My week with Nokia Drive and My Commute

Nokia Drive got a major update for Lumia devices recently and with it came a few new features. The standout feature is called My Commute which can learn your routes to and from work and tell you which of them is the best right now, by loading traffic info for those routes.

For reference, the North south highways, from left to right are Highways 169, 100 and I-35W. East-West highways from top to bottom are highway 62 and I-494.

My place of work is on the edge of Minneapolis, Minnesota and I live closer to downtown.  There are several routes I can use to get there but no realistic public transport (even though public transport is fairly good for an American city). As the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St Paul) metro has over 3.5 million people, that means a fair amount of rush hour congestion and so I rarely take the most direct route. So perfect for checking out the My Commute feature of Nokia Drive out.

Before I continue, I should add that once I started using it I quickly realized that some aspects of my experience maybe relatively unique, so bear that in mind when reading this review, and especially with regard to my next point.

Setting it up

This should have been easy, but i have one problem.  The company I work for is large enough to have a decent bit of land and a large car park, meaning that where i park my car, is about 1/2 mile from the road. In addition, Nokia Drive doesn’t think my work is where it is and puts the address about 1/2 mile away from where the entrance is.  OK, no problem right – Surely I can just set “Here” as a starting position. Nope. How about a favorite? Nope.

How to set My Commute to start/end from “here”:

  1. Go back to the main drive screen
  2. Open settings
  3. Choose Save location
  4. Choose Set Destination
  5. Choose Favorites
  6. Look for the address you just saved and remember it
  7. Go back to the My Commute setup and manually enter the address shown.

Even then for me, it was still not really quite where I was, but was close enough that it worked. It did find my house just fine and set these locations as Home and Work. Once home and work are entered, you need to enter the approximate time you usually travel.  This is needed so that as it gets close to that time, the live tile will start updating to say how long it will take, ad will launch My Commute, rather than the normal Drive screen when clicked.

Incidentally, the Windows Phone “Maps” has my address correct and so I hope that there is some map sharing or something ahead of Windows Phone 8 when the main maps app will use Nokia’s maps.

Using it

Its a bit of an evolution to use as it learns from you.  If the route it suggests isn’t one you would take, you can’t tell it that, you have to drive it instead. And that’s how it was, suggesting, as I had expected, that I take the most direct route along highway 62, which is slow moving car park from highway 169 to a mile or so past highway 100.

There are basically 3 routes I can take – ultimately, 90% of the time i take the same route at the Minneapolis end of my trip, using I-35W and then the same set of streets to my house.  For the record the streets I take are slightly different that those it suggests. For the bit of the trip nearer work, I can use highway 62, a set of streets (some of which are quite windy), or I-494. On my way out it’s usually best to use I-494. For the way home it’s usually best to use the windy streets.

So I start driving and it quickly says it’s recording a new route as I’m not following it’s suggested route.  And the same for my journey to work the next day, and for my journey home, and for my journey back. Starting to think this isn’t working.  But then for my commute home it shows 2 commutes from this location, and the second is the windy road route I’ve been taking. Great – so how do I know which is fastest?

It seems that I click one route, then I can see the duration for that, then cancelling out I can click the second and see the duration for that one.  This isn’t the nice easy system i was expecting. The Live tile does a great job of showing the expected time for the last selected one, but not necessarily the fastest. In fact, the second thing i notice is that both durations are wildly inaccurate – even the car park on highway 62 isn’t as bad as it’s suggesting. Taking the windy road route I get home about 10-15 minutes ahead of the time it thought I might – taking me about 1/2 hour rather than the 40-45 minutes it has been suggesting (varies each day).  However, towards the end of the weeks, the travel times are closer to reality and I’ve been glad to see this improvement.

 

(Of course, the word Destination has been put in here in p[lace of the real address it shows)

Still, I now have 2 routes with live traffic reported for them and I can see this easily, so that’s good. It was until Monday of this week. I-494 had been closed over the weekend between I-35W and highway 100 while construction crews took out a bridge.  The news I missed is that several exits/ramps had been closed as well and although I-494 was opening up, the ramp from I-35W headed south to I-494 W was still closed. Did Nokia Drive and My Commute pick this up? Nope. This is a major deal as if a road is closed along my normal commute I really want to know about it and know that i should be taking an alternative route.

After I arrived at work, I quickly looked at the various mapping apps on my phone – Nokia Drive, Nokia Maps, Maps, and Inrix. One of these reported the closure clearly, two were unclear and one didn’t know at all.

Yes, the last was Nokia Drive. Nokia Maps showed it red, like it had traffic congestion, Inrix showed a small icon that tapping told me about a different ramp at that intersection being closed, and the original Maps app showed it as closed.

So before I finish this write up of a week of use that could have gone better, one bit of positive news.  I get how this is supposed to work now but I am confused why it didn’t do this before. I mentioned that to get from I-35W to my house I use different streets that suggested.  Well, My Commute recognized that and now on one of my “commutes” home it shows both the ways through this and indicates that my way is faster.  On one screen, without having to go between “commutes”, with the fastest route indicated – brilliant! But why didn’t it do this before?

Summary

So I have to say, for me, My Commute is a good effort, that ultimately falls short in a few key areas. Those key areas are frustrating to deal with and hopefully the location team at Nokia is working on making making sure road closures show up, routes starting and ending at the same locations show up as part of the same “commute” and that it will be possible to commute to or from a favorite, or “here”. When it work right though, It’s a really useful tool, with a helpful live tile.

My experience is hampered by inaccuracy in Nokia’s maps for my work address and the fact that the car park is probably 1/3 mile from the road, but I still expected better from what is one of Nokia’s crown jewels, and what is to be a key part of Windows Phone 8. I really like Nokia Maps, especially on my N8.  Hopefully one day the Windows Phone version will be as feature complete as that was and go beyond it, but that hasn’t happened yet.

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About bluechrism

I am a software developer with most professional experience in the Windows .Net realm and I'm currently a WPF developer with Starkey Labs. However, I have wanted for some time to start the mobile developer journey properly and being an N900 owner, this was to be in the realm of QT. Job hunting, moving to Minnesota and changing jobs put my plans on hold 6-12 months but things are starting to settle now, just as I'm getting sorted to start some things, Microsoft and Nokia merge. This blog is about my novice mobile development experiences and hopefully will end up complete with links to download some apps on various platforms, but obviously by the name, Sybian, Maemo/Meego and Windows Mobile. In other stuff, I am English, I support Everton FC, I have visited Glastonbury music festival 5 times and recommend it to anyone. I am married and my wife and i have a dog called Friday.
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