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Car GPS and app reviews


#1

If you’re looking for a navigation system for your vehicle, our review can help you find the best GPS systems (member content) at the right price. We also have an article on GPS devices vs GPS apps in case you need help deciding which type to purchase.

Post your questions or experiences with GPS in the comments below.


Google Maps, Apple Maps and Waze compared
Car GPS Navigation and traffic
#2

We use the free Mapfactor GPS Navigation (MGN for Android) and have found it really good. Country maps are also free and multiple can be downloaded…really dependent on the storage capacity of the device. It is especially useful when travelling overseas. It is also updated regularly by users which keeps maps current, however, can chew up data allowances (e.g. Australia mapping is about 0.1GB) if one decides to update over the mobile network. However, map updates are notified automatically and are updated manually (by going to the map download area).

Recently on our trip to Chile, we also used a car GPS (Mazda and Hyundai) and also downloaded (WIFI) Google Maps for the area we were staying. We used Google Maps only to travel to features which were not present in MGN.

We found the road coverage and accuracy of MGN superior to Google Maps and the in car GPS. Google Maps possible can second out of the three but often didn’t have the small rural roads often which can be used for ‘shortcuts’.

The in car GPS often was in the nether nether with our location an arrow on a featureless/blank screen.

The only downside with using three GPS options was the nominated speed limit in MGN was often different to the in car GPS, which at times both were also different to signed limited (if and where they existed…in Chile off the motorways/highways, signage can be limited to non-existent).

In relation to ease of use, Google Maps was the easiest to use, then MGN/in car GPS were possibly similar.

Something which we also found useful with MGN, is when we had wifi we would search for features we wanted to visit using the in app google search function and then used this to create waypoints within the app. We ended up doing this particularly in rural areas where Google Maps and the in Car GPS mapping was non-existent.

The other big advantage we found was in China where Google Maps is offset by a significant distance (estimate by about 200-300m) if one downloads a map before leaving…or as google is blocked, it can’t be used within China. We didn’t have any problems using MGN in China and it was reasonably accurate (less offset than Google Maps).

Only downside of MGN is it does chew through battery power relatively quickly.

Voice commands with MGN we also felt were better. They provide more and greater distance notifications to turns/intersections and such like. Its voice was just as good as Google Maps.

A downside for Google Maps is it can be fiddly downloading maps for long journeys as it limits the area of coverage that can be downloaded in a single map section. MGN has map for whole country in its download.


#3

Thanks for the detailed response @phb, I’m sure it will be useful to other readers.


#4

I rather like GPS units with the SUNA system app fitted as standard . Probably goes back to my Courier driving days where SUNA system warned me of accidents , road works and slow downs ahead of me . /

Even though my Suzuki has sat -nav fitted , I believe the SUNA system is available but I have not activated it , I use an 6 year old Garmin Nuvi 2640 mounted low on the windscreen , only 4.3 inch screen . I guess I’m so used to using it over 5 vehicles and I like the ease at which it responds to voice commands . The Suzuki system is not as precise , at least to my voice , may vary with others .


#5

Could we have screen size & free updates as filter criteria please? (Assuming that still not all products update maps for free.)

I use Google Maps in preference to the Apple Maps and a 5yo Garmin. The Google maps have led me astray less than the Apple or Garmin. I also find the Google easier to use.

I guess it all comes down to personal preference.


#6

I have come to take GPS reviews with a grain of salt. I have a Garmin 3597LMT that was top rated when purchased not too many years ago, a lower end Tomtom Via1515M, and an integrated Tomtom Carminat in a vehicle.

The voice commands across the lot of them are all but useless with my particular US accent, and to get the Garmin’s attention I entered the attention word as ‘Vois cammand’ in the text, and it usually responds, at least until I say a city or street name when it is laughably wrong 99% of the time. Tomtoms have been hopeless in my case.

For routing I find the Tomtoms better than Garmin and 99% of the time reflect a google maps route. The Garmin has a mind of its own and never learns. Now and then I follow the Garmin’s directions to see new and exciting streets and places few would have considered to be on the best route, even in suburban Melbourne.

