Best satnav for walking

27 Apr 2013

What's the best satnav app for those on foot? We find out

Using a satnav on foot brings few of the potential hazards of a road journey.

There’s no danger of being held up by traffic (unless you’re navigating the perils of Oxford Street in rush hour), and it’s rare to come across routes that are entirely blocked to pedestrians. Therefore, we quickly decided against running this test as some kind of tortoise-paced "race".

Satnav reviews

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Instead of speed, what sets one walking satnav apart from another is its route-planning interface, the clarity of its directions and the accuracy of its maps. And the vital point to take away from this section is this: a good driving satnav doesn’t necessarily mean a good walking one.

Google Maps Navigation - free on Android and iOS

There’s no question that Google Maps offers the smoothest way in: its autocomplete is superb, and it finds places, restaurants, shops that others just can’t handle.

Tap in Sainsbury’s, for example, and within a few letters a list of nearby branches pop up in order of proximity. With a route chosen, it’s startling to see how much Google Maps varies across platforms. There’s no kind way to put it: for walking, the iOS version is vastly inferior to its Android equivalent.

Both let you plot a route, with multiple choices, but on iOS that’s about all you get. There’s no Start button, just a Preview mode that lets you follow your GPS dot on the marked route (with no notification if you deviate from it), and the turn instructions must be scrolled manually. It’s little more than a static guide.

Google Maps

Compare that to the unbeatable Android version, which follows your progress perfectly, adjusts your route if you stray, and gives both Street View images and driving-style voice instructions.

Unfortunately, the voice instructions require the app to remain open, but we managed to slot it carefully into a pocket and keep using headphones.

Nokia Here Maps - free

If iPhone owners are feeling left out, Nokia’s recent app for iOS offers voice instructions, too – something that’s yet to grace the Windows Phone 8 version. The app needs to be open, but we found the instructions clear and easy to follow.

Searching on Nokia's Here Maps is simple on both platforms, and results bring up not only the map information, but also contact details, photos and more, without leaving the page.

Its location database seems accurate for many searches before throwing up an oddity – we came across central London Tube stations that appear on the map but don’t exist in search, for example – and we miss the ability to choose from multiple routes. The low resolution of satellite imagery is also noticeable against Google’s superb coverage, but the option to save an offline map is a useful touch.

Here Maps

When walking, the current road name sits at the bottom of the screen with a handy text instruction; flicking right brings up the next turn and then the route summary.

It works well, with handy extras such as the option to change to a public transport map if it starts tipping it down with rain. In our time with it, Nokia’s app never came across as a must-have, but with its mix of the good and the quirky, it’s worth trying out in your area – much will come down to map accuracy.

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