What’s the best free sat nav app? – A top five guide
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. We’ve taken a look at some of the free ones available for iPhone and Android.
To find the best sat navs, we put each one through a series of on-road tests. We have devised an extremely demanding test route that includes busy city streets, complex junctions involving several turns in quick succession, multiple lanes, and single and multiple lane roundabouts.
We measure how well sat navs deal with all this, looking at the quality of visual and audio instructions. When it comes to apps, we also take into account how easy they are to download and install. Clear road directions are one thing, but if an app has you tearing your hair out before you even get on the road, we’ll let you know about it.
Find out more about how we test sat navs.
We have found that free sat nav apps are very mixed when it comes to overall performance. Here we’ve rounded-up the most popular options, but be sure you to check our full sat nav reviews to see how they perform on the road.
MapQuest UK for Android and iPhone
Mapquest boasts many features – voice commands, live traffic and auto re-routing among them. However, one features that is missing is any sort of guide or instruction manual. This is a common problem with free apps, although thankfully many of them are self explanatory.
The voice command feature is a welcome addition to anyone wanting to replicate the functions of a stand alone sat nav. In theory it provides a nice solution to prodding at a screen to trying to select your destination. Drivers can speak the name of the place they want to go to, and the app will automatically set the route.
MapQuest also comes with a traffic monitoring system. This is free, and comes with the app – unlike other apps there’s no additional fee for this service. In theory this lets you beat the queues, but during our testing we found it wasn’t always a success.
MapQuest UK review - See what we thought of Mapquest UK when we reviewed it for Android devices.
Navfree for iOS
Like many sat nav apps , NavFree uses maps from OpenStreetMap, a world mapping project that anyone can get involved in.
This iPhone app allows you to access your iPod music library directly from the map screen.
Like most sat nav apps, you can take advantage of free map updates, although this version covers UK and Ireland only. You can download separate Navfree apps covering various European countries.
This is one of the better free apps we’ve tested. A new version with a few small improvements has been released since we tested it.
NavFree app review - see the review for our on-road test results
Google Maps Navigation for Android and iOS
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.
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
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.
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.
Waze has a voice command feature, but our experience with it wasn’t a huge success.
Waze review – Are community sat navs the way forward?
Nokia Drive for Windows Phones
Nokia Drive is a free sat nav app for those of you with Windows mobiles.
It does a lot of things right – you can download the maps to your phone, so you’re not relying on a constant data connection to update the journey, a welcome feature for those on a limited data plan.
Nokia Drive also adds speed warnings, a feature which we don’t see on all free apps (Google Maps doesn’t have them, for example), but we found that they weren’t always reliable as we would have liked. Read our review for the full details.
There is a re-routing option, so if you take a the wrong turn on a roundabout, Nokia Drive is quick to set you on the right path. There’s no option for changing your route though, a feature which is disappointingly absent on most free apps.
The Nokia Drive app comes with European maps.
Nokia Drive review - is this app worth downloading for your Windows Phone?
If you’re willing to spend a little money on a sat nav app, we also have reviews of paid-for apps from TomTom, Garmin and Co-Pilot in our sat nav reviews.
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