling. If my dedicated GPS dies while I'm on the road, that's OK, but if my cell phone dies, that's much more problematic.

    5) Small screen. Even with a dash mount, trying to squint at a 2.4" screen while driving wouldn't be safe, I think. 3.5" is about as small as it can safely be IMHO.

  • Ronald Machaka May 29, 2009, 6:22 am

    I think you have missed the point Nick, the 'Nokia-funded' fellow is saying "you will THINK TWICE about buying a (standalone) GPS"…

    Do you, honestly, have to believe every advert you see on TV?

    Ro

  • sultan July 4, 2009, 5:56 am

    hi i want map of n78

  • Blinda August 26, 2009, 5:18 pm

    I am using the Nokia N78 right now. I bought it because I like its design, especially the keypad of it. Actually the keypad isn't as incomfortable as it seems to be, and it takes a very short time for my fingers to get familiar with it. I am very satisfied with this phone. Only one thing is annoying – wobbly back panel.

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