Over the last few weeks, a lot of new navigation apps have made their way on to the different smartphone platforms like the ANS navigation app for iOS devices and the new MapmyIndia app for Android and Windows Phone devices, as well as the updated Tom Tom India app on Android. Two things come to mind now - which app to download? And are these apps better than a standalone GPS navigator? We attempt to help you with the answer for both valid questions.
However, before we get into the details of each app individually, we need to give you an idea of what a navigation app should ideally bring to the table. First, and most important, are the maps and navigation. Here, you get two varieties of apps - ones that offer offline navigation, and ones that don’t. The former will download the maps on the device’s on-board memory, and doesn’t need 3G or Wi-Fi connectivity later during navigation. This is a huge bonus, saving you on data costs every time you use the app. The apps that do not offer offline maps have the ability to offer value adds like live traffic updates.
Secondly, it is very important for a navigation app to offer proper address search, trip settings and also an updated listing of landmarks and establishments. Outdated data, either from the map provider’s end or because of your laziness in not updating, could be quite dangerous while driving.
Third, and a very important thing that you should keep in mind - all navigation apps tend to heat up the phone considerably and drain the battery very quickly, while in use. This could have a detrimental effect on the smartphone’s hardware, battery life and longevity. Use these apps only when very necessary, and always fiddle with them with the car safely parked on the side, with the hazard lights switched on.
Sygic navigation app: The amazing app is now free
Available for: Android
Tested on: HTC One
It was rather big news recently, when the Sygic navigation app for Android got a price slash from Rs. 1,399 to...FREE! By far the best GPS navigation app that we have tested, with the excellent offline maps and voice navigation. Sygic for Android continues to use the MapmyIndia maps, with 3D maps of certain cities and landmarks. The offline maps download and store ability means you can use this on a device with no connectivity to the Internet, as good as using it on a phone with no SIM card. You can download maps for specific regions across India, which not only makes the downloads easier to manage, but also take less time and space. The interface feels a tad overwhelming at times, but once you do get used to it, it just feels very nicely laid out. In case you haven’t already downloaded this, you might just want to, and keep it on the phone for emergencies.
ANS Navigator: The surprise package
Available for: iOS devices
Price: Rs 1650
Tested on: Apple iPhone 5
This could be a case of timing gone wrong for Ayana Navigation Solutions (and for the other paid apps we are mentioning here!), but just as the Sygic app went free, the company launched the ANS navigator for iOS devices. The app is priced at Rs. 1,650, and offers live traffic updates, which gives it an immediate advantage over the Sygic app. The 3D Maps don’t look as good as Sygic, but we didn't mind that, because they get the job done smoothly. In what is a rather tight integration with the iOS contacts, the ANS app lets you access contact address from within the app, and start navigation. Google’s local search is a neat feature to have, but there were many times when it simply said “server connection error” while using 3G, on the move. Address search is exactly as we would expect it to be, pretty much standard fare seen across many apps and standalone GPS devices. One big issue with the ANS Navigator app is the on-screen keyboard, which is extremely cramped and each key is extremely narrow. The interface is very basic, and just gets the job done. However, for an iPhone user, the ANS Navigator app just feels a tad out of place within the entire OS user interface, and maybe this can be looked at in the next version. If traffic updates are important for you because you may use this app a lot while driving to new locations, then this app is a must have on the iPhone.
Mapmyindia Maps: The free app with Live traffic updates
Available for: Windows Phone and Android
Tested on: Nokia Lumia 625 (Windows Phone) and HTC One (Android)
With MapmyIndia also providing maps for the Sygic app, it does become a tad confusing for most smartphone users as to which app to download, judging by the number of queries that we get. That confusion aside, we are happy that Windows Phone users have a consistent app to use, as far as the navigation needs are concerned. The MapmyIndia Maps app for Windows Phone, and also for Android, brings the visually excellent maps typical of the company’s stand-alone GPS devices. Not quite the 3D brilliance of the Sygic Maps version though, but gets the job done with absolute ease. The interface of the app looks very different on Android and on Windows Phone, with the latter’s version completely blending in with the OS’ unique interface. Interface and maps aside, you get a fairly well laid out set of features that will not confuse someone who may be using such an app for the first time. Unfortunately for me, the address the search wasn’t always the smoothest, and we ended up relying on nearby landmarks to get to some locations. Maybe, something that MapmyIndia can improve with a future update. The app does not offer off-line maps, but compensates for that by offering traffic updates on the route you may be traveling.
Tom Tom India: Costly, but impressive
Available for: Android
Price: Rs. 2,050
Tested on: HTC One
After being very impressed with the TomTom VIA GPS devices, it was with very high hope that we downloaded and tested the Tom Tom India app for Android. Tom Tom recently updated this app with new features, bringing the UI and the experience pretty close to the standalone navigators. The maps on the phone’s screen look exactly like they do on a standalone Tom Tom Via devices, which does say a lot. Within the city of Delhi and the National capital Region, the navigation was very precise. The lane guidance is something that is very useful, and comes fairly in advance. However, when compared directly, the MapmyIndia 3D maps honestly look better, and Tom Tom needs to make some improvements in that regard. We did notice that rerouting calculation at certain times took considerable amount of time, but at other times, it took about a minute at the max - again, factors like cloud cover, route alternatives and line of sight with the sky can be factors that influence the timing. A 20km journey saw the battery drop 14% and the phone became quite warm.