Drive appy with roundup of the best mobile apps for driving
With the right app installed on your smartphone or tablet, you don’t need a satnav on your dashboard to find your way from point A to point B.
Here’s the guide of the best navigation apps available for Windows Phone, iOS, Android and BlackBerry. It’s a competitive market, which is good news for drivers as apps try and outdo each other in terms of features and accuracy.
You can pick up some apps for free, while others cost a fair old chunk of cash, but they’ll all get you to your destination safe and sound and they are all much cheaper than dedicated satnav devices.
If you do a lot of driving, look out for features such as live traffic alerts, automatic re-routing and extra help at junctions. For the full satnav effect, and to stay safe on the road, treat yourself to a compatible car dock for your phone or tablet too.
CoPilot Live Premium UK & Ireland
Cough up £20 for CoPilot Live Premium UK & Ireland and you’ll get a satnav app that more than matches up to its price tag. Previously available on both iOS and Android, Windows Phone users will be happy to discover they can now get in on the action.
The apps features easy to follow instructions (especially at tricky junctions or difficult turns), intuitive alternative route planning and real-time traffic updates are all here together with the usual journey time estimates, voice guidance and the choice of a 2D or a 3D map view for making your way around.
Where CoPilot Live Premium UK & Ireland really excels is in the extra features – altering your route by tapping and dragging on the map, or adding in additional waypoints, for example. You can find local points of interest, get speed limit warnings and see when speed cameras are coming up. Add in the ability to control your music from in the app, a parking wizard to locate your car when you come out of the shopping centre, and the option to quickly navigate to the address information stored with one of your contacts and this app starts to look like very good value indeed. £19.99
Nokia Drive+ is the latest, greatest, Windows 8-compatible version of Nokia Drive and you can get your hands on it if you own a Lumia-toting Win Phone. There’s much to like about the app, from the clear and bright interface (using the familiar Windows Phone tiles) to the choice of routes (fastest, shortest, or most economical). There’s the option to download maps before you set off, so the app can work offline, and you can opt to re-route around motorways, toll roads and unpaved roads if you choose to.
Like the Nokia Maps app, Drive+ looks the part, with big, chunky direction arrows and map designs that make it easy to pick out your route and upcoming roads. You can choose to show time of arrival, how long you’ve got left to travel, or how far you still need to go, and the app displays your current miles per hour too.
While Nokia may not have the mapping track record of some of its rivals, Drive+ proves that Windows Phone 8 users have access to a satnav app of their own that they can be proud of.
TomTom UK & Ireland
With the likes of Google and Apple offering turn-by-turn apps for free, you might wonder why you would choose to spend £30ish on the official app from TomTom. Spend a few journeys using TomTom UK & Ireland, though, and the extra features soon prove to be very useful indeed – as well as working out the quickest route, you can also view the most economical and the shortest way to your destination.
Get alerts about nearby cash machines or petrol stations, see the speed limit on the road you’re on, and get guidance about which lane you’re supposed to be in (handy for when you’re lost in the middle of a large city). It all works offline too, should you lose your data connection.
Cough up another £6 for the HD Traffic add-on and the app will give you real-time updates about traffic delays and roadworks ahead of you. Even better, if there’s a shortcut around the problem, you’ll be re-routed automatically. Journey time estimates are spot on, too.
There’s no avoiding the fact that TomTom UK & Ireland costs a substantial amount of money in app-terms, but if you do a lot of driving and need a heavy duty satnav app you can rely on, it’s worth the expense.
£27.49 iOS Since our last round-up the price on Android has increased by a tenner – now £40.99 Android.
Sygic: GPS Navigation
The Sygic app uses map data from TomTom (and traffic information if you want to pay extra), and downloads everything it needs to your device during installation, so it’ll work offline. Turn-by-turn directions are clear and easy to follow, no matter what screen size you’re using, and everything worked as expected during our trials.
Like the TomTom app, you can get guidance about which lane to move into, and it’s touches like this that make the paid-for satnav apps worth the money for many users (if you’re on an Android device, you can test the app for seven days free of charge before parting with your cash).
There’s also a handy junction view for those complicated intersections, warnings about upcoming speed cameras, and the 3D view looks great when you get into some of the bigger cities. It also more accurately conveys hills and valleys than many of the other apps we tested.
The ability to add waypoints along the route is another welcome inclusion, and plenty of information is crammed onto the screen while you’re driving along, including points of interest you might want to take a look at.
£14.99 Android & iOS.
Google brought free turn-by-turn directions to its Map app in 2009 and the navigation component has continued to improve since. You can opt to avoid motorways and toll roads, see alternative routes, check traffic conditions on most major roads and get a full list of directions. Instructions are clear and easy to understand, and of course the app ties in with all of Google’s other services (so you can quickly get to a place you’ve starred on the desktop version of Google Maps, for example).
