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5 Best Navigation Apps

by on September 21, 2017
in Travel, Phones and Mobile, GPS Navigation, Mobile Apps, Travel & Entertainment, Car Tech & Safety, Tips & How-Tos :: 27 comments

A solid navigation app offers turn-by-turn directions, bicycle routes, traffic updates, and access to offline maps -- crucial if you need to preserve data and iPhone or Android Phone battery life.

And if you're after extra features, there are apps for finding the quickest way to hit dozens of stops, apps for planning the ultimate road trip, and apps to navigate you around traffic jams.

We've rounded up five of our favorite navigation apps below. Let us know in the comments if we've missed your go-to. 

 

Best for Dodging Traffic: Waze

Waze

This full-featured navigation app has extra oomph in the traffic alerts department. It crowd-sources traffic information from other drivers using the app, with a friendly map interface that shows icons for accidents, hazards, road closures, speed cameras, and police officers waiting for the next leadfoot to whiz by. Red lines show how long traffic jams extend for, and the app can automatically reroute you to an alternate path.

You can help other Waze users out by reporting nearby traffic conditions, including a handy feature to add a photo and a note about whether the trouble is on your side or the opposite side of the road.

The search function works with places as well as addresses and suggests places based on your location and previous entries. You can also navigate to car services, public transport, restaurants, shops, and more by leveraging Google and Foursquare.

Once you select your destination, Waze comes up with alternate routes you can take and remembers preferred routes after you drive them a few times. And, you can create a Planned Drive by entering the time and date you need to arrive and Waze will recommend the best time to leave. A nice touch: you can send your ETA by email, text, or Whatsapp to your contacts, and sync Facebook and phone calendars so that upcoming events appear in the list of navigation options, including Planned Drives.

  • Turn-by-turn voice directions? Yes
  • Cycle routes? No, driving routes only
  • Traffic reports? Yes
  • Offline maps? No
  • Add stops? Yes

You'll love: Accurate, up-to-date traffic info and good rerouting to get you around severe traffic.

But: Some of the user-submitted info isn't comprehensive or edited (for example, place names might not be capitalized).

Price: Free for Android, iOS on waze.com

 

Best Offline Maps App: CoPilot GPS

CoPilot

For-pay navigation apps don't have a great case against freebies like Google Maps and Waze -- except when it comes to offline use. A full-fat nav app like CoPilot GPS is a good idea if you're overseas, for instance, and don't want to use roaming data or depend on Wi-Fi stops to update Google Maps.

You'll only need to download maps once -- ideally over Wi-Fi as they're fairly data-heavy -- but once that's done, you can get turn-by-turn voice directions, plan new routes, and use Google-powered search to save new places or addresses for when you're offline. Along with a clear interface showing the next two turns, you get lane guidance for highway driving. And if you end up missing your exit, the rerouting feature quickly gets you back along your way.

The app also logs your speed, with warnings when you're nearing the limit, and shows speed camera locations. Its price tag includes 12 months of ActiveTraffic, which finds the quickest routes based on live traffic info.

  • Turn-by-turn voice directions? Yes
  • Cycle routes? Yes, and walking
  • Traffic reports? Yes, free for 12 months then $9.99/month after
  • Offline maps? Yes
  • Add stops? Yes

You'll love: Excellent search feature for places and addresses; a comprehensive navigation interface that shows ETA, next turns, and overall route; offline use means minimal drain on your smartphone battery.

But: If you don't often drive where you can't access the internet, CoPilot may not offer much more than the free Google Maps.

Price: $9.99 for Android, iOS  and more options on copilotgps.com

 

Ultimate All-Arounder: Google Maps

Google Maps

Apple Maps, preloaded on iPhones, may have improved its data accuracy since its wobbly launch, but as a mapping app that still eschews cycling routes, it loses out to Google Maps for everyday navigating.

You open Google Maps to figure out where that bar or restaurant is and tap the navigate icon in the bottom right of the screen to instantly give you a few routes from your current location. You can also tap “Explore Nearby” to see the best user-rated restaurants, bars, and entertainment, along with a filter for how long you're willing to walk or drive to get there. And, you can search within your route for nearby gas stations, coffee shops, restaurants or anything you need and add it to your current route.

