Today's digital, connected world is pretty amazing. We can hold phones that have the computing power of desktops from a few years ago, fully functioning accelerometers, augmented virtual reality, GPS, and oh yea, they still make phone calls.
It's the GPS portion we want to focus on for this article. The traditional motorcycle GPS is larger and is more dedicated to it's task. It also costs about the same as buying a smart phone and requires costly updates. Apps are usually cheap, plentiful, and generally provide free upgrades—plus you still have all of your other smart phone features packed in.
Those bar mounted GPS units are starting to blur the lines, but we will still review one of the best available in an upcoming piece. But for today, let's just go over some of the highest rated GPS apps for your phone.
Google Maps is one of the most complete apps on the market—it maps the entire surface of the planet and it's constantly updated. However, that doesn't make it perfect since it still doesn't have older existing roads (at least not the ones here in MD), and the less populated areas are impossible to find. It does, however, offer walking, biking, hiking, voice guided directions and the ability to quickly switch between current routes for alternate routes. It also recently added restaurant filtering and weather for the iPhone.
Waze takes a different approach when it comes to making improvements. It's a crowd sourced app, meaning that people who are actually driving on the road submit their input on what the best route is. The more people that use Waze, the better it gets. Unfortunately, it falls short on picking up back roads and addresses tied to new construction. On the other hand, it does excel in urban areas, helps you avoid major traffic, and it's free. This app is now owned by Google so there's no guarantee it will stay stand alone.
CoPilot is more of a trip planner. The other apps mentioned above are "on the fly systems" that don't download all the information to your phone. CoPilot needs some memory (Approximately 1GB) to store things like a Points of Interest (POI) database. What this also means is if you have spotty coverage, it can triangulate where you are and the map is always on the phone. This is much more reliable—especially in areas you have no familiarity with. It also ties into Yelp, Google and much more. This is definitely another free app with big upside.
Moving away from free there are some pro level GPS out there that offer some additional benefits but that comes at a cost.
Navigon is a complete navigation system designed with tons of extra features to make trips easier. It has day and night modes, 2D and 3D maps, route planning, intelligent address searching, and real road sign graphics. It offers a bunch of optional plugins to improve overall navigation experience, and it also coordinates entry for those who live by latitude and longitude. This complete set of features comes at a price, $49.99. This app is not for those who are just trying to get to Gran's house.
When you're the biggest name in GPS, you don't give up market share—you need to create an app in order to compete. Garmin's app sports a very realistic roadway map that efficiently guides you, shows speed limits (where available), and gives you an arrival estimate all at once. It also provides voice prompts, integration with Google Local Search, full maps, exit services and more. Unfortunately, those extras are what add to the cost ($49.99).
If you want a basic app to help you drive within your town, take a look at this option. GPS Drive provides live traffic flow maps, and it updates to show you what route to take. It also offers social and customization options in order to provide you with a better experience. There's a catch to all this great local and live content: You do have to pay a subscription fee of $1 per month for the full set of features plus the initial $.99. Not too expensive, and it's not the end of the world to pay a buck a month.
This is by no means an all encompassing list of GPS apps available for your smartphone. There are many other good ones out there. These were chosen since they are some of the highest rated in the app store, so at least you know they've been user tested.
Tell us what you use, or let us know if you dislike any of the apps mentioned above.
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This post was written by William Connor.
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