That being written we were headed west from Toronto to Michigan and just after crossing the bridge into the US the Tomtom took us off the interstate highway and wanted to do a U-turn back toward Canada! Later in the trip, in an area I grew up in, it missed the destination by about 2 miles and I followed it just to see where it would take me - into an industrial car park well away from the target hotel. That reinforces one need pay attention and not follow it off a dock into a lake, or down a sidewalk or pedestrian steps as is sometimes reported.

That being my experience, Tomtom has better routing in our metro areas as well as larger regional towns, while Garmin has a better user interface.

Re the lifetime maps, the GPS manufacturers (and car makers) are particularly arrogant in how they sell maps if you do not have a lifetime maps product. Part of the problem to report maps is that their products often have w/ and /wo lifetime maps or traffic, so one might get a model (using a Garmin convention) 1000LMT or a 1000LM or a 1000 at different price points (L=lifetime, M= maps, T= traffic).

I also find the traffic feature is laughable as often as not with routing responses to serious traffic rarely dynamic. It once took me off the M80 to avoid a Very Bad Backup but most times it is happy to let me sit in traffic when I could (and do under my own accord) go along the side streets to escape it. Conclusion: Marketing hype sells.

Excepting for our mobile phone laws I am persuaded they are the better GPS solution if you have a mount and a sufficient screen and do not mind managing them.


#7

I’ll be sure to pass on your feedback. Thanks @meltam


#8

I use Google Maps on Android - works well enough for me - Android version is 8.1, maps knows enough to get me there when its on road and last I checked I could still cache maps (only have to travel 30-something k from town and no mobile coverage).

Off road I use a Garmin Etrex-30 in the 'cruiser or the dual sport bike - small and lightweight and easy to grab and go walking with, good for the bike because it’s small and rugged (I’ll assume we are talking vehicles generally - my GPS use spans on and off-road cars and bikes). Got a couple of different map variants depending on the terrain/location.

A little off topic, but for logging I use ‘GPS Logger’ - more for fun and so I can look back and know what I did rather than what to do next - then tracks can be overlaid on google maps or google earth for a nice picture of the day’s outing. Phone GPS logging is also a little less obvious your trip is being ‘logged’ …


#9

I think I will continue to use my iPhone maps or my old garmin rather than the car makers installed version, for a number of reasons.
Firstly the car makers systems are often out of date before the car is sold and often very clunky to use, but secondly and most importantly often the upgrade to get the latest version with so called update maps costs many times the price of good quality aftermarket dash mounted unit.
Some dealers charge up to $1000 or more for the upgrade to their clunky systems and they too are often still years behind the latest maps.


#10

I just use the “offline map” feature in the settings of Google Maps on the phone/tablet. You just have to do an update every 30 days (which the system warns you about as the day gets close) to keep them active. You don’t have to travel any distance/where nor do you have to be out of mobile coverage.


#11

A good quality aftermarket GPS also has free map updates for life.


#12

I had a TomTom but felt that it needed upgrading as it was quite old and the maps were outdated and it was going to cost too much to update. With our Flybuy Points we upgraded for free to a new Navman. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We would never buy a Navman again. Our TomTom navigated us much better. It provided several alternative routes for you to choose from and re-routed you quicker. In saying that, I never have a problem with my iPhone Maps GPS. I would use Maps over anything else. It provides alternate routes for you to choose from, it learns which way you prefer to go and it re-routes quickly. The Navman has to be on the front windscreen in order to pick up a signal, whereas the iPhone can be anywhere in the car and doesn’t lose connection. It means when my husband is driving and we have passengers, I can sit in the back and navigate with Maps. We have high data on our phone plan, so we never come close to going over our plan.


#13

Navigation & Map apps is a broad topic. I find the apps good for touring are different than around town, and using one for everyday for public transport or cycling different again. Nothing does it all well.
For in car, we have a 10 year old Tom Tom unit which my wife prefers to most apps, however the maps are long out of date & not worth to pay the annual fee for.

Galileo Offline Maps as a ‘where we’ve been’ tracker, relatively kind to the battery. Used this only on an iPad. The Android version used to be very different and inferior, maybe caught up by now. Even worked well in high speed trains (except tunnels of course).

