February 14, 2008 10:59 AM PST
Mapping medieval streets using GPS
As a New York City dweller, I don't need an in-car navigation system or even a cell phone that tells me where to go while I'm behind the wheel. But a device that helps me navigate on foot? That might be something I could use.
So when Nokia offered to let me test-walk its new 6210 Navigator phone and Maps 2.0 service, designed for pedestrian navigation, I jumped at the chance.
The updated Maps 2.0 service and 6210 Navigator, which were both announced at the GSMA Mobile World Congress here this week, essentially take navigation out of the car and put it into the hands of people like me, who spend most of their time walking rather than driving.
Maps 2.0 offers visual turn-by-turn directions for pedestrians in addition to the regular in-car navigation. And even though other Nokia phones can use the service, the new 6210 Navigator is specially designed for pedestrian navigation with an embedded compass that points a little red arrow on the cell phone screen in the direction the user is moving.A rough start
Before the pedestrian tour even officially started, I had a sense that things might not go smoothly. First, the traffic around the Fira de Barcelona, where Mobile World Congress was being held, was a nightmare. For 25 minutes, we sat in gridlock listening to car horns blaring and the English woman on the audio in-car navigation system repeat at least five times that we'd be making the sixth turn in the roundabout.
After a close encounter with an angry cab driver, we finally made our way to the Barri Gotic area, or Barcelona's Gothic quarter. This is the oldest part of Barcelona, where tall stone structures line the narrow labyrinth of streets that are still paved with centuries-old cobblestone. It is a beautiful part of the city that can really be seen only on foot.
So on we marched. I was told before the tour began that we'd use the 6210 Navigator to find a "secret" square within the Barri Gotic. Having spent most of the weekend getting lost in this part of the city, I was intrigued by the idea of finding a part of the old city that I hadn't yet seen.
But somehow, unbeknownst to me and my fellow Nokia travelers, someone had programmed a different path for us on the phone. As our Spanish tour guide, Aida Bencheda , tried to lead us west toward the Gothic Cathedral de la Santa Creu, our trusty 6210 Navigator was determined to take us southeast.
At first, Keith Nowak, Nokia's PR representative, and Bencheda poured over the device trying to figure out why it was pointing in the wrong direction.
"Is the GPS not working?"
" Maybe the buildings are too tall."
"Yes, that must be it."
"Maybe it's just confused. We did turn around a few times."
"Yes, that could be it too. I don't know. I am sure we have to go this way."
"Is the GPS working?"
As I stood on the street looking over Nowak's shoulder to see exactly where the little red arrow was pointing, I thought about how annoyed and disappointed I'd be if I had fired up my new 6210 Navigator on the streets of Barcelona while on vacation only to discover that it didn't work. I'd lament how I should have bought a Nintendo Wii instead.
Just as I was about to write off the 6210 Navigator for good in my thoughts, we decided to trust the phone and follow the red arrow anyway. We soon realized the phone was smarter than we were, and that we were headed to a different destination than we had originally thought.
As we meandered along the Barri Gotic down into the trendy El Born Barrio, I have to admit that I was impressed with how well the little 6210 Navigator worked. With all the tall buildings, narrow streets and skinny alleyways, the phone lost its GPS signal for only a few seconds in certain spots. And when I checked the accuracy of the red dot that marked where I was standing against my actual location, it gave me the exact cross streets.
We walked for about 10 minutes, until I realized we were headed to the Picasso Museum, which is housed in a beautiful Gothic, medieval palace. We passed the museum and headed toward Carrer de la Princesa, a major street that would take us back toward the cathedral. I could see on the phone that we were 25 meters from the intersection, then 10 meters, and finally 0 meters. The little red arrow pointed in the direction we needed to go. We walked farther and again the phone counted down the distance for me as the arrow indicated I needed to make a left turn.
Finally, the phone indicated that we had reached our destination at 28 Via Laietana. I checked the address and sure enough we were there, right in front. Again I was impressed with how accurate the phone's tracking was.
Worth the price?
I've lived in the same apartment in Manhattan for 10 years. So even though Nokia's new phone and Maps 2.0 service impressed me on my little tour, it's safe to say that I don't really need to spend that kind of money on a phone that will help me get around my own neighborhood. But I also see how cool it would be to have while traveling.
It's not just the navigation that makes Maps 2.0 and the 6210 Navigator a perfect device for travelers. It also comes with lots of useful information. On each city map, Nokia has indicated points of interest, such as tourist sites and restaurants. You can click on the mapped icons to set your destination or get more information, such as a phone number or address.
In addition to this map information, which is free, Nokia also offers city guides written by travel guide publishers for about $12 apiece that provide even more detailed restaurant and hotel recommendations, as well as audio and video tours. The Navigator 6210 also comes with a decent 3.2-megapixel camera, so you don't even have to lug a separate camera around.
Even though I was very impressed with Maps 2.0 and the 6210 Navigator, chances are that I won't get one. Why? For one, Nokia isn't yet selling them in the U.S. And when they do, I'd likely have to get an unlocked phone and pay full price. And at around $400, it's a little expensive for me.
That said, Nokia is trying to make it a compelling sell. For example, the company is offering the navigation service on the 6210 for free. While Nokia offers all its maps for free, the company charges users of other navigation-ready devices weekly, monthly or yearly subscriptions for the navigation service.