Wrist navigation with Nav Me on Android and Pebble

BY Steve Litchfield

Published 7 Jul 2014

At first glance, the whole point of Nav Me on a Pebble watch may seem rather silly. After all, while moving Google Navigation instructions from your phone to your wrist seems like a sensible use of technology, surely you’ve got your Android smartphone mounted somewhere in front of you while driving along, in which case you’ve got a glorious colour screen and voice prompts to let you know what to do next (e.g. “Turn right in 100m onto High Street”)? Absolutely. However, you’re not always driving, which is where Nav Me (on Android) and the Pebble shine…

Google Navigation is, as you’re probably aware, rather excellent for pedestrians and those using public transport, too. “Cross sidewalk, take no. 123 Bus”, and so on. And, in an ideal world, you’d be able to march down the street and down into subways with your phone out in front of you, following the exact instructions. However, in a busy city, especially one which is unfamiliar to you, doing this is quite a security risk – being jostled from all sides, with potential thieves eyeing up your (probably) expensive smartphone.

Nav Me 1

Nav Me on the Pebble, driven by Android….

Which is where the Pebble and Nav Me on Android (Play Store link) come in, of course. The idea is that you keep your smartphone tucked away in a pocket or purse (yet still running Google Navigation, connected to the world by cellular data and to GPS satellites, of course), invisibly, while all instructions get pushed out via the Nav Me utility on the phone, to the dedicated Pebble application on your wrist. In use, as seen here, the smartwatch vibrates on each new instruction and where to turn next is clearly shown at all times. The distances update too, counting down in real time as you approach a pedestrian junction (or bus stop, or whatever).

All on your wrist and very secure. A glance down and you’re sorted each time, with no risk of anyone even knowing you own a smartphone.

Android Wear, already announced and with initial devices already in production, offers more for smart watches, in theory, with direct Google Navigation instructions and no ‘middle man’ utility needed, but there are real world, practical implications to be considered, areas where the Pebble has a big advantage – battery life and outdoor visibility chief among them. Watch for a future article on Android Beat exploring these aspects, with pros and cons.

Nav Me is commercial software for Android, currently £1.83 in the UK, but with a seven day trial version, so you can experiment with it on your own Pebble and around your own towns and cities. There’s little to configure – a dozen detailed settings are already set on sensible defaults (and some require hackery on the Pebble, in any case), so the main thing left to decide is whether you want the Nav Me interface on the Pebble to show in a dark or light theme.

Nav Me

Some of the settings in Nav Me for Android – note that ALL can be safely left on defaults….

Note that you don’t have to switch to the app on the watch – it’s all driven by the Android phone, though you do have to start Nav Me on the latter at some point (since the last boot up, though it’s best to tap on its icon anyway, in case the app has been swapped out in the meantime). After that, everything is totally automatic.

Pebble 2

Nav Me showing up in apps on the Pebble – though note that you don’t have to select it – instructions will pop up automatically on the watch UI.

I was impressed by Nav Me in action. Having been consigned to wander the streets of London several times recently (the perils of being responsible for teenage offspring!), Nav Me got me to my destination each time (hand in hand with the underlying Google Navigation, of course, in this case running on my Cyanogen Galaxy Nexus), with no real dramas. A couple of times, at confusing crossings, I had to pull out my phone to double check an instruction, via a visual match up, with what my eyes were seeing, but most of the time simple textual instructions were fine.

While operating Nav Me, your phone will continue to output audio instructions – a feature not a bug(!), and it’s up to you whether you leave these on. Chances are, in a big city environment, the ambient noise would drown out such output, mind you.

Nav Me and the Pebble also work when driving, of course, but are of far less use then. Not only is the small monochrome display a poor relation of what’s on your phone screen, the chances are that you’d get too distracted trying to read detailed junction instructions on your wrist and would crash!

So, a slightly restricted use case, but one which is pretty unique in the Android world right now. As Android Wear smart watches develop and as their battery lives grow and their screens improve for outdoors use, Nav Me will have more competition. In the meantime, it and my Android-connected Pebble are part of my big city survival kit bag!