HERE WeGo is one of the better all-rounders & looks good too. not seeing I mostly use it for daily working out public transport variations around Melbourne. Better than the PTV. I’m surprised this didn’t make it to the test list as a Nav app. Getting left behind in general touring functionality. The iOS version used to be sub-standard. Google Maps has recently lifted its game here and is now a contender. Apple maps is doing well in this category, even in China where almost nothing else in English works.

Sygic for our irregular touring, is a comprehensively featured app. Not much it doesn’t have. After a very old TomTom unit, this is my wife’s second preference. TomTom Go is OK however we both find it’s ugliness distracting from the information it presents, together with a UI not optimised.

Google Maps for a quick trip around town where we don’t know, has become the easiest option. I don’t like that it doesn’t have speed. Feeding back on the Choice Apple Maps rating, my wife (the iOS owner) dislikes it intensely.

Here’s a quick list of my important features:
Always presenting 3 or more route alternatives
Fast auto route updating when you decide on minor changes yourself
Very clear speed zone AND actual speeds (as the car speedo indication is a joke)
Prefer it has an eco-route option
Traffic
No adds or pay to remove adds
Route planning
+ Pre-save stops, hotels, etc
+ Easily add, delete, re-order a route
Smart enough to :
+ know you’ve parked/arrived ‘little’ bit away, & not keep on telling you to drive 100 more meters more.
+ take side streets when near a destination rather than circuitously around major streets to the closest point
+ avoid difficult turns (eg turning through or into heavy traffic at uncontrolled intersections)
(I’d like to be able to mark certain intersections with some turn directions as difficult or impossible)
Also work in bicycle, public transport, or pedestrian mode
Capability when traveling to search in both English and the local language.


#14

Thanks for the detailed thoughts @Kanga2, I’ll have to check some of these out.


#15

Our 2018 GPS review (member content) is out now :oncoming_automobile:


#16

Next time around you might add scoring the voice control. My Garmin can rarely understand me no matter how carefully or tediously set up, but understands my partner reasonably well when set to Australian English. When set to US English it understands me OK but complains that it cannot work in US English with Australian locations. My personal score for the ‘feature’ would be a generous zero.


#17

Thanks @TheBBG, I’ll be sure to mention your suggestion to the product tester in charge of this project.


#18

I feel your pain, Phil. It sounds like the Garmin doesn’t understand your accent whilst set to AU English. My car, a private import from Japan, has voice control, but I need to speak Japanese with a strong Japanese accent for it to understand me, and as a result, I only ever demonstrate it for novelty value. :sweat_smile:

In terms of testing the voice control feature on Car GPS devices, I could ask one of our staff with a USAmerican accent to be involved in the test, but that could be seen as biased if I didn’t also ask people with accents A, B, C, … through to Z and beyond. I’ll certainly discuss this further with @DenisGallagher prior to the next project. Thank you for the suggestion !


#19

There are really two aspects, one being the accent, and I understand the difficulty of picking some common representative ones, and the other is Garmins inability to use non-Australian accents for local voice control. Although Woolloomooloo might be pronounced differently, one would hope they have a clue about how to match words intonated with accents as place or street names, or at least come close. The Garmin cannot (does not even try, by definition), and a Tomtom is happy to give it a go but cannot come within a state of getting it right for me. I turn voice commands/recognition on sometimes for entertainment as that is all it is good for. :smiley:


#20

Some more for the testing regime (and a good excuse for a ‘road trip’):

Last week we headed south for Christmas, and a few kilometres out of town made our ‘last turn for a while’.

The GPS (a Garmin Nuvo) announced something to the effect (can’t remember the exact wording) “turn left in twelve-fourteen kilometres”.

Firstly, the GPS didn’t know how to say “one thousand two hundred and fourteen kilometres” or “twelve hundred and fourteen kilometres” - but it does know how to say “eight hundred kilometres” for example.

Secondly, the rolling ‘distance remaining until next turn’ was blank until we got to 999 kilometres from the calculated turn …

I remember trying to get automated directory assistance in the US some years ago and having to fake a 'merkin accent for it to understand - I wonder how anyone would use voice recognition in the outback, with many indigenous place names - or maybe indigenous folk would be the only ones who would have trouble using it, given the spelling is so often wildly misleading on pronunciation unless one to some extent groks Pitjantjatjara, Arrernte, Warlpiri, etc… I doubt many GPS manufacturers have factored this in …