In praise of Google Maps navigation


It is only fair to praise things that are genuinely good and whilst it still has time to let us down badly, so far the beta version of navigation via Google Maps on iPhone is proving to be a fantastic tool.

We have a Garmin navigation device that’s perhaps five or six years old and has always been an awkward thing to use as well as needing regular investment in new map packs. Before we came away I had an eye out for its replacement, which was probably destined to be a TomTom of some sort. I then realised that Google Maps does navigation and thought it worth a try after they released new updated apps a short while back.

It worked perfectly in Warsaw and so I decided to rely on it for the whole holiday and have not been disappointed, yet. It got us from Warsaw to a hilltop in Romagna via a hotel in Wolfsberg without missing a beat and has easily dealt with subsequent trips around the area equally well despite being warned to not use GPS in the hills.

Main advantages are:

1/ no additional devices needed, just use your phone. My phone sits nicely on a shelf in the dashboard and is charged using the normal cable and a 12v travel adapter.

2/ very up to date maps including live traffic, roadworks and accident information.

3/ extremely easy search function either for address or place

4/ extremely fast reactions

5/ very clear voice instructions

The Google nav-lady is also impossible to fluster. Garmin-lady was constantly bleating about doing a U-turn or “recalculating” whereas Google-lady never does either of them, she just comes up with a new route very quickly and keeps you moving.

The only downside is pronunciation of street or place names that are not English. Everything is spoken with a Californian accent, which for Italy makes it hard or impossible to work out what she’s saying. This can be improved but has so far been nothing more than added amusement to what is a great service because what is on the screen and the basic directions “in 800m turn left” are fine.

Today we give Google-lady a real test as we head into the hills for a tour of small but interesting villages, a lake with a dam, and more.

If she passes this test we shall ceremonially burn the Garmin this evening. Surely this signals the eventual death of dedicated navigation devices?


5 thoughts on “In praise of Google Maps navigation

  1. I have Google Maps on my iPod but didnt know it had navigation on it. You think that is a California accent.?? Since I have a iPod I wouldn’t be able to use it as a navigator. I have a Garmin too. It does have a lot of annoying hiccups but hasn’t got me lost yet.

  2. I had (still have, actually) a handheld Garmin GPS that I used for about five years before abandoning it for Navigon’s iPhone-based maps. The reason I don’t rely on Google Maps outside of Poland is the cost – roaming data isn’t cheap. Plus there are – occasionally – large areas in EDGE or without data/phone service at all and I’d prefer that the navigation stuff still work then.

    The Navigon maps most recently got Paula, a friend, and I to hotels and a variety of spots in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland (up to the edge of the Arctic Circle) and back again… but I still do all pre-trip planning in Google Maps.

    I will note, though, that the Navigon maps ALSO love doing u-turns. I don’t think it is an option that can be turned off although it sure would be nice. The maps are updated quarterly and other Navigon users can submit traffic flow info and accident info so, if there is a data connection available, real-time info is present.

  3. Works great on Android too. At least for walking, the ability to save a user-selected map excerpt of nearly any size locally to the device is also very helpful. That can be done on the free wifi in the hotel, then there is no need for data services when you’re wandering around, unless you’re in need of having google tell you where you are.

    I like to wander in perhaps not the usually-visited neighborhoods, perhaps searching out Soviet-era architectural monstrosities. I was in Tbilisi recently and having bus stops marked on google maps was especially handy.

    Still trying to find a crack so I can load an Indian accent on my Garmin which I use in the States and Canada. They sell Marge and Homer Simpson voices, but no Apu. Bastards.

  4. Well, I confess I’m using my work (only) phone which is on a decently sized roaming data package anyway so I can keep up with mails and calls while I’m away. The data cost is therefore not something I’m worrying about, unless it turns out to be stupendously high.

    The mobile charger is important because I’ve got the screen set to stay awake and bright all the time which drains power pretty fast.

    Ability to change voices / accents would be good.

  5. I used Google Maps when driving back from a short trip outside of Krakow on Saturday. For some reason, I never got voice prompts even though I confirmed they were on and not muted. Sometimes before a turn a got a beep, but no voice. I should note that the Navigon voice is British-sounding but utterly mangles Polish street names.

    Compared with the Navigon maps, I also noticed that Google Maps doesn’t show what the current speed limit is (something I find VERY useful when driving, especially when outside of Poland).

    For free, though, as long as you’ve got a reasonably good data plan and (I suspect) good 3G coverage so map tiles get downloaded as you go along …it would be a reasonably adequate substitute. Certainly it is less expensive than the Navigon maps which I think I’ve paid about 60 EUR (maybe 75-80 after additions such as live warnings, 3D view, etc) to get full Europe coverage, but that – for me – is infinitely less expensive than downloading map tiles on data roaming.

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