From gadgets to Android Apps: Sat Navs have come a long way. Prior to the 1990s, few would have expected Automotive Navigation Systems to turn into multi million Pound industry within just a few years. And then, a group of Dutch engineers and developers founded TomTom in 1991, and revolutionised the way we drive.
Since then, the market has taken a few surprising twists and turns. For many years, dedicated sat navs were the defacto standard. They remain the most important segment in terms of turnover until today. And yet, when it comes to user numbers, sat nav apps have long eclipsed them.
If you’re interested in a comprehensive overview of the best available dedicated sat nav systems, see our guide to the best sat nav out there.
In this article, we are going to take a look at the best of the new generation of Android sat navs. We’ll follow this up very soon with a similar feature on the best Mac based Sat Navs.
First, though, let’s quickly take a look whether you’re taking the right decision by opting for an app on your handheld instead of a stand alone device.
Apps have made significant strides over the past few years. Still, the good old dedicated sat nav still has some convincing pros:
- There’s a considerably lower risk of the battery running empty.
- They tend to be more robust and less prone to crashing.
- They tend to communicate better with the car’s operating system. This makes it possible to use it in combination with the dashboard or head up displays.
Prices of integrated sat navs have dropped considerably since they were introduced in the 90s. This means they have become very affordable and attractive alternatives to sat-nav apps.
Sat Nav Apps: Pros
That said, sat-nav apps have some benefits of their own:
- Apps are regularly updated, meaning they will have more current features and improvements.
- Map material is updated even faster in comparison with an integrated sat nav.
- Handheld integration is moving fast. Most smartphones will soon work just like an integrated stand alone device.
As dedicated sat navs are more and more drawing their data from the same sources as apps, the main difference boils down to reliability. That’s not to say there won’t be a future for integrated sat navs. It’s just that they may have to find new ways of differentiating themselves from smartphone based apps.
Online versus offline
More and more sat nav apps are claiming that they also work offline. In fact, one of the Android Sat Nav apps mentioned in this article, even makes this its main sales argument (Offline Maps and Navigation). And many will make the point that integrated systems are better simply because you can work with them even if you don’t have any reception on your phone.
This is a bit of a stretch. An offline mode is no longer a serious competitive advantage for any sat nav, since almost every single model features it in some form or the other. True, most dedicated units will have huge map sets pre-installed. But many free sat nav apps offer you the same convenience.
And then, no offline mode can work wonders. In the end, quite a few useful features, such as real time traffic support and speed warnings are only available in online mode.
Summing up, an offline mode is a must these days – and most sat nav apps have one.
Free versus Paid
There’s a simple reason why so many people prefer an Android sat nav app over an integrated system: Many of them are entirely free!
This is something which would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. Sat navs are among the most useful technical devices of the past 20 years. For their functionality to now become free is a miracle.
At the same time, there are some paid-for apps as well. From the TomTom Go to Co Pilot, these claim to offer you premium quality map material and additional features to justify the costs.
Are they worth it?
If you’re a frequent driver, they may just be. Admittedly, all apps these days appear to be almost identical. They’ll all take you from A to B in reasonable time. And they all offer a string of helpful features.
Premium apps claim to be better in two departments, mainly:
- The algorithm used to calculate the best routes to get from point A to point B. Some apps are still clearly more accurate than others here.
- Graphics. Some of the best apps offer 3D views and various additional perspectives. These allow you to customise the navigation to your preferences and to get a better picture of where you’re driving.
In the end, it comes down to your needs. Even the weakest free apps will do a reasonable job. But if you need to get somewhere very quickly, a paid-for app can suddenly seem like a good investment.
What to look for in an Android Sat Nav App
As with everything else, it helps to be prepared when looking for a suitable Android Sat Nav App. Here are the most important features that differentiate an average app from a really good one:
- Functionality: Every Android sat nav app should feature lane assistance, voice guided navigation, traffic alerts, radar control warnings and information about potentially interesting landmarks, restaurants and tourist spots on the road.
- Accuracy: The main point of a sat nav is to get you from your current location to your goal. Despite remarkable improvements over the past years, some apps are still better at this than others. A sat nav app should be able to calculate the fastest and the shortest route. It should also be able to integrate traffic data into these calculations.