The turn-by-turn directions are well-timed, while the search function is top-notch, with auto-suggestions and predictions based on past searches. Once you're on your way, the app continually checks the speed of alternate routes, popping up options to switch to faster ones when they're available.

If you're going to be navigating without a data connection, you can save maps for offline use, complete with voice directions. Maps expire after 30 day, though, so you'll need to make sure you've refreshed your maps if you're going to be without cell service.

  • Turn-by-turn voice directions? Yes
  • Cycle routes? Yes, as well as walking and public transport directions
  • Traffic reports? Yes
  • Offline maps? Yes
  • Add stops? Yes

You'll love: Excellent integration with other Google software. If you use the Chrome browser on your smartphone, you can search for a place, then tap the map result to open it directly in Maps. Android users can mark routes and locations on custom maps in a web browser, save them to My Maps, then access them in the smartphone app.

But: No speed camera warnings.

Price: Free for Android (preloaded), iOS on maps.google.com

 

Best for the Great Outdoors: Komoot

Komoot

This navigation app from a German startup covers an exhaustive range of North American bike paths and mountain trails, with topographic maps for hiking and biking routes near you. Its database is built from open-source info as well as user-submitted data to suggest trails for different fitness levels.

Since you're (hopefully) going to be out of radio contact, it's extra handy that the maps and turn-by-turn directions work offline. You can also check out factors along a particular trip such as difficulty, surface, elevation, and distance, with a navigation interface that shows your pace plus distance traveled and distance remaining.

The first map (with voice directions) is free; after that, maps cost around $7.99 for one region (basically a city or county); $26.99 for the All-Regions package (which currently includes most of Europe, U.S., Canada, plus some countries in Asia). Updates are free.

  • Turn-by-turn voice directions? Yes
  • Cycle routes? Yes, along with hiking, road biking, and mountain biking
  • Traffic reports? No
  • Offline maps? Yes
  • Add stops? Yes

You'll love: The greater the number of trips you take with Komoot, the better it can recommend trails for your fitness level.

But: The area defined by a Komoot “region” isn't large, so if you're an infrequent hiker, the cost of purchasing extra regions might not make sense.

Price: See above. Available for Android & iOS

 

Best for Road Trips: inRoute Route Planner

inRoute Route Planner

We've used Google Maps to smoothly navigate thousands of miles' worth of road tripping, but when it comes to the planning of a multi-stop, non-direct trip, inRoute has the search giant beat. The free version allows you to plot a route with up to five stops in an intuitive map interface, where you drop pins on places you want to go. A cool search feature lets you hunt for places of interest such as a gas station or restaurant within a particular distance from you, or at regular intervals along the way.

You can adjust when and where you drive based on extra info gleaned from live-updated weather condition charts, as well as the curviness and elevation of various parts of the route – handy if you're driving an eight-berth RV and want the straightest possible roads (or a motorcycle and want the opposite).

But it's the $14.99 upgrade top Premium that unlocks the real road-trip magic: the ability to add up to 25 stops (or up to 100 stops with Pro for $29.99), along with the amount of time you want to stop in each place, and an optimization feature to reorder your stops into the fastest, most fuel-efficient routes. It's perfect for planning road trips.

  • Turn-by-turn voice directions? Yes, with Premium and Pro upgrades
  • Cycle routes? No
  • Traffic reports? No
  • Offline maps? No

You'll love: Being able to plan a looping route that hits up various destinations before ending up back at your starting point – gas stops, breaks and sleeps included.

But: You have to upgrade to get directions and the app only gives you one route. However, you can export your route to another navigation app, such as Google Maps or CoPilot, if you upgrade.

Price: See above. Available for iOS

Updated on 9/21/2017

[navigation app in car image via Shutterstock]



Discussion loading

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Love Scout

From Jim on June 01, 2015 :: 11:53 am

My Sprint phone came with Scout for navigation and I’ve used it religiously ever since.  It typically provides several route alternatives, built in traffic reporting and just does a dang good job.

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What is Scout?

