Finding your way to the best map apps

CLAIRE ROGERS
Last updated 16:45 08/10/2012
Map apps
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THE FINDER: Which map app is best for you?

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Apple's rotten handling of its new problem-plagued map application led to an unprecedented backdown this week - with the company suggesting users revert to rival Google's maps.

DATA VERSUS DOWNLOADING

Some mapping apps, such as Google Maps and Apple Maps, use cellular data to give you maps and directions, so you'll need to be mindful of your mobile internet cap when using them, particularly if you're overseas as data roaming is very expensive. Obviously, the more directions you get and maps you use, the more data you chew through. With others, such as TomTom and CoPilot GPS, you download the mapping data to your phone so you don't need to use mobile internet - handy when you're out of coverage. These apps can be reasonably large files so make sure you have room to store them before hitting the download button.

GPS applications can also drain your device's battery.

GOOGLE MAPS

Built-in with Android operating systems

Probably the one you're most familiar with and the most-recommended option, Google Maps really put navigation apps on the map. The latest version has turn-by-turn navigation prompts, allows you to search for places by voice and to see "layers" of information such as photos, terrain type and traffic flows on top of the basic map, and zoom in on satellite images to get a bird's eye view of the area. You can also switch over to Street View mode to take a "virtual walk" down a street of interest. It doesn't have 3-D flyovers like Apple's mapping app - you need to go to Google Earth for that. Handily, you can save maps so you can refer to them later if you're without internet access. You can also use the ‘My places' feature to mark your favourite eateries and hangouts and share them with others, and if you use Google Maps while signed into your Google account you can access your search history and saved maps on any device.

APPLE MAPS

Supplied to iPad/iPhone users when they download Apple's new iOS6 operating system

Apple ditched Google Maps from its mobile operating system after the two technology behemoths were apparently unable to agree on terms for Apple licensing Google's voice navigation feature. But Apple's rival mapping application has had a horror debut - with chief executive Tim Cook making a rare public apology for its embarrassing inaccuracies, which included placing Dunedin Airport at the top of the South Island.

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What the app does have - that Google Maps doesn't - is a 3-D flyover feature that gives you a Superman view of large cities. It's a pretty impressive feature but unfortunately is only available for cities in the United States, Britain, France and Canada. The app has spoken turn-by-turn voice directions for when you're driving but currently lacks much of the rich information and helpful features provided by Google Maps, such as public transport options and detailed information about landmarks.

iPhone users unhappy with Apple's attempt at a mapping app may just have to make do in the short term - Google appears in no rush to offer an app for the iTunes store. iPhone users can use Google Maps through their browsers - just go to maps.google.co.nz.

TOMTOM

$95, currently for iPhone/iPad only, Android app due out soon

TomTom was one of the original companies making GPS units for cars, but if you don't want to bother with a dedicated sat-nav device that sits on your dashboard it also lets people download its software to their iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. The app has the same functionality as the units, allowing users to do all the basic navigation tasks as well as giving more advanced info - such as which lane to be in on motorways and multi-lane intersections, the best route for the day and time and, for an extra cost, regularly updated traffic information. The app continues to give directions even if you're talking on the phone - hands-free of course - and it also integrates with Facebook, so you can get directions to events created in Facebook.

MAGELLAN ROADMATE

$75, for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

TomTom's lesser-known rival Navman also has an app that mimics the functionality of its in-car GPS units. It includes live traffic information, again through an in-app purchase, lane guidance, continued navigation during phone calls, and a pedestrian mode for those travelling on foot.

WAZE

Free for iPhone or Android

Waze is a relatively popular map app alternative. It has voice-guided navigation but has in the past copped criticism for not having the most complete map data. However, users say its big drawcard is the real-time traffic and incident alerts sent in by other drivers in the community. As users drive around, that roading data is also uploaded to Waze, so its maps data should keep improving.

COPILOT

GPS Free for iPhone, iPad, Android

Like the TomTom and Magellan apps, CoPilot GPS stores mapping data on your device so you don't need wi-fi or mobile internet to get directions. As with most of the other apps, it includes local points of interest, such as hotels and petrol stations, and also lets you search for local attractions through Microsoft's Bing search engine and Wikipedia. The free version of the app has only visual directions, and also has a maps mode for walkers. To get voiced turn-by-turn directions as well as live traffic updates you'll need to upgrade to the premium version for about $49.

SYGIC

$47 for iPhone and Android

The Sygic app repackages TomTom mapping data and other goodies such as voice directions, lane guidance and traffic updates to help you get from A to B. All map info is stored on your phone so you don't need an internet connection to use it. The app integrates with Google so you can search listings for local businesses and attractions. The Australian and New Zealand maps come bundled in the one download too, so if you ever need directions across the ditch you're sorted.

UPDATED

NOKIA MAPS

Free for Windows Phones

In good news for Windows Phone users Nokia also has some favourably reviewed navigation apps: Nokia Maps - for walking around, driving directions, finding public transport and pointing out interesting landmarks around you - and Nokia Drive - available in Nokia Lumia phones for turn-by-turn voice directions when you're behind the wheel. The apps also let you save mapping data and directions for when you're offline. Nokia Maps is built-in to Windows Phones but you can use it on other smartphones.

Sources: Reuters, Cnet, PCWorld, TomTom, Apple, Google, Navman, PCMag, Magellan GPS, Google Play, GottaBeMobile, EHow, ALK Technologies, Waze, Sygic.

- The Dominion Post

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