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Discussion Are free nav apps killing satnav

Article by: Darren Griffin
Date: 6 Sep 2012

With Google's free navigation app proving popular on Android smartphones and Apple's imminent announcement of the iPhone 5 and iOS6 which adds Apple's own bundled navigation solution, satnav manufacturers are suffering from a sharp downturn in sales.

But are these bundled solutions, and I ought not forget that Windows Mobile has its own bundled navigation app on Nokia handsets, any good? Can they replace a paid-for navigation app, or a satnav device for every use case?

Read the forums here and elsewhere and the verdict is far from conclusive. Some swear by Google's navigation app, others hate it. We'd love to hear your feedback, particularly if you've used PND's and paid for apps. Good or bad? Better than nothing or as good as the paid for solutions? Would you trust a free app to navigate you on holiday and if not why?

There's no right or wrong answer, but it would make for an interesting discussion.

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Posted by Tobas on Thu Sep 06, 2012 12:13 pm Reply with quote

I used my TomTom device in the car and took it with me when I parked up. Used it many times on foot to find customer's offices. When I got an iphone with probably just as good GPS built-in, I decided that when it came to replacing the TT, I'd buy an app because I was fed up carrying two devices around which could do the same job. My TT died and at first I tried some free or ridiculously cheap apps. First impression was good and I'd say they're good for anyone who uses them casually, just at weekends, holiday drives, etc.

For anyone who drives on a regular basis, I'd say they need additional features like a decent traffic service which I have yet to find on a cheap app.

I am keeping the Satnav 2 app (skobbler) because for less than 10 I have world maps, excellent for when you get to your destination and finding your way around on foot when it's not so critical knowing road conditions.

Posted by matthewj on Thu Sep 06, 2012 2:55 pm Reply with quote

Via work, I have both iPhones and a Galaxy Nexus phone, and I have a TomTom 740 Live PND.

I have used various satnav apps on the iPhone, and they work competently, though typically they have older maps.

I ran the Nexus alongside the TomTom PND to see if it would be a good alternative, and it is frankly poor. The UI was more interested in making the maps swish in a cool way than worrying about whether what was on screen was useful to the driver. At points, the current location and junction I was at would be "off the bottom of the screen", which isn't so handy. I also found that if the phone went to sleep, tapping it to wake it up would switch to "map view" which then stopped it updating the current location. Being able to look around where you are is handy, but it is too easy to start, and then you wonder why it isn't looking like where you are. Having to then tap an icon to put it back to navigation mode was not something I felt was safe. Finally, traffic info is available, but (I presume because of licencing), you cannot see it in navigation mode. Thus it is only really useful when static, like when in traffic.

The iPhone TomTom app is okay, but it has the same distance limits on the traffic information that they impose on the PNDs, and the display is harder to tap your way through to see the whole journey - no at a glance view. But competent.

All phones suffer the problem of being multi-function devices, so a call, or selecting music, will lose the display.

My feeling is that the casual driver will get by just fine with a phone based satnav. But anyone who cares about the quality of experience, or that they are being informed about traffic constantly, or wanting to know the driving info at a glance, will be better off with a PND. The market for them will dwindle, but it will be there a long time yet I think.

Posted by Darren on Thu Sep 06, 2012 3:25 pm Reply with quote

I confess I have a personal dislike of off-board navigation apps which colours my opinions.

I have an unlimited data contract on my work and personal phones so the worry of data cost isn't an issue but on the occasions I have had to use Google Nav I've either had issues with local data that meant I couldn't load a map or I was abroad.

I know I can cache maps on Android but that assumes pre-planning. On the last occasion I had my Galaxy SII and hadn't needed nav. But when I realised I would need to get some help of course I was in the sticks with barely a phone signal let alone data.

And it's not just Google. I have the iOS6 Beta and the navigation there is no better IMO.

So whilst I've happily switched from PND to smartphone for all my navigation usage, I still choose to use a fully fledged app, be that TomTom, Garmin, Navigon or whatever. I find the interfaces better, and the whole address input, routing, navigation experience better.

Every time I use Google's Nav app I get so frustrated with it that I risk throwing the phone out of the window. The interface seems designed to infuriate!

Darren Griffin - Editor

Posted by xtraseller on Thu Sep 06, 2012 5:40 pm Reply with quote

I've tried moving to smartphone, even using a Samsung Galaxy Note with dedicated car device, Navigon, Co-Pilot and Sygic, etc. installed (oh, and the awful Google effort... have you seen how it instructs on roundabouts?)