You won’t find some of the more advanced features available elsewhere – like automatic re-routing or lane guidance – but for most users Google Maps is a more than adequate solution. The wealth of data and places logged by the service down the years means you can be sure of getting to the right place, and of course you can always use Street View to check out a particular venue or fork in the road. There’s also a turn-by-turn walking mode available, if you have to ditch the car and wander the streets on foot.
Free on Android & iOS.
Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the past 12 months you’ll know all about the criticism that has come Apple’s way since the company ditched Google Maps and built its own alternative. In reality, the accuracy of Apple Maps isn’t that bad for the vast majority of locations, and in terms of appearance the app is certainly stylish and easy on the eye. The vector-based 3D graphics look great on screen, and the intuitiveness of the app is as good as you would expect for something built by Apple. The large blue direction signs and clever panning mean you always know where you’re meant to be going, though there’s no advanced lane guidance, and traffic updates are fairly basic.
One of the more useful features in Apple Maps is the ability to quickly snap between multiple routes for the same journey, and by switching from one to the other you can compare total distance and estimated time. The 3D satellite view available in some of the major cities across the country looks really impressive, though it makes it more difficult to work out where you’re supposed to be going.
It’s built in to iOS.
Another free satnav app, this one relies on the OpenStreetMap project, which you can think of as a Wikipedia for maps. Thankfully, all of the route testing we carried out was spot on, so you don’t have to worry about ending up in a ditch or a lake. Maps are cached for offline use, so you can carry on driving even if you lose your data signal, and you can easily switch between 2D and 3D views as well as adjust the zoom level from the map screen.
The app provides detailed guidance for complicated junctions, warns you about upcoming changes in the speed limit and nearby speed cameras, and there’s a useful demo mode so you can work your way through the route before you even leave the house. Like several other apps here, Navfree switches to a night mode in the evening to reduce the glare cast by your phone or tablet. Live parking and live traffic updates are available as paid-for add-ons, but even the basic Navfree is adequate for the majority of users.
Free on Android & iOS.
Waze is free and powered by its community of users – the routes and the time estimations are all submitted by users in the field.
While the map designs are a bit more rough and ready than some of the other apps included here, everything works well and both the route on screen and on the voice instructions were clear and easy to keep up with. The ability to see reports left by other users, and add reports yourself – about traffic delays or other problems – can prove invaluable, as long as there are other Waze users on your stretch of road. Checking how much snow there is on a particular street, for example, is something Waze can do better than other apps, as long as there are users available to provide feedback (so get your friends to sign up too).
Some of the data you submit to Waze, such as your speed and journey time, is collected automatically, so you don’t need to be tapping the screen every five minutes. Multiple routes can be loaded up for the same journey, and if you follow particular roads on a regular basis then Waze will learn your favourite routes as you drive around them. Other nice touches include Foursquare integration and a petrol station finder.
Free on Android & iOS.
The funky sounding M8 has its eye on the local deals market and, with this in mind, offers its core satnav app free of charge – the idea presumably being that you interrupt your journey and pull over to take advantage of a 2-for-1 offer at Pizza Express.
Don’t let that put you off, though, because the vouchers and offers are discreetly promoted and the app as a whole has a lot going for it. It’s not top of the tree in terms of design and polish, but it gets you where you need to be, and is free of charge.
There are plenty of bonus features here too that you might have expected to pay for, such as live traffic updates, speed camera warnings and pedestrian navigation. It goes beyond the satnav basics to bring you local places of interest, suggestions from Yelp, Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor, as well as the aforementioned deals and vouchers (extra content, like the Good Pub Guide, can be purchased from within the app).
While the 3D toy car view may not be to everyone’s taste, M8 is straightforward to use and well worth trying out if you don’t want to spend any money for your satnav app.
Free on Android, BlackBerry and iOS.
Another comprehensive paid-for satnav application that’s available on all four major mobile platforms. On every OS except Windows Phone the app itself is free and includes a five day trial of all the premium features – if you want to carry on using them after that, you’ll need to hand over some cash. Prices quoted in our Android app were €29.95 (around £25) for a lifetime navigation subscription, and €19.95 euros (around £17) for a lifetime traffic subscription, though you can pay weekly or monthly if you prefer.
Lane assistance, junction diagrams, voice guidance and live traffic updates are all included, while the app places a particular emphasis on finding nearby places of interest – in our town it pulled up an impressively comprehensive list of local restaurants and chip shops.
As for the guidance itself, the app proved to be a solid and reliable travelling companion, and it’s difficult to feel lost with Wisepilot to hand. It might lack some of the spit and polish of its competitors, but there’s no doubting the strength of its feature list, and the five day trial is well worth taking advantage of.
£16.99 Windows Phone Free trial + subscription on Android, BlackBerry and iOS.