GPS apps for your smartphone

GPS apps for your smartphone

TomTom Australia

A classic interface and an easy-to-modify mapping choice.


Rating:

TechLife 5 out of 5 stars

Price: iOS, $74.99; Android, $63.99  |  By: TomTom

Critical specs: Available on Android and iOS (iOS tested)

TomTom is in the unusual position of selling both navigation devices and apps, although the new interface found in the Go 500 isn’t found in the apps, which use the older, slightly lower resolution TomTom interface.

This isn’t as much of a problem as it might seem, as TomTom’s classic interface was always one of the easiest to use. The TomTom app isn’t overly chatty, instead relying on a simple high-contrast map style that makes it very clear where you need to turn. Maps are stored offline, and re-routing was rapid even when we made several incorrect turns deliberately.

TomTom’s other big strength is in allowing user map modifications, so even though it provides lifetime map updates, you can bypass those if it’s too slow by adding your own if you spot errors. TomTom offers cute celebrity voices for those who like them, but we’ve always found they lose their currency quickly.

As with other smartphone GPS solutions, it can suffer a little if you’re moving at higher speeds in terms of keeping absolute positions, but if you’re after a smartphone GPS app, despite the higher asking price, TomTom is still the one to buy.

MetroView GPS Navigation

Inexpensive but still very good.


Rating:

TechLife rating 4.5 out of 5

Price: iOS, $14.99; Android, $19.80  |  By: MetroView

Critical specs: Available on Android and iOS (iOS tested)

MetroView is the cheapest offline-mode GPS app we could find with Australian data. It uses Nokia’s HERE Maps with a good level of accuracy, although like other smartphone-based GPS units we did notice some tracking issues in busy suburban streets.

You don’t get traffic data built in – that’s a subscription extra – but this is otherwise a very pleasant GPS app to use. One of MetroView’s slightly unusual features is that it’s a universal iOS app, meaning it’ll run on an iPad. Unless you’re driving a truck or similar other large-windscreen vehicle, we’ve got to say that’s probably a bad idea.

One factor that MetroView has in its distinct favour is pre-recorded and quite natural spoken road directions, with smooth diction. That might seem like a purely aesthetic thing, until you miss a road because you can’t quite understand the gibberish computerese pronunciation in an unfamiliar area.

Google Maps

Ties in well to other Google services.


Rating:

TechLife rating 4 out of 5

Price: Free  |  By: Google

Critical specs: Available on Android and iOS (Android version tested)

Google’s Map product offers walking and car navigation, and ties strongly into other services, which is why it’s so very search centric. Google Maps is also quite good for traffic information. Like other data-led online-only mapping solutions it can be a little quirky if you’re in an area of poor reception for your telco, however. Google Maps’ spoken-word voice is robotic – and frankly a little hilarious – for a product that’s otherwise pretty polished.

Google Maps benefits greatly from the amount of ancillary data that Google holds, offering street views of destinations and plenty of points of interest along the way, because, after all, searching for info is Google’s bread and butter. Like Apple’s maps, if you’re looking at it from a driving perspective, the lack of a speedometer is a problem.

Navigon Australia

Bright interface, but way too slow to recalculate.


Rating:

TechLife rating 4 out of 5

Price: iOS, $69.99; Android, $49.95; Windows Phone 8, $62.49  |  Web: Navigon

Critical specs: Available on Android, iOS and Windows Phone 8 (iOS and Android versions tested)

Navigon is owned lock, stock and barrel by Garmin. It’s also available for free on a number of Samsung smartphones in Australia at the current time. Map data is via Nokia’s HERE service, although if you want updates they’re delivered via a subscription depending on your platform of choice.

Navigon’s basic interface is clean and simple, and for the most part it manages navigation well, with clear voice prompts. General tracking while driving and re-routing was handled well. There’s also a variety of additional extras, such as pop-up street view, the option to purchase Lonely Planet guides and traffic/speed camera add-ons. They’re nice to have, but it doesn’t help feeling like you’re being hit up for extra content all the time, which is a little grating.

Nokia HERE Maps

An excellent navigation choice for WP8 users.


Rating:

TechLife rating 4 out of 5

Price: Free  |  By: Nokia

Critical specs: Available on iOS and Windows Phone 8 (tested on iOS and Windows Phone 8)

HERE is the mapping division of Nokia, and it’s also the brand name for its mapping software, which is a little confusing. We tested the HERE app for iOS as well as its home on Nokia phones, and the experience is quite different, thanks to the fact that HERE for iOS relies almost entirely on online maps, with a tiny provision for downloading local offline maps, whereas on Nokia smartphones you get the country of your choice for free.

HERE’s navigation layout is smooth and uncluttered while still giving you the vital information needed for driving, and it works exceptionally well on the native Windows Phone 8 platform. It’s slightly less compelling on an iOS device, if only due to the limit on offline maps, and while they’re just about clear enough, the default spoken street names voice is terribly robotic.

Copilot Live Premium Australia

Inexpensive, but better apps are available.


Rating:

TechLife rating 3.5 out of 5

Price: $34.99  |  Web: CoPilot

Critical specs: Available on Android and iOS (iOS tested)

The core CoPilot interface is one that’s exceptionally busy, with information presented in a somewhat garish style. It’s a lot to take in at once, and it’s not made all that much better by the fact that it lacks spoken street names.

Everything’s expressed simply as “turn right” or “bear left” and so on, which can be an issue on more complicated road exchanges, as you’re more or less forced to look at the GPS screen. We’d rather keep our eyes on the road if possible.

Like MetroView, iPad use is supported, and like MetroView we’ve no idea why this is so. Performance on the app wasn’t a whole heap better than with online-only mapping solutions, as it often stuttered when recalculating to a level; that could be a real problem if you were forced onto a couple of rapid detours. CoPilot is relatively inexpensive, but if we were picking a budget GPS app, we’d pick MetroView over it every time.

Apple Maps

Not as bad as the hype suggests.


Rating:

TechLife rating 3 out of 5 stars

Price: Free (Data cost for map downloads)  |  By: Apple

Critical specs: iOS only

Apple’s Maps application has been something of a byword for failure in navigation, and not without reason; when it first launched it was undeniably pretty, but horribly inaccurate to a level that bordered on the dangerous.

Apple Maps has improved an immense amount based on our tests, with a simple layout and maps that actually seem to know a thing or two about our destinations of choice. Re-routing while driving was exceptionally quick, and Apple’s use of vector graphics for map tiles makes for quick download of new map chunks as needed.

Siri integration and its always-online nature makes it a little easier to search for landmarks in a hands-free way. Where Apple Maps isn’t so good is in other areas, such as displaying your current speed relative to the speed limit. For free it’s tough to argue with, but equally it’s not the revolutionary maps application Apple seems to think it is.

Sygic Australia & New Zealand

Bright interface, but way too slow to recalculate.


Rating:

TechLife rating 3 out of 5 stars

Price: $39.99  |  Web: Sygic

Critical specs: Available on iOS and Android (iOS tested)

Sygic’s maps are quite pretty with a pseudo-3D effect to show hills, although largely we found that this was more visually attractive than actually useful. Sadly, that continued in our testing, with Sygic being notably slow to search for and calculate routes and then recalculate them if we had to move off-track. Its own tracking was also rather sputtery, which is unusual for an application that uses offline maps.

The basic interface is reasonable, although the default colour scheme is a garish mix of yellows, greens and purples that’s quickly distracting if you’re driving along unfamiliar roads. Voice navigation was adequate without being terribly inspiring, and like the map movement itself, sometimes stuttered when speaking.