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Analysis

Satnavs: TomTom vs Google Maps vs Nokia Drive+ vs Apple Maps

Posted on 19 Apr 2013 at 17:27

We tested four satnav tools on the road, revealing which will actually get you where you need to go

Over a cup of tea in Jon’s cluttered kitchen, we ran through the rules for the day.

We had four fully fuelled cars, four satnav apps loaded onto four smartphones, and four intrepid drivers who had agreed to follow the instructions to whatever disastrous conclusion. If that sounds overly dramatic now, it didn’t feel like it at the time: we knew one poor soul would be at the mercy of Apple Maps.

The six destinations we’d be given varied in their detail. Some contained little more than a landmark name, others the salvation of a full address and postcode.

Four intrepid drivers had agreed to follow the instructions to whatever disastrous conclusion

In each case, the clock would start, we’d search for our destination using only the app we’d been assigned, and then make our way there as rapidly as (legally) possible. As a safety net, we set one more rule: if all reasonable in-app searches failed, we were permitted to perform a basic Google search for more information. We hoped it wouldn’t be needed. We were wrong.

Finally, the all-important draw was met by three ecstatic cheers and one predictable groan. TomTom on the iPhone 5 (UK edition: £39.99), our "control" sample if you like, went to delighted managing editor Priti Patel.

She was followed outside by reviews editor Jon Bray waving a Motorola Razr i loaded with the free Google Maps Navigation. Senior staff writer Mike Jennings bounded after them, ready to test another free app, Nokia Drive+ (now renamed Here Drive+) on his Lumia 920 (with a dash mount made of Velcro stickers).

This left the shortest straw for the shortest man: features editor David Bayon trudged out to his hire car wondering where Essex would be in Apple’s vision of England (Apple Maps; free).

As it turned out, he needn’t have feared the worst. Over the next six hours, our drivers went bird-watching and plane spotting, sought out a country pub and a Waitrose car park, and found holes in supposedly good apps and surprising strengths in others. Yes, even Apple Maps.

Fairlop Waters Golf Club (Forest Road, Barkingside, Ilford)

A short warm-up to get things running: the name of a nearby golf club, plus the street and the town – but no postcode. Just typing the first few letters brought results, so one by one our four cars pulled away from Jon’s house in both directions.

We got our first look at the four driving interfaces, each with its own take on the best way to give directions. We all arrived at the golf course in quick succession.

Alas, not the same part of the golf course. Google Maps took Jon straight to the main car park to the north of the course, where he had time for some twitching – he spotted a woodpecker, he excitedly told us all afterwards.

Jon was followed two minutes later by Mike, who’d had to pull a U-turn in Forest Road after Nokia Drive+ gave him a rather late instruction to turn into the poorly signposted golf club.

Nokia Lumia

At around this time, David also found the golf course – although somewhere near the 13th fairway, in a dead end leading only to Redbridge Football Club.

"You have reached your destination," announced Apple Maps, with a little note to say that actually getting to it may require walking. Given his car was sitting at the furthest possible point from the main entrance, that’s an interesting interpretation of "reached".

Typing the first few letters again, he noticed a second golf club entry came up, identical but for a few lower-case letters. Selecting that, the app sent him back the way he came and round to the correct finishing point.

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User comments

Google Maps

I have the galaxy s3 and have been using google maps for a couple of years now.
1 of the recent map updates has made the 're-routing' quite horrible, it will keep telling me to do a U-turn for quite some time which is a little annoying.

Co-pilot on android is quite good, its the same as the standalone sat nav.
Google does a really good job though (for the most part)

By r1sh12 on 20 Apr 2013

@r1sh12

I have been using Co-Pilot as well, and am generally quite happy. Its route timing is a bit suspect and this does lead it to suggest routes through town centres. I have found that it is a bit sniffy about contacts as well. Some work and some don't, despite identical formatting.

I have tried using the voice recognition to navigate, but on the S3 Google won't launch the SatNav and searches instead. S-Voice is just a disaster. Neither voice app is willing to use contacts for some reason. So if I say "Navigate to work" it will initiate a random web search rather than use the contact info. Bizarrely it is quite enthusiastic about about navigating to places on other continents in preference to locations in my contacts.

By tirons1 on 20 Apr 2013

Not sure why co-pilot not included..

...in this group test. Its in the top 10 best seller on the Android phone and the most likely paid SatNav on that device.

I prefer it to TomTom. Its not without its fault. Its main road centric nature is annoying, as is its quirky interaction with contacts.

But its more integrated with Android and can only get better.

It would have been nice to see where it was placed in that group test, especially as I swap between using co-pilot and Google Maps, which itself has a far superior search function when it comes to incomplete addresses.

By Ajamu1 on 21 Apr 2013

Strange results

To make sure that the tests results are true to life you should do a few more trips.