- Display: Every Android sat nav app should provide you with several different perspectives and angles and its graphics should be clear and easy to understand. More advanced apps offer highly realistic, almost photo-like renderings.
- Voice Guidance: A standard item. Although every sat nav app these days offers some form of voice guidance, you should be happy with the way the system ‘talks“. Ideally, you should be able to choose from several speaker options, both female and male. The more human the voice sounds, generally speaking, the better.
- Map quality: This is an area where some of the more established players still have an advantage over the new entrants. The map material is paramount for a sat nav app. It needs to be both accurate and up to date. The two market leaders are google and TomTom here. The latter has even built up a lucrative side income by licensing its maps to competitors.
The 7 best Android SatNavApps #1: Google Maps
It may seem a bit redundant to include Google Maps here. In a way, Google invented the mobile navigation system with Maps. And as if that wasn’t enough, it also raised the bar in terms of what to expect from a sat nav in general.
Here are some of the most obvious benefits of Google Maps:
- It is very accurate and uses some of the best maps on the market.
- It offers a lot more than just car navigation. Google Maps is also capable of calculating routes for pedestrians and imports data for public transport. This can come in handy if you want to drive somewhere and then walk the remainder of the way.
- It offers all of the basic functionalities you’d expect from a navigation system at no cost- worldwide maps included.
- It provides access to a plethora of information about the area you’re driving through. No other sat nav app out there can match google’s data. You’ll never need to worry about where to get food and petrol, where to shop or go sightseeing.
- Its street view option is unparallelled when it comes to showing you what the streets you’re driving through will actually look like for real.
Still … it’s not perfect
At the same time, Google Maps is by no means perfect. As lookers has mentioned, “addresses provided by Google Maps can sometimes be inaccurate and send around you in circles.” Also, you can only download a certain area for its offline mode, which can be a disadvantage in certain situations. According to some, its “voice instructions and traffic alerts weren’t as good as those in the TomTom and Co-Pilot apps, and the length of delays wasn’t always accurate.”
All in all, however, Google Maps remains an incredibly useful tool and one of the best Android Sat Nav apps out there.
The 7 best Android SatNavApps #2: TomTom GO
TomTom has never stood still. Although its market position is no longer as dominant as it used to be, it has remained a key player on the sat nav market. Contrary to its main rival for integrated sat navs, Garmin, it has successfully made the leap into the world of apps and embraced these developments rather than trying to fight them.
The results have been remarkable: TomTom Go is considered by many the best Android Sat Nav on the market. With its two tiered system of a free entry level and an advanced, but paid-for version, it offers something for every one. And as one of the very few companies with both experience from integrated units and apps, it can draw from its experience in both to deliver the best possible navigation experience.
At £14.99 a year, even the full version of TomTom Go won’t break the bank.
The foundation of TomTom Go are the excellent maps, the almost perfect graphics and the intuitive user interface. The app is considered by many to be the most accurate out there, with carbuyer applauding the fact that “the length of roadworks was correct to the yard.”
If you’re looking for an Android Sat Nav app that has a slight edge over Google Maps but is still affordable, this may be it.
The 7 best Android SatNavApps #3: (Here) WeGo
WeGo was first marketed by Finish smartphone pioneer Nokia and is now distributed and further developed by Here Technologies. The name Here may not ring a bell immediately. And indeed, Here WeGo is still a fairly young product. But it certainly didn’t come falling out of thin air.
Nokia acquired most of the technology when taking over Navteq in 2007. This American company already brought a quarter of a century of experience to the table. Over the years, Nokia then issued different versions of the navigation system, which was originally designed for its line of smartphones.
With the demise of Nokia as a producer of mobile phones, it sold the division on to three of Germany’s biggest car manufacturers: Audi, BMW and Daimler. Together with Intel, they are now the main stakeholders in Here Technologies.
This means that this Sat Nav app obviously has a lot of cash and know-how to back it up. Little wonder that its functionality is excellent and every little detail has been seamlessly integrated.
Here We Go has sometimes been described as a complementary app to Google Maps, as a navigation oriented counterpart to Maps:
“Natural language searches do work—a search for ‘Chinese restaurants’, for instance—and there is a points of interest directory that will display nearby businesses and locations within a set distance.”