From Cameron Waters on April 21, 2016 :: 7:07 pm

The title basically says it all but curious about this.

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No Scout for me

From Dave W. on January 22, 2017 :: 4:20 pm

I am not happy with Google Maps that came on my phone so I have been trying others. I tried Scout for a week and I had some bad directions, lots of traffic, including not being able to get back Home! So I uninstalled Scout and am looking again.

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Why not Google Maps?

From Josh Kirschner on January 22, 2017 :: 5:43 pm

What are you not happy with on Google Maps? I use all the time and have found it to be very easy to use and it’s pretty full featured.

If you don’t like Google Maps, try Waze and see if that is better for you.

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No Avoid Traffic Option

From Meilseoir Schwartzthal on October 12, 2017 :: 4:49 pm

Google maps options (based on the parameters included and not included) are missing completely a n Avoid Traffic option for a driver who is not on their way to a deadline/work/appointment. It seems Google Maps sees traffic but with dispassion. It sends you right through the bright red line because “it’s faster.”

Even “avoid highways” doesn’t get the job done. Mostly because the parameters, wanting to make a bee-line, again are magnetized to the highest trafficked roads, and seem blind to obvious routes (that connect a route before and after a downtown, but circumnavigate said downtown) that can be seen on a paper map. GPS has tunnel-vision.

We need a very different app. A traffic avoiding app, allowing the possibilty of finding the least delayed route, not necessarily the “fastest.”

I wish I had the coding knowledge to make such an app. I only have the idea, not the way to make it happen.

As far as parameter behavior goes, I imagine something like a taxi meter that charges $0.01 per mile, but $10.00 per minute, guaranteeing that the program wants to avoid wait time, not avoid longer mileage or overall longer time.

It wouldn’t replace traditional GPS or “fail” as a “good” GPS, but offer an alternative TO them.

here

From Andrea Macario on June 02, 2015 :: 5:14 am

hi, thanks for the article. what do you make of HERE? (disclaimer, I used to work for them a few years back). they have offline maps for all over the world with turn by turn navigation, traffic, walk, public transport, places information and other stuff and they are actually entirely free to use both in online and offline mode.

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Best offline app IMHO

From Edgar Chimal on November 16, 2016 :: 1:11 am

I’ve using HERE maps (formerly Nokia Maps) since it only existed in Symbian.

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I have suggestion

From Paul Stevens on June 29, 2015 :: 9:46 am

I donĀ“t know, how you could forget about Sygic navigation, using Tom Toms maps. I use exactly this one in my taxi services company and it works faultlessly. http://www.sygic.com/business/industries/taxi

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Re: Sygic

From Dave W. on January 22, 2017 :: 4:24 pm

I tried to download Sygic but when it came to downloading the map system, my phone just kept running that circle over and over again until I just gave up. I wonder why.

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I would also add a

From daydreamer on July 13, 2015 :: 12:20 pm

I would also add a good navigational app Spyglass. It works great when offline, assuming that you pre-download the maps that you need in advance. It shows your accurate coordinates and your current position on a map, allows to mark locations and waypoints, share your locations with friends and much more.
  https://itunes.apple.com/app/spyglass/id332639548?mt=8&at=11lLc7&ct=c

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I use iArrow

From Alex on August 24, 2015 :: 12:42 pm

A simple and very effective offline GPS app. Sometimes you just want to have a nice big arrow telling you where to go. This app does that perfectly.  Very simple and clean interface but doing a lot of things. I recommend. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/iarrow/id626748307?mt=8

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Here maps

From Don Albert on December 11, 2015 :: 12:48 pm

I’ve been using the ‘Here’ maps for two phones now. First it came installed on my Nokia Lumia 520, when I upgraded to the Nokia 1020 I had to update them - it took a while, but well worth it. Love the HERE maps/GPS system.

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Slow

From Xaver on December 16, 2015 :: 9:55 am

Hi, I would say you did not use those apps what so ever or just didn’t compare with standalone navigations. You missed one but important issue. They are not so fast. Yes waze is good for trafic jams but the app is so slow. If you dont know the road and you depend on navigation waze will tell you to turn way after you pass the turn. Here is not speaking properly. Sometimes the voice guide is on cofee brake.

