Apps

Five GPS apps to help you get where you're going (for cheap)

Save time and gas money by equipping your smartphone with an inexpensive -- but indispensable -- GPS tool.

I used to say I never got lost, because I kept driving until I found my destination one way or another. Today, time is a bit more precious -- and I'm perhaps a bit less romantic about finding those "places we'd never see otherwise" when I get lost and drive 30 miles out of the way trying to get back to the right route. Luckily, a number of apps are available to help stay on the straight and narrow, avoid traffic jams, monitor weather events, and even find notable spots of interest.

Since my work has taken me on a number of road trips recently, I went looking for free or cheap GPS apps I could download to my phone. Here are the ones I came up with.

1: Telenav GPS

Telenav GPS (Figure A) is an app for Android, iPhone/iPad , and BlackBerry that maps your route and offers voice-assisted turn-by-turn help -- which means you will hear the oh-so-friendly prompts: "Turn left at State Street" or "Wouldn't you rather have a skim latte? It has fewer calories," as you drive. (Okay, I made up the part about the skim latte.) Telenav is good at updating your route as you go and gives you a helpful summary of your trip. It's free for the first month and then $2.99 per month after that.

Figure A

Telenav makes it easy to use your smartphone to find the fastest way to your favorite places.

2: MotionX-GPS

MotionX-GPS (Figure B) is a super-popular app for the iPhone, iTouch, and iPad that gets a lot of play. This app offers clear screens, turn-by-turn voice assistance, and traffic incident icons to help you route around traffic jams, construction sites, and accidents in real time. The latest version of MotionX GPS also integrates with Twitter so that you can let friends and family know where you are along the way.

Figure B

MotionX-GPS is a popular GPS utility for iOS devices that offers a clear, easy-to-navigate design.

3: Maps

Maps, a GPS tracking utility built into Windows Phone, is a voice-guided, turn-by-turn navigation utility that uses your phone's location information to set your current location and to help you find the shortest route (walking or driving) to the destination you enter. You can scout out new locations, get directions to a specific point, search for locations, review the directions list, display current traffic, or see the locations of your favorite places. You can also switch between map view and aerial view.

4: GPS Essentials

GPS Essentials, available for the Android from Mictale.com, costs $4.29 and offers a collection of tools to help you get your bearings along whatever route you may be traveling. The tagline of this tool is "the Swiss army knife of GPS navigation," and you will find everything from the phases of the moon to a compass, maps, temperature data, and more (see Figure C).

Figure C

GPS Essentials collects all your tools in one place so that you can easily choose the data you want to view along the route.

5: Google Maps

Google Maps (Figure D) is perhaps the most widely used and easily available app, with well over one million downloads and counting. I used Google Maps to plot my course, get a realistic time estimate for travel, and locate points of interest along the way. Google Maps is free and you can choose from a number of views so that you get just the map you want. You can use street view to get a real image of your destination (so you know what you're looking for), get real-time traffic feedback so you can find the fastest route, display turn-by-turn navigation, and tap through to links for destinations in the local area. Right now, all features aren't available on all phones. For example, only Android currently has turn-by-turn navigation.

Figure D

Google Maps is a free standard GPS tool that passed one million downloads long ago.

Recommend free and cheap GPS apps

What are your favorite free or cheap GPS apps? Share your recommendations with other TechRepublic members.

About

Katherine Murray is a technology writer and the author of more than 60 books on a variety of topics, ranging from small business technology to green computing to blogging to Microsoft Office 2010. Her most recent books include Microsoft Office 2010 P...

12 comments
gamboaecr
gamboaecr

I found waze quite good. It could maybe be better at routing, and you need internet connection all times, but it allows you to make alerts (traffic, accidents, etc.) and you get them in real time. Another bad thing is that the maps are built by users while driving or in waze's website (same for POIs.) I think it's quite good because it's free and I use it to see how bad is traffic between home and my office. For turn-by-turn, it depends on where you are, and if someone previously added the POI you want to reach to the map.

