Sat nav apps have really taken off in recent years. These days we test almost as many sat nav apps as we do standalone devices. There’s a wide selection, ranging from free apps from brands you’ve never heard of, to pricier options from renowned brands like Garmin.
To find the best sat navs, we put each one through a series of tough tests using a route simulator, including a route with busy city streets, complex junctions involving several turns in quick succession, and single and multiple lane roundabouts. But what are the sat nav apps you should download? Read on for our pick of the best free offerings available for iPhone and Android.
Best Buy sat navs – find out which sat navs and apps aced our tests
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 has clearly been beavering away behind the scenes, as when we tested Apple Maps, we didn’t encounter any such issues. In fact, Apple Maps is a breeze to use – it’s a simple app with few frills so there’s little to confuse you and you won’t get caught up in endless options.
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 performed in our tough tests
Google Maps Navigation for Android and iOS – best for Street View
Probably 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 gets 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.
TomTom GPS Navigation Traffic (Android) – best for occasional drivers
Paid-for TomTom apps and standalone sat navs have impressed us in the past, with good maps and clear guidance. With the TomTom GPS Navigation Traffic app for Android you’ll get up to 50 miles of navigation per month for free.
The standard map package allows you to download maps by specific region, such as Iberia or Scandinavia, and these can be updated up to four times a year. These are detailed and clear to read, as we’ve come to expect from TomTom.
If you plan to drive more than 50 miles a month this app is still worth a look – it costs £14 for a one-year subscription or £34 for three years, so it’s still good value. There’s a version for Apple users too – read our TomTom GO Mobile for iOS review.
TomTom GPS Navigation Traffic (Android) – can it live up to standalone TomTom sat navs?
HERE Maps – best for free maps
The HERE Maps, now known as HERE WeGo, app is completely free, and can be used online or offline. It includes worldwide maps, and live traffic data is available too. You’ll get turn-by-turn voice navigation worldwide, and if you’ve downloaded the maps at home the app can be used offline – useful if you’re abroad or have a limited data plan. Beware though, as downloading maps can use a huge amount of storage space, so if your Android device doesn’t have an SD-card slot this may be an issue.
HERE Maps review – is a completely free app too good to be true?