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Outside Sales Map Experience - I love Waze

From Francis Hofer on March 31, 2016 :: 3:51 pm

I’ve been mapping since before there were map app (mapps?). These mobile maps have changed the outside sales game. I used to have to physically map my routes the night before and had to struggle through creating the fastest routes to all my points. Optimization wasn’t the only issue, but also traffic. The opportunity cost of two hours spent in LA traffic is unimaginable. Mobile apps have completely solved both my issues. I use Badger Maps and Waze (which are integrated, thank the lord) to optimize and then route my daily trips. Google Maps is on the list and is clearly the leader of the map app (again, can we make ‘mapp’ a thing?) game, but it is just too general for my use. I need to visit 20 places in a day in the most efficient way and avoid traffic getting there. Glad to see that Waze is at the top of the list.

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Doesn't it also work with Google Maps?

From Cameron Waters on April 21, 2016 :: 7:05 pm

I’m using them for outside sales too but I’m using google maps. Cool that there are options.

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An awesome app

From marry on June 02, 2016 :: 2:07 am

Excellent post, I have been using this app since two month, its a Geo measure area calculator. Its free with an awesome features. It works fine and really helps me a lot. You can try it https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/geo-measure-area-calculator/id1099413961?ls=1&mt=8

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Nav Apps

From Lori on July 07, 2016 :: 4:27 pm

Thoughts on HERE? They do maps for most auto nav systems on the market and are ranked by the auto industry as the best quality?

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Block numbers?

From Cai on July 22, 2016 :: 8:02 pm

Does anyone know of an app that shows block or house numbers? I really need one for work.

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house numbers

From JP on December 10, 2016 :: 7:16 pm

Here shows house address numbers if you zoom in and use satalite.

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New app for drivers

From Kev Xaveus on October 14, 2016 :: 8:37 am

Here’s a new app that is in production called NavM8 its design for drivers by drivers its ideal for multi drop and finds house names plan roughts in advance displayed on a map http://navm8.com/navm8/

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Incorrect info given

From James Formolo on October 22, 2016 :: 8:02 pm

You stated that one needed to export maps created in inRoutes to Google Maps in order to navigate the custom map.  That is incorrect.  Google Maps does not have the capability to navigate custom maps - it can only display them.

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missing a very good app

From antonio on February 04, 2017 :: 12:09 pm

what about here maps/here we go.
this app is wonderful it came pre-installed on my windows 8 smartphone. i switched to android & the first thing i did was go to play store & download it.

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More on Waze

From CAOutdoorGir1 on June 27, 2017 :: 11:51 am

I’ve been using Waze for nearly five years, and it just keeps getting better. Besides what was mentioned, it also allows you to report gas station prices, gives you the speed limit and whether you’re going under or over, quickly reroutes you when you miss a turn, and allows you to take pictures of the street view of a place so you know when you’ve arrived.

It did used to have an add-a-stop feature, which was handy but could be clunky. Rather than improving it, they scrapped it altogether.

Since this app is crowdsourced, if there’s a new street just opened, you can “pave it” on the map by pressing Pave and just driving down it.

Though there’s no “left lane closed” button, you can use the construction function and type it in. It seems like this app has it all.

Except now it added ads. Easily dealt with, though—tap the screen (not on the ad), and it goes away.

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MapFactor Navigator and Google Maps

From katka on August 03, 2017 :: 10:23 am

Hi, I use Google Maps when I have good data connection. But often I need to plan my route in advance or navigate offline and use rather Mapfactor Navigator.

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inRoute DOES have turn by turn voice navigation

From Ariane on August 30, 2017 :: 9:26 pm

That is all

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Waze: Yes, but...

From Bruce Brodnax on September 24, 2017 :: 3:02 am

...it’s a data gobbler. Before you use it, you’d better double whatever data rate you’re subscribed at, and be ready to bump it up when your carrier gives you a “you’re nearing your limit” warning. Unless you’ve got unlimited data, in which case, go to town!

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I have a 40 gigabyte

From Ariane on September 24, 2017 :: 5:46 pm

I have a 40 gigabyte monthly data plan :D

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