Adventure Nomad

Adventure Nomad

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Best GPS Apps Of 2016

Armed with GPS chips, mobile phones have become increasing powerful, and prices of such devices have fallen to levels within reach of many.  The larger screen and ability to quickly and easily update apps and maps, make them a viable replacement for dedicated GPS devices in many cases.  There are some caveats to using your phone for navigation, such as making sure you don't run out of power, and having a back-up, such as carrying paper maps or another mobile phone.  Read more here.

There is no one single best app for navigation.  Different apps have different strengths, different areas of coverage, eg. urban vs. backcountry.  In no particular order, here are the GPS apps on my iPhone and my picks for the best GPS Apps of 2016:

1.  Google Maps (Free)
Like it or not, Google is one of the best apps for GPS.  It is extremely powerful with excellent maps, including some offroad trails, a searchable data base, real-time traffic information, and turn-by-turn navigation for driving, walking/biking, and public transportation.  It requires data for use, and it is my default app at home where I have a data plan.  You can store a small portion of a map, like a city, for offline use, but that doesn't work for me, and so I don't use this app when I travel.

2.  Here Maps (Free)
Here Maps was originally developed by Nokia and is now owned by three German automotive companies - Audi, BMW and Daimler-Benz,  Map presentation is not as slick as Google Maps, but both app functions similarly.  The big difference is that it can do it Offline - meaning it does not require online data to function.  To have offline navigation capability, you will need to download the map of the country (not all countries are supported) and store that on your phone.  Once the map is downloaded, you will have a searchable data base, turn-by-turn navigation for driving, pedestrian, and public transportation.  You can also get real-time traffic information by choosing to use the app online.  Here uses its own maps, so it may be better or worse than Google, depending on where you are.

3. Maps.Me (Free)
If there is a no-brainer navigation app to download, it's Maps.Me.  For an offline GPS app with a searchable database, it's extremely responsive, fast to load app with a very small footprint.  Just to give you an idea of how remarkably compact the map data file size is, Singapore on Here Maps is a 112MB download, while it's just a 7MB on Maps.Me.  It also claims to cover every country in the world.  It uses the open source OpenStreetMaps data, which can be either good or bad, depending on contributors to the mapping database. Often, I'm able to search out locations like a small hotel or coffeeshop that cannot be found on Here Maps.  Other times, it misses completely where Here or Google Maps will find it. It offers turn-by-turn voice instructions can be enabled for driving and walking/biking, but no option for public transportation like Google or Here.  The map presentation looks quite nice, and various points of interests and landmarks pop up as you increase the scale, which is great for travellers on foot or bike to orientate themselves while moving around a city.  It's strength is being able to search out and find things that travellers would be interested in - parks, trails, coffeeshops, hotels, etc.  For my use, it has replaced Maplets on my iPhone.  I have not noticed any battery drain for Maps.Me, but I do notice that Maps.Me selects the GPS so it is always on, regardless of whether you are using the app or not. 


4. Gaia GPS (Paid)
For backcountry navigation, Gaia GPS remains my app of choice.  The availability of USGS Topo Maps for the USA and a host of other downloadable wilderness maps, and features such as being able to create a route manually on the iPhone itself, and power saving features make it a clear winner.  Gaia GPS can be used offline, and in addition, also selected for use in 'Flight Mode', which means the phone is off.  In the backcountry, this is a good thing, since it is unlikely that there is a phone signal, and your phone isn't left searching for a signal.  Note that the search function is poor, and it doesn't do turn-by-turn navigation, so it's not a GPS app for urban use.  For a write-up on navigating with Gaia GPS on your iPhone, read this.

4 comments:

Aileen Gardner said...

Hi Ken,

I’m Aileen, and I work on outreach at Gaia GPS.

Great to read about Gaia on your blog! Do you subscribe to our GaiaPro service? I’d be happy to get you set up with a free subscription. Just email me at support@gaiagps.com.

Happy trails!

Kenneth Koh said...

Thanks Aileen, I'm pretty tied up at the moment, and won't be able to do a proper test on it. But when I find the time, I'll be in touch!

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