Little wonder, then, that it an editor’s choice app on the Google’s playstore. Despite all this praise, it is still completely free.
The 7 best Android SatNavApps #4: MapFactor
MapFactor claims to be the highest rated Sat Nav app on the play store. Not only is this not true. But this laudable achievement also comes with a bit of a bitter side taste: Developers routinely ask users in the store to reconsider negative ratings.
That aside, MapFactor is quite an excellent app offering you everything you’d expect combined into an excellent user interface. It has moved on quite a bit from its earliest days.
It may not be the Wunderkind its developers are making it out to be. But MapFactor is nonetheless a mighty fine sat nat app.
The 7 best Android SatNavApps #5: Offline Maps and Navigation
There are a few apps which routinely come up whenever a publication lists the best Android Sat Nav apps. Offline Maps and Navigation is one of them.
It has sometimes been suggested that Offline Maps and Navigation’s biggest strength is its stability. Since the app works offline, it is less prone to connection caused crashes. And since its maps are by TomTom and thus excellent, it is almost assured to provide you with the best possible routes.
This, however, is an over simplification. Offline Maps & Navigation is only basic in its free version. Once you start paying, it is a perfect app with just about everything you could ever desire.
It has been described as even as better than Google Maps by some users. All in all, it should definitely be an app to take into close consideration when shopping for an Android Sat Nav app.
The 7 best Android SatNavApps #6: Maps.Me
As we’ve pointed out, the market for Android Sat Nav apps is crowded. Also, it’s more or less saturated. It is hard to imagine another new technology revolutionising car navigation and entirely sweeping away our previous conception of what a sat nav should be.
And so, don’t expect anything out of the ordinary from maps.me. It is neither the most downloaded, the most popular or highest rated app on the play store. Rather, this is a just mighty fine navigation tool that is very easy on the eye and comes with all the relevant whistles and bells. Some have even referred to it as the closest possible rival to google Maps – quite an achievement!
The Android Sat Nav app with the human touch
There does seem to be one area, however, where maps. Me rules supreme: Customer support. If you compare the comments section from different developers, the one by maps.me sticks out. Feedback is prompt and useful and, best of all, the developers are sharing it with the rest of the community. By browsing through their replies, you can find solutions to many common issues without having to contact customer support yourself.
This, in combination with the friendly user interface, turn maps.me into the Android Sat Nav app with the human touch.
The 7 best Android SatNavApps #7: Waze
Did we just say that all sat nav apps are essentially identical? Well, we’ll take that back. Waze proves that even the overcrowded Sat Nav sector can still yield a few surprises from time to time!
Waze is different from other sat nav apps in that it is based on user generated content. In a way, its structure is constantly rebuilt through the data provided by its users. Or you can think of it, as lookers put it, as “a social media map where icons can pop up according to the settings you chose.”
Of course, basic navigation is still the core functionality of Waze. Reports on its accuracy are a bit of a mixed bag. But overall, the impression is that this is a great working app with plenty of nice, individual touches.
Now owned by Google, Waze will either remain a key player for some time – or get folded into Google Maps in some form.
What about CoPilot?
The market for Android Sat Nav apps is tough. Because the competition is so fierce, even some of the biggest brands can become a has-been overnight. Updates are a particularly rich source of issues. Without them, an app quickly loses its relevance compared to the competition. But each update also holds the danger of making the app less useful. Even worse, it can make it nigh unusable.
Or, sometimes, an app can simply no longer keep up with the other offers on the play store. Either way, today’s leaders can quickly turn into tomorrow’s losers.
CoPilot is a case in point.
Not long ago, CoPilot was widely considered one of the top apps out there. It used to win quite a few sat nav comparison reviews. It offered plenty of customisable functions, including road preferences (i.e. the type of road you’d preferably like to use).
Some of these have been removed from the latest version, leading to a barrage of one and two star reviews. Within the space of a single update, CoPilot went from being one of the most admired, to one of the most heavily criticised apps.
It remains to be seen what the future has in store for CoPilot. Judging by the user reviews, we can no longer rate this as one of the best Android Sat Nav apps out there.