Also, if that picture of Nokia Drive is anything to go by, you are not using it correctly.

To get better results with Nokia Drive you could have downloaded the map data before on wifi for free. Then keep it up to date.

In my experience Nokia Drive is the best solution around.

Furthermore, it has true offline capabilities, and has turn by turn navigation for over 110 countries. To put that into perspective, Google has around 40 countries and Apple has around 55.

By matthewejpaul on 21 Apr 2013

Strange results

To make sure that the tests results are true to life you should do a few more trips.

Also, if that picture of Nokia Drive is anything to go by, you are not using it correctly.

To get better results with Nokia Drive you could have downloaded the map data before on wifi for free. Then keep it up to date.

In my experience Nokia Drive is the best solution around.

Furthermore, it has true offline capabilities, and has turn by turn navigation for over 110 countries. To put that into perspective, Google has around 40 countries and Apple has around 55.

By matthewejpaul on 21 Apr 2013

Regarding Google Maps & Nokia Drive+...

First up, I do agree that Google Maps has the better POI database. However, having used Android for years, I am finding Nokia Drive+ to be a MUCH nicer sat nav experience.
You don't have to menu dig to find important information, or change settings.
I also lost count of the number of times where Google Maps wouldn't route me because I had slow or flaky data connections (it was infuriating in the Lake District in particular; where I would have to drive by compass bearing in the hope that I'd stumble across a working data connection that would get me back on track).
That was particularly frustrating on long drives when I would accidentally miss a turning...only to then find Google Maps couldn't reroute me because the data connection was unavailable.
Drive+ is different. It will ALWAYS work - the one proviso being that you ideally need a postcode or an address (though it does still have a very big POI database). The actual routing and voice integration with other Windows Phone apps is much better than Google. I used Nokia Music+ via a stereo line in cable....the music plays, then mutes when guidance instructions come in. It also seamlessly opens and closes the app when phone calls come in - something Google Maps never did (I always found myself having to pull up the multi tasking menu after phone calls on Android so that the navigation could restart -- it didn't always restart though!).
The reason Drive+ works so well....the offline database. If you had installed that prior to driving, I dare say you would have had a much more seamless experience.
One other thing...I don't know if it is Windows Phone software, of Nokia's hardware --- but on my Lumia 820, navigation sips the battery power in comparison to Google Maps navigation on my Xperia Arc S. That used to get really hot, and would barely charge...my Lumia stays cool, and holds its charge incredibly well.
Never used Apple Maps or TomTom...but for free navigation, I have zero issues with Drive+

By lozzs on 22 Apr 2013

Regarding Google Maps & Nokia Drive+...

First up, I do agree that Google Maps has the better POI database. However, having used Android for years, I am finding Nokia Drive+ to be a MUCH nicer sat nav experience.
You don't have to menu dig to find important information, or change settings.
I also lost count of the number of times where Google Maps wouldn't route me because I had slow or flaky data connections (it was infuriating in the Lake District in particular; where I would have to drive by compass bearing in the hope that I'd stumble across a working data connection that would get me back on track).
That was particularly frustrating on long drives when I would accidentally miss a turning...only to then find Google Maps couldn't reroute me because the data connection was unavailable.
Drive+ is different. It will ALWAYS work - the one proviso being that you ideally need a postcode or an address (though it does still have a very big POI database). The actual routing and voice integration with other Windows Phone apps is much better than Google. I used Nokia Music+ via a stereo line in cable....the music plays, then mutes when guidance instructions come in. It also seamlessly opens and closes the app when phone calls come in - something Google Maps never did (I always found myself having to pull up the multi tasking menu after phone calls on Android so that the navigation could restart -- it didn't always restart though!).
The reason Drive+ works so well....the offline database. If you had installed that prior to driving, I dare say you would have had a much more seamless experience.
One other thing...I don't know if it is Windows Phone software, of Nokia's hardware --- but on my Lumia 820, navigation sips the battery power in comparison to Google Maps navigation on my Xperia Arc S. That used to get really hot, and would barely charge...my Lumia stays cool, and holds its charge incredibly well.
Never used Apple Maps or TomTom...but for free navigation, I have zero issues with Drive+

By lozzs on 22 Apr 2013

Navfree on a tablet if it has gps

Maps are on the device so no data hangup problems that pretend to be GPS ones.

I got fed up with google maps saying "looking for GPS" when it was really just unable to download the map part way through a journey.

I use it on Galaxy tab 7" - excellent but would advise trying it out on a few trips you already know to get used to the voice directions.

By petermalins on 22 Apr 2013

that photo

The first one, with a windows phone, that's Nokia Maps that is, not Nokia drive.

By nickallison on 26 Apr 2013

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For more details about purchasing this feature and/or images for editorial usage, please contact Jasmine Samra on pictures@dennis.co.uk

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