Sat Nav apps have really taken off in recent years, and these days we test almost as many apps as we do stand alone devices. There’s a wide selection, ranging from free apps from brands you’ve never heard of, to the pricier options from renowned brands like TomTom and Garmin.
To find the best sat navs, we put each one through a series of on-road tests, including busy city streets, complex junctions involving several turns in quick succession, and single and multiple lane roundabouts. But what are the sat nav app should you download? Read on for our pick of the best free offerings available for iPhone and Android.
For the verdict on the latest sat navs and apps, check out our Sat nav reviews
Apple Maps for iOS – best for turn-by-turn instructions
Apple Maps got a good old kicking on its original release. Missing towns, roads vanishing at will, and directions that would route you onto rail lines were all reported by users within a few hours, prompting a full apology from Apple, and a promise to fix the issues.
The good news is that Apple have clearly been beavering away behind the scenes, as when we tested Apple Maps, we didn’t encounter any such issues. In fact, we came away impressed by this free app. Spoken turn-by-turn instructions are clear and easy to understand, with the maps refreshingly clear and uncluttered.
One thing to be aware of is that Apple Maps doesn’t have an offline mode, meaning that it requires a constant data stream – not a problem if you have an unlimited data plan, but something to keep in mind if you do.
Apple Maps review - see the full results of how Apple Maps did when we took to the road
Navmii for Android – best for simple instructions
Unlike Apple Maps, Navmii works offline, so you don’t need to constantly be concerned about burning through your mobile data allowance.
The strength of Navmii is that it’s simple to set up and use. You can download it and be on the road within a couple of minutes. Not only is the display clear and uncluttered, the audio instructions are generally good, with solid pronunciation. In our experience these can be something of a mixed bag with free apps, so it’s reassuring that the Navmii app doesn’t cut corners here.
It might be a little basic for some, however. There are no spoken street names, and the point of interest function is iffy. We drove through a densely populated town, and were told that the nearest supermarket was 26 miles away. A long way to go for a pint of milk.
Navmii Android - see the review for our on-road test results
Google Maps Navigation for Android and iOS – best for street view
The most well-known free app, Google Maps has some rather clever features. Live traffic info with coloured lines providing a clue to the severity of the traffic situation is useful, and unusual on a free app.
Unlike most other apps, you don’t just get UK maps – you get 220 countries and territories, which for free, represents amazing value. On the downside, there are no speed warnings, which you might miss if you’re used to that feature on other sat navs.
When you get to your destination street the screen switches automatically to Street View mode for a clearer view of where your final destination is located. There’s voice activation too, although there’s little initial guidance on when you can use it. Google Maps is available on both Android and iOS devices, and there’s little difference between the two versions.
Waze for Android and iOS – Best for community
Here’s a sat nav app that does things a little differently. Essentially a community driven app, the routes in Waze are created by the users. Content like ‘time to destination’ and traffic data is submitted by other drivers. This does mean that if you live out in the sticks, there’s less chance of having usable information for your area, but major cities and roads should all be catered for.
Spoken instructions can be something of a mixed bag when it comes to free apps, with most barking directions at you like an angry robot. Waze get’s it right here, with spoken instructions that are actually pleasant to listen to.
The information is gathered passively, meaning that as you drive your route data is contributing to improving Waze’s mapping, but you can take a more active role if you wish, submitting information such as road hazards or accidents. It’s an interesting experiment – think of it like a road based Wikipedia.
Telmap M8 for Android and iOS – Best for free traffic
The Telmap M8 comes complete with built-in traffic and speed camera data, for free, which marks it out as something of a rarity in the app world – most carry in-app purchases for extras like this. While this information might not be as extensive as you’d see in a paid for app, it’s still a nice bonus.
There’s a whole range of other options too, including built-in TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet reviews, which saves you from switching from the app to Google, as well as other useful features, like your nearest ATM.
As for the navigation itself, it’s simple to use, and east to follow the instructions. We found it a little bit slow in places, and if you’ve experienced a paid for app from the likes of TomTom or Google, this one will seem lacking. It’s worth a punt though if you just need an app for the odd occasion, and don’t want to spend any money.