What’s the best free sat nav app? – A top five guide

by , Technology Researcher Apps 24/03/2014
Top-5_Free-apps

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.

Sat nav reviews – our full test lab verdict

Apple Maps for iOS – best for turn-by-turn instructions

apple maos
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 iOS/Android – best for simple instructions

navmii4
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, with no spoken street names and sparse points of interest.

Navmii iOS/ Navmii Android -  see the review for our on-road test results

Google Maps Navigation for Android and iOS – best for street view

Gmaps
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.

Google Maps Android / Google maps iOS - has Google cracked the free sat nav challenge?

Waze for Android and iOS – Best for community

Waze
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 iOS/ Waze Android - are community sat navs the way forward?

Telmap M8 for Android and iOS – Best for free traffic

Telmap
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.

Telmap M8 iOS/ Telmap M8 Android - read our full review if Telmap M8 on both iOS and Android

More on this

What’s the best maps app? - our verdict on mapping apps
Best sat navs – read our reviews of the latest sat navs
How we test sat navs – see how we test sat navs in the lab and on the road

20 comments

Add your comments

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Dave

Hard to know what to believe in these reviews – the Google Maps navigation review and both Skobbler reviews have the same ‘Oddities’ descriptions – supposedly identical odd events that occurred during the road test in the same sequence on all three apps?

Give me a break.

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Chris Christoforou

Thanks for spotting that Dave – the Google Maps review will be corrected overnight.

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graham

The problem I had with free apps for Android is they either don’t work very well or you need a mobile network connection. So Google Maps is brilliant for finding places, points of interest, reviews, directions, traffic , etc, etc, if you have a network connection, but it uses up massive amounts of your monthly data allowance and if you go abroad it would cost a fortune.

So I bought a fairly cheap one called NDrive for my Android phone. It works in the UK and all over Europe pretty well, has points of interest, safety cameras, and is talking about adding in traffic (for a fee I guess). The post code doesn’t always work too well though. Be interested to know what you think of this and other ones you buy.

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Philip Roberts

I bought a TomTom app for Iphone or Ipod touch after reading a great review in a computer magazine. I thought it would be good to have a satnav that could also have other uses rather than the dedicated one I already have. I had to buy a car kit as well to use it in the car but it charges the device as it’s acting as a satnav. Just bear in mind that Tom Tom car kit for Ipod touch doesn’t support the 4th generation model.

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David

Hi I’ve got the Tom Tom app and separate holder which seems to improve the signal, charge the phone and have an in built speaker. I agree that although the original holder wasn’t designed for iphone 4, they now supply a small piece of foam with a sticky back which sorts out the original reason it didn’t use to work.

The only downside to the Tom Tom App is that you have to factor in the cost of the holder and the app which can be £70+ for the holder and another £60 for the European App. Despite I am really pleased with it and find it a great help.

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Dafydd

Interestingly, 113 kilometres per hour translates to 70 miles per hour, and 50 kph to just over 30 mph. Were these oddities on roads with 70 and 30 restrictions respectively?

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NukeThemAll

A key part of any such reviews – which should be given due prominence – is the app’s ability to use cached (off-line) maps. As others have said, if the app is totally dependent on a good data connection, you can be in trouble! Some of the ‘droid apps can use cached Open Street Map (eg supported by a PC programme or downloading at home using, say, Wi-Fi) which eliminates the problem.

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Chris Christoforou

Thanks for the comments – offline ability is something will be focussing on more in future reviews.

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Di Cunningham

Looking for an app for my I phone 3GS or touch to use when we go to the USA
My touch is a few years old, where you need to listen through head phones but has wi-fi
Do you need to put on data roaming to have it on phone or touch
We did have a sat nav for the car but sent it back

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mrrog

i,ve looked extensively at all the free sat nav apps, but accept this was 12 months ago so some might have improved their features, my criteria for selection was:- free app, offline maps, turn by turn voice nav, offline nav, waypoints. the clear winner in this is ‘osmand’, for an easier app to use but without waypoints use ‘navfree’. (osmand clearly essential for cyclists)

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gyre

I’ve used Navigon for the iPhone since it came out years ago. It’s improved a lot in the years, but I’ve always been impressed since the first version. I think they’ve been bought out by a big company like Garmin recently… and the offering is still impressive.

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gavin

best free one i use and its offline is navfree

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curious person

Why are the comments written before the review was written/published? Is this a rehash of a earlier review or just reposting old comments?

Hi there,

We’ll periodically update posts on Tech Daily to reflect new testing information and updated apps. So the 2013 edition of this post featured different recommendations and highlighted areas for improvement that have since been built upon.

When we update a post, the old comments from previous versions will remain in place.

Thanks

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Simon

What about Navfree for Android? Free as the name suggests, no data connection required in use (downloads the full map for your country to your phone before you can use it) uses google local for local search and has plugins for traffic and speed cameras.

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Geoff Todd

I am a Brit living in France and I use the Google maps sat nav quite a bit and find it very useful on my iPhone 4S. My problem is that I can find no way of changing the language of the voice – so I have American female voice instructions which are clear but she has not been programmed to correctly pronounce the French names – making it almost impossible to understand the place and road names she utters.

It seems that Google have not thought to have the facility to change the language spoken? Pity, as with French instructions, the app would be (for me) perfect.

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Al K

I use MapFactor Navigator on my Galaxy S3. Cached maps, pretty accurate but not the most intuitive interface. Never got me lost though….

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SATISH

does any apps provide live traffic. i end up paying£47.50 per year to tomtom – unsure if it is worth it – drive about 7000 miles per year

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SATISH

does any apps provide live traffc like tomtom does

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SATISH

does any apps provide live traffic like tomtom?

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