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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Which app helps you get around better?

The highlight of the new Maps app from Apple and Nokia phones is the navigation feature, while Google has the best map database.
The Straits Times - October 3, 2012
By: Tan Chong Yaw
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Which app helps you get around better? Apple -- PHOTO: APPLE

Apple

The iPhone display is spartan. To see details such as building outlines, you will have to turn on its satellite view. Its map database definitely needs beefing up. But the advantage that the Apple app and Google Maps have over Nokia phones is that the maps are stored in the cloud, so updates and improvements can be done quickly.

Navigation for driving

The iPhone's sparse display becomes an asset when you drive. Only vital information is shown, such as the distance to the next turn and exit number.

The next turn and road names look like road name signs and are familiar and clear. Those en route are in blue and the rest are in green.

While the "voice" sounds robotic, unlike the sassy Siri, there is no question about intelligibility.

What is outstanding though is that expressway exits and roads are all read out, so there is no worry about turning off at the wrong exit even if you do not glance at the phone.

With no satellite signals in a tunnel, some navigation devices quit on you, but the iPhone continues offering directions. This helps greatly if you need to make an exit in the tunnel.

Walking and public transport

Route planning and turn-by-turn navigation by walking is available. Besides this and driving, the public transit symbol is also shown. But tapping it will only lead to transit apps that you have installed or it will recommend ones that you have not installed.

Coverage of other countries

Apple Maps covers more than 180 countries and areas. In close to 60 of them, turn-by-turn navigation is available, including in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea.

But there is a catch - this service is cloud-based and downloads map data on the go. This spells big bucks in auto-roaming data charges when you are overseas. Unless you have deep pockets or have the habit of buying a local data SIM card when you travel, avoid using this app on the go.

You can, of course, find locations and plan routes when you tap on free Wi-Fi networks.

Maps database

The sketchiest database here, this app was especially poor in name searches but strong in address searches (see pages 8 and 9).

Verdict

The map database is not ready for prime time as it is still lacking a complete postal code database. But the driving guidance display is top-notch and the voice guidance with expressway exits and road names read-out is pretty good.

 

Google

Google Maps offers a good balance of details and a clean display. For instance, HDB block names are shown only if you zoom in.

You can tell traffic conditions at a glance from the colours used on the roads: red for congested and green for smooth.

Navigation for driving

This is not available in Singapore. You can use Maps to plan a route but do not expect it to automatically keep up with your location.

Walking and public transport

This app tops the other two as it provides bus and MRT routes besides walking routes.

Coverage of other countries

Google Maps covers close to 200countries and regions. In more than 30 countries, navigation is also offered, though Asian countries miss out.

Google offers an offline mode where pages of maps can be stored in your phone to avoid download charges, but they have to be saved manually.

With these, you can find out where you are and use the built-in compass to orientate yourself. There is no offline navigation yet.

Maps database

The top dog among the three, Google Maps scored top marks in both address and postal code searches.

Verdict

Boasting the best map database and features, you can use this as your go-to smart street directory.

 

Nokia

There are two map apps: Maps, which is a smart street directory that you can use for route planning and Drive, which is a navigation app for motorists. It is strange that the two cannot be combined as one, as Apple has done.

Details, such as house and block numbers, are displayed. However, this can clutter up the screen with too much information at times.

Navigation for driving

Nokia has the clearer human-sounding voice compared with the iPhone. It also talks more, like telling you to keep on the expressway - or motorway, according to the app - every time you approach an exit along the route.

On the Lumia 900, Drive has a tendency to occasionally re-calculate the route for no reason.

It also gets muddled in tunnels but thankfully gets its bearings soon after emerging from one.

Walking and public transport

Walking directions are provided in the Maps app.

Its public transport mode loses out to Google Maps as only MRT train routes are provided.

Coverage of other countries

People who like to drive while on their travels will find Nokia devices attractive because of the countries covered.

Nokia Drive, which provides turn-by-turn navigation, works in more than 100 countries - the most among the three here.

Its Asian countries coverage - including China - gives Nokia the one up over Apple.

Nokia Maps covers close to 200countries. You can download entire countries at a go and navigation works without the need for a data connection.

No one beats Nokia in saving the traveller money for maps and navigation.

Maps database

Although it was a far second overall compared with Google Maps, Nokia Maps ranks highest when searching by location.

Verdict

Nokia Maps are cluttered and harder to use. But the availability of maps, navigation help and the countries covered are tempting for the traveller. Expect the new Lumias running Windows 8 to up the game. Availability here has not been announced though.

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