Automotive App of the Week: AAA TripTik

Automotive App of the Week: AAA TripTik

There's no shortage of smartphone navigation apps. One of the latest trends in small-screen nav is free apps like the AAA TripTik Mobile for iPhone. But in most cases — and in this one — you get what you pay for.

Named after AAA's perennial paper routes, the TripTik Mobile app saves some trees at the same time that it saves you some dough and maybe some time driving around while lost. And you don't have to be a AAA member to get it, although belonging to the club gets you access to some extra features of the app.

While not as full-featured as most paid nav apps, AAA TripTik Mobile can get you where you want to go and also give you lots of info on what's in your area and along your route. The main map screen is bordered on the bottom by a scrolling list of Point of Interest (POI) icons for AAA approved hotels, restaurants, attractions and auto-repair facilities. There's also an Event icon and one for AAA offices and gas stations.

Tap any of these and their locations are overlaid on the map, and you can then touch a pinpointed icon to get more information on the POI, such as address, phone number and AAA reviews and diamond ratings if available. You can also call the selected POI from within the app and there's also an icon for routing to it.

Each gas station icon also show the brand and price of unleaded, and tapping on it show the address and other info for the station, as well as the price for premium. You can also hit the List icon and get info on all stations in an area, the price of unleaded and how far away they are from your current location.

Below the scrolling list of POI icons, which hides when you hit a small arrow button above them to expose more of the map, are the two most used buttons: Explore and Navigate. Explore lets you type into a destination in a search box or list all POIs in an area; Navigate allows typing in a route after hitting a Directions icon, and the app remembers previous routes.

Once you've set a course, the app gives you a turn list, and you can use the Edit icon to change it and hit the Co-pilot button to get spoken directions. Or just shaking the phone makes it spit out the next maneuver. Another arrow icon underneath the top border with the Edit, Co-Pilot and Directions button opens a window with text turn-by-turn directions.

Other on-screen icons include a target that zooms in on your current location and a gear that opens a screen that lets you enter your AAA number, phone number and change certain app settings, as well as call for roadside assistance, join AAA and give the organization feedback via email. An Information section lets you save AAA offers (since the app has ads at the top of every screen), access an FAQs section, download AAA Discounts and Roadside Assistance apps and read a legal notice if you're really bored.

In using the app, we found its navigation functions somewhat limited. The search function only lets you enter city and state names and not POI names, and the POI search via the scrolling icons only includes AAA-approved locations. Once you set a route, the app gives you initial directions. But it doesn't offer text-to-speech turn-by-turn directions once en route, which means you have to carefully scope out your route ahead of time and pay close attention to the screen, although you can hit the Co-Pilot icon or shake the phone to update the route and get another set of initial voice instructions. And while the app uses the iPhone's pinch-zoom and swipe capabilities, the map is slow to react.

Still, the AAA TripTik Mobile app is probably worth a place on your iPhone's screen — if not the home screen — when you're in a pinch or strange place. And it scored second place in a recent test of four free iPhone nav apps.

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