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 GPSTelenav 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.
Telenav makes it easy to use your smartphone to find the fastest way to your favorite places.
2: MotionX-GPSMotionX-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.
MotionX-GPS is a popular GPS utility for iOS devices that offers a clear, easy-to-navigate design.
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 EssentialsGPS 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).
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 MapsGoogle 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.
Google Maps is a free standard GPS tool that passed one million downloads long ago.
Recommend free and cheap GPS apps
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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 Plain & Simple (Microsoft Press, 2010), Microsoft Word 2010 Plain & Simple (Microsoft Press, 2010), and Microsoft Word 2010 Inside Out (Microsoft Press, 2010).