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Product review: Scenic 2

Scenic 2: very good but currently iPhone only

More and more people are using their phones as sat navs. I've been doing it myself, using Scenic and the updated Scenic 2 to get around Australia and New Zealand. Scenic 2 is so fresh I updated to it from the previous version mid-trip.

I tested a heap of telephone sat nav apps shortly before leaving RiDE and perhaps the most telling thing is that the only one to remain on my phone was Scenic. I have to be clear here: I use an iPhone and, at the moment, it's an iOS-only app. Sorry Androids...

When I'm riding my Kawasaki Z1000SX, it has a Garmin wired in - which I like because it's waterproof, doesn't drain the phone battery, is designed to bounce if dropped and it lets me pre-plan complex routes on the computer (using Basecamp) and, after installing them on the Zumo, they lead me to great roads. I'm used to using the clunky interface now so I can even plan routes directly on the unit, while I'm on the road. Just about.

The thing is… Scenic 2 has the Garmin matched or beaten pretty much on all fronts. Okay, you need to use a phone that's waterproof (hello iPhone 7) and then not drop it... or let it fall off your motorbike. And battery life isn't an issue if you have some way of charging the phone while you ride (hello Oxford USB charger). It doesn't slaughter your data, because you download the maps and it works offline while you're riding – it uses a telephone-based GPS signal rather than 4G to confirm position, but can proceed on dead-reckoning if it loses that signal. It gives voice directions over Bluetooth and basically does everything a dedicated motorcycle sat nav does.

Route planning

If you just want an A-to-B route, that's not a problem. Search for the address and it will find you a route. It defaults to "efficient" routing, but by tapping the route-mode you can change that to "short" or "fast" settings (I can't actually spot the difference on the short test route), or tell it to generate a curvy route.

I used this function only to test it and the resulting route was on a par with the kind of thing generated both by the Garmin and TomTom twisty-road options. The Scenic 2 version has three levels: fast curvy, curvy, or extra curvy. It also gives you options to adjust the preferences to avoid narrow roads, main roads or doubling-back on the same road (as well as highways, tolls, ferries and unpaved roads). Does that give a better, more tailored ride? I'm not actually sure – apart from the no-gravel bit – but I'd still always prefer to plan my routes myself.

Easy to plan routes on the phone with Scenic 2

And planning routes on Scenic 2 is effortless. Even direct on the phone screen. If you want to be scientific/anally retentive about it (like me) you can go through and set your start and finish points up as "locations" (the map-pin section of the main menu), then open the route tool (two-map-pins), hit "create route" and use the search function to add them to the route: just indicate if you want them to be the start, end or via/stop points (I haven't worked out the difference between a stop point and a via point yet).

But you don't need to do any of that: you can just tap the screen - ideally after zooming in to get the cross-hairs in precisely the right place - and then set start, end or via points. When adjusting routes to get them on precisely the right roads, just zoom in and tap the "via" button: the route snakes onto the roads you want.

However, even that's perhaps a bit long-winded. If you have a GPX (ahem - loads of good ones to download from this site) you can put them into Scenic 2 by uploading them to the paired MotoMappers website: set up your account, open the website, drag-and-drop the route onto the window from your computer's desktop, then open the route on your phone through the app. Simple.

It can be even simpler, though. If you like to work out where you want to ride by using Google Maps, you can paste a Google Maps route straight into the MotoMappers website and open it on the Scenic app. All you have to do is highlight and copy the main address bar at the top of the browser window for the route (not use Google Maps' "share/embed" link).

On the road

Easy to read maps and good voice directions

It's easy to follow Scenic when you're riding. The mapping is good and easy to follow in daylight, though you need a decent phone-holder with a screen-cover that reduces glare and reflections, rather than increasing them. When testing the phone apps in the UK, I used a phone case from Ultimate Addons. The nighttime version of the map is red-on-black, which I find quite hard on the eye, but the route line does stand out nice and clearly.

If you don't have a phone holder, but do have a Bluetooth headset, you don't even need to look at the screen: I got all round New Zealand and the first bit of my Australian riding relying on voice directions alone. For 95% of the time, this wasn't a problem: the instructions are clear, easy to follow and there are normally three warnings leading up to each turn you need to make.

Okay, what were the 5% of problems? Well, once Scenic had crashed/quit and I didn't realise, as the phone was in my pocket and not somewhere I could see. And in central Brisbane, between high buildings, its lock on my position seemed to be about 5ft behind me and, when the turns should have been coming thick and fast, I'd get the instruction ("Now turn left into Napier Street") as I was level with it and it was too late to change. Clearly, that could have been avoided if I'd had the screen to refer to... It does recalculate quickly, but I couldn't tell you if it's faster than a Garmin or TomTom. It certainly doesn't seem to be slower, though.

As the maps are offline, it doesn't require data to operate when you're riding so you won't use your phone's data allowance or run up roaming fees. However, if you're in an area where GPS signal is poor or absent, it will keep hunting for one and this can murder your battery life (hence the need to have a way to charge the phone).

The verdict

Okay - you're waiting for the bad bit. What does it cost? Well, that's the best bit: it's free. More or less. In-App purchase lets you buy the credits you use to get the essential offline maps, but you get enough credits when first installing the app to download your local map and trial it to see if you like it. Further credits aren't hugely expensive and you just buy the maps you need. Loading all of Western Europe on for your summer tour may cost a little… but it'll cost far less than buying a dedicated sat nav. It'll still let you download and follow my routes (!) and it'll make it easier to create your own. I hate to say it... but I'm a convert.

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