All seem the main brands seem fine in your hand - but in practice fall down

1. When you have incoming calls
2. Maps not as up to date
3. Traffic doesn't live up to TT HD Traffic (bring on 6.0)
4. Routing is poor - even when I compared my dedicated Navigon unit against the Smartphone app (both latest maps, both live traffic) the Smartphone app failed to navigate as well
5. Screen reflection
6. Sound quality
7. Quality (ease?) of mount and charger

However, one app I am quite liking is the Nokia on Windows Phone - it really is quite impressive in every way, and when the Lumia 920 gets released, will give it a go - particularly if they launch a magnetic inductive charger for the car with it!

For now at least, unless you are a casual user, PNDs win hands down

TomTom Go Live 6100, 600
Garmin DriveLux 50, D-Smart 70, NuviCam, 3598, 2699, 2798
Mio Navman 695
Nexus 6p, Apple iPhone 6sPlus and Microsoft Lumia 950xl running TomTom, Garmin, CoPilot, Navigon, Sygic, Here Drive, Google, Waze, MS Maps

Posted by Darren on Thu Sep 06, 2012 6:19 pm Reply with quote

I tend to use TomTom on iPhone. Maps are as up to date as the PNDs (and updated free), HD Traffic is HD Traffic, routing is the same.

No issues with screen reflection, I stream audio via BT to the car so the audio is better than any PND and I have it all mounted in a Brodit cradle - simples.

Darren Griffin - Editor

Posted by xtraseller on Thu Sep 06, 2012 6:27 pm Reply with quote

Tried that (except the Brodit) - screen to small for me, and it may be in your positioning of the iPhone (because of the Brodit) that it doesn't work

But I agree, definitely a better experience than my Android apps - so waiting to see it on my big screen this October, although feel it may not be as polished as the iPhone version

Nice to see someone providing decent traffic and map updates on SmartPhones at any rate...

TomTom Go Live 6100, 600
Garmin DriveLux 50, D-Smart 70, NuviCam, 3598, 2699, 2798
Mio Navman 695
Nexus 6p, Apple iPhone 6sPlus and Microsoft Lumia 950xl running TomTom, Garmin, CoPilot, Navigon, Sygic, Here Drive, Google, Waze, MS Maps

Posted by Darren on Thu Sep 06, 2012 6:36 pm Reply with quote

A bigger screen would be nice, 7" iPad size would be perfect Wink

Darren Griffin - Editor

Posted by stuart on Thu Sep 06, 2012 6:59 pm Reply with quote

Darren Wrote:
A bigger screen would be nice, 7" iPad size would be perfect Wink

Tried my New iPad with Copilot, but where can it go, mine sits on the passengers seat in my Caddy van...Nice and clear though Cool

Posted by technik on Thu Sep 06, 2012 7:41 pm Reply with quote

Google maps does get you from A to B eventually, but for serious GPS you can't beat a dedicated TomTom PND.

My 50inch plasma TV has Google maps but I don't want to use it in my car.

Just for the same reasons I don't use my phone for music, I don't use it for satnav, although I may try TomTom on Android when it hits the market.

GO 620, Tomtom Android EU,
Garmin 2548LMT-D; 2599LMT-D

Posted by Guivre46 on Thu Sep 06, 2012 10:23 pm Reply with quote

I'd vote for a bigger screen as well, but then I remember the occasional references to 'heads up' displays - that seems the ideal.

Mike R [aka Wyvern46]
Go 530T - unsupported
Go550 Live [not renewed]
Kia In-dash Tomtom

Posted by aj2052 on Thu Sep 06, 2012 11:35 pm Reply with quote

A bigger screen is not always a major benefit as particulaly on Android programs do not take the advantage of the larger screen, i am running both Sygic and Navigon on a 10.1 inch tablet, The sygic text is large and fine wereas the Navigon text is no bigger than my 4.3 inch screen on my Desire Hd or my 3.5 Pda, personally i find Sygic on the desire more than adequate for Navigation although it does lack some of the additional features of TomTom 7 on my PDA which i still prefer although the maps are so out of date now, perhaps i am raising my expections too high on the futuer TomTom Android release?.
It seems that quite a lot of Android programs dont allow for the advantages of a larger screen.
Edit to add: after over a year and change of car i still have not found a spot on my dash for my 10.1 inch tablet.

Moto G5s Plus, Sygic 17.4.8

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