As well as a device to make phone calls and send texts, it’s an iPod, a video player, an internet browser, an emailer and even a sat-nav.
This last bit of functionality – at present only to be found on phones running Google’s Android system – is an astonishing piece of kit, given that it’s good enough to replace your conventional sat-nav – yet costs not a penny to install.
Google Navigation, hidden among the menu options of Google Maps, is worth rooting out if, like me, you’re prone to leaving the regular sat-nav at home on the grounds that you already know where you’re going. Only to quickly find that you don’t. Sat-nav phone software isn’t new, of course, but Google has raised the bar somewhat, adding live traffic data and satellite imagery to the standard turn-by-turn driving directions.
Best of all, it uses Google Street View to give you photographic confirmation of where you are and where you’re going. That’s something most dedicated sat-navs can’t do, and iPhone and Blackberry owners can (for the moment) only gawp at this in envy.
The system also supplies walking directions and lists of nearby hotels and shops – whose advertising revenue helps to finance it all. Because it’s Google you’re dealing with you don’t have to know the postcode of your destination: searching in plain English for a road name and town will usually do the trick – and you can speak the information instead of typing it.
In fact, you can use voice commands for any Google-related query on your phone – even sending text messages – but you’ll look like an idiot if you do it where anyone can hear.
Your phone navigates using its built-in GPS satellite receiver and loads its maps through your mobile 3G connection – both of which gobble up the battery, so you will need to power it from the lighter socket and ideally mount it on your dashboard.
You can buy kits that will do both jobs for about £6 on Amazon or Ebay – but look for a mount made for your phone, as one-size-fits-all models will likely get in the way of the charging socket or volume buttons.
So far, it sounds like an absolute bargain... but all those maps come at a cost to your monthly data allowance – so keep a close eye on your usage before you let this particular toy carry you away – literally.