TheBadSeed
TheBadSeed

Drains my battery too much so I'll stick to my onboard Volvo satnav.

RICHARDINZA
RICHARDINZA

In south Africa we have Garmin for Mobile (GARMAP) 12 months for R249 and Live Traffic updates for R129 per 12 months I loaded this on my Galaxy Best app I have

fiosdave
fiosdave

I am a constant user of GasBuddy on my Windows 7 phone. This free app will find you the cheapest gas, closest to your location. It will then give you a nice map, showing you how to get there. If you update the prices at a station, you accumulate points, which can be used to win free gas! As a passenger, you can update prices on the fly, but I wouldn't try that while you are the driver!

NerdHerder
NerdHerder

I'm a fan of CoPilot Live Premium USA by ALK. All the map data is downloaded and stored on the SD card so no network connection is necessary. However, it will use the network to get traffic data and look for location data on Bing and Wikipedia. I like its map display modes which include two options I don't see in other programs: a 2-D map to the next turn and a large text mode that changes to a map view for turns. The programs has its quirks but I've used versions of CoPilot back to Windows Mobile 6. The only real problem is that they will not include carpool restrictions in their data. The price is reasonable and it goes on sale often.

joshuaburke
joshuaburke

I can't believe that Skobbler's GPS Navigation 2. It's .99 and does everything without the monthly subscription. It even has off-line maps for an in-app purchase. It's only led me astray once in the time I've used it.

Al_nyc
Al_nyc

How about stand along applications? In some places internet service is spotty and if you travel out of the country, you may not have phone service.

p.sawyer
p.sawyer

I use NavDroyd (and MapDroid) which uses downloaded maps - great for a wifi only device in the middle of wifi-nowhereland!

robo_dev
robo_dev

Most of these apps use the internal iPhone GPS for navigation but the data connection, as needed, for maps. Some apps, like TomTom and Navigon have the maps downloaded ahead of time, so it does not need data connection. Not sure about all the apps listed. Note that the Garmin or TomTom iphone navigation cradles give an EXTERNAL GPS antenna/receiver and a speaker so you can hear the thing. The internal GPS receiver/antenna is no where near as good as a dedicated GPS unit. My opinion is that by the time you buy the app, buy the cradle, and get it all setup, you've spent $150 to make your phone into a fairly crappy GPS, while for $150 you can buy a really good dedicated GPS. Plus what happens when the wife/girlfriend/boss CALLS you on the phone just before the GPS tells you where to turn? Or if you use your phone for music...does the GPS voice blast over the car stereo??

jamescox
jamescox

Given that sometimes I need route info in areas where cell service is not available, are any of these independent of being in data-download range of a cell phone tower?

fiosdave
fiosdave

With a Windows 7.5 phone, you CAN do both things at the same time! I have a very nice Garmin GPS, but I find that my phone is much more convenient. With the Garmin, I have to make sure it is charged, I take the window bracket, I take the special cable for power and traffic updates, etc. The phone is with me all the time and with my Bluetooth speakerphone, I have no trouble hearing the voice directions!

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

Google Maps on Android will pre-cache route information so if you lose data over the planned route, you'll still have your map. I tried Google Nav out once with music going at the same time...every time there was a GPS cue, it fade-paused the music, gave the direction, and faded it back in. Not bad until you're getting a directional cue every minute or two. Same thing with calls. Having said that, if I'm going to be playing music & running nav at the same time, I'd just mute the nav and rely on its visual cues. The best option, though, IMO (because it's what I've done), is not to buy a standalone nav system, but to buy a small, relatively cheap MP3 player like a SanDisk Clip and use that as your music source while leaving your phone free for nav and calls. It's a lot easier to keep a tiny MP3 player hidden in your glovebox while you're away than it is to hide your GPS, especially if you leave the mount stuck to the window like it's a "GADGETS HIDDEN INSIDE" sign.