Tech Talk: Navigating the options

David Behrens is on the trail of a decent free satnav app.

TomTom's in-car kit for your iPhone is a heavyweight solution

FINDING your way home has never been easier, if you have your mobile handy. The latest smartphones connect not only to the internet but also to GPS satellites, and can navigate you from A to B whether you’re driving, walking or even cycling.

Some navigation apps are free, while others – notably from industry leaders like TomTom and Garmin – are among the most expensive in the entire App Store. Here are a few of your options...

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Google Navigation is the gold standard for phone-based mapping, and you should try it before you even consider paying for anything fancier. It’s pre-installed on most Android phones and is now available for Apple devices, too. It’s a fully-fledged sat nav with live traffic information and spoken street names, albeit with sometimes comical inflection.

Google’s strength is its search capability – and that’s noticeable as soon as you start to tap in the address you’re heading towards and Google second-guesses you with with a list of suggestions.

But the app’s American origins betray a serious and potentially dangerous limitation for use in the UK: it doesn’t understand roundabouts. US roads are littered with turnpikes, cloverleafs and other exotica, but roundabouts are strictly fairground attractions. Google has only one direction sign for all of them: straight ahead. As you approach one, you’ll see the same generic icon.

If that’s a deal-breaker for you, try a free third-party app like M8, NavFree or Waze, the last two of which rely on real-time traffic information from other users to populate their maps.

These solutions, as I’ve mentioned before, threaten to undermine the established business model of map-makers like TomTom, who charge £41 for their equivalent app, and more if you want pan-Europe navigation thrown in.

Whichever mapping you choose, remember that your phone’s loudspeaker isn’t as loud as a dedicated sat nav, and 
you may have to connect it to your 
car stereo. And be sure to carry a 
charger; GPS can flatten the battery before you’ve even left 
your driveway.