Ditch your satnav - the ultimate free navigation apps

With the right app installed on your smartphone or tablet, you don’t need a satnav on your dashboard to find your way from point A to point B

Here’s NMTBP’s guide to the best free navigation apps available for Windows Phone, iOS, Android and BlackBerry. It’s a competitive market, which is good news for drivers as apps try and outdo each other in terms of features and accuracy

If you do a lot of driving, look out for features such as live traffic alerts, automatic re-routing and extra help at junctions. For the full satnav effect, and to stay safe on the road, treat yourself to a compatible car dock for your phone or tablet too

Nokia Drive+ is the latest, greatest, Windows 8-compatible version of Nokia Drive and you can get your hands on it if you own a Lumia 820 or 920. There’s much to like about the app, from the clear and bright interface (using the familiar Windows Phone tiles) to the choice of routes (fastest, shortest, or most economical). There’s the option to download maps before you set off, so the app can work offline, and you can opt to re-route around motorways, toll roads and unpaved roads if you choose to

Like the Nokia Maps app, Drive+ looks the part, with big, chunky direction arrows and map designs that make it easy to pick out your route and upcoming roads. You can choose to show time of arrival, how long you’ve got left to travel, or how far you still need to go, and the app displays your current miles per hour too

While Nokia may not have the mapping track record of some of its rivals, Drive+ proves that Windows Phone 8 users have access to a satnav app of their own that they can be proud of

Google brought free turn-by-turn directions to its Map app in 2009 and the navigation component has continued to improve since. You can opt to avoid motorways and toll roads, see alternative routes, check traffic conditions on most major roads and get a full list of directions. Instructions are clear and easy to understand, and of course the app ties in with all of Google’s other services (so you can quickly get to a place you’ve starred on the desktop version of Google Maps, for example)

You won’t find some of the more advanced features available elsewhere - like automatic re-routing or lane guidance - but for most users Google Maps is a more than adequate solution. The wealth of data and places logged by the service down the years means you can be sure of getting to the right place, and of course you can always use Street View to check out a particular venue or fork in the road. There’s also a turn-by-turn walking mode available, if you have to ditch the car and wander the streets on foot

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the past 12 months you’ll know all about the criticism that has come Apple’s way since the company ditched Google Maps and built its own alternative. In reality, the accuracy of Apple Maps isn’t that bad for the vast majority of locations, and in terms of appearance the app is certainly stylish and easy on the eye. The vector-based 3D graphics look great on screen, and the intuitiveness of the app is as good as you would expect for something built by Apple. The large blue direction signs and clever panning mean you always know where you’re meant to be going, though there’s no advanced lane guidance, and traffic updates are fairly basic

One of the more useful features in Apple Maps is the ability to snap quickly between multiple routes for the same journey, and by switching from one to the other you can compare total distance and estimated time. The 3D satellite view available in some of the major cities across the country looks really impressive, though it makes it more difficult to work out where you’re supposed to be going

It’s built in to iOS

Navfree relies on the OpenStreetMap project, which you can think of as a Wikipedia for maps. Maps are cached for offline use, so you can carry on driving even if you lose your data signal, and you can easily switch between 2D and 3D views as well as adjust the zoom level from the map screen

The app provides detailed guidance for complicated junctions, warns you about upcoming changes in the speed limit and nearby speed cameras, and there’s a useful demo mode so you can work your way through the route before you even leave the house. Like several other apps here, Navfree switches to a night mode in the evening to reduce the glare cast by your phone or tablet. Live parking and live traffic updates are available as paid-for add-ons, but even the basic Navfree is adequate for the majority of users

Free on Android & iOS

Waze is free and powered by its community of users - the routes and the time estimations are all submitted by users in the field

While the map designs are a bit more rough and ready than some of the other apps included here, everything works well and both the route on screen and on the voice instructions were clear and easy to keep up with. The ability to see reports left by other users, and add reports yourself - about traffic delays or other problems - can prove invaluable, as long as there are other Waze users on your stretch of road. Checking how much snow there is on a particular street, for example, is something Waze can do better than other apps, as long as there are users available to provide feedback (so get your friends to sign up too)

Some of the data you submit to Waze, such as your speed and journey time, is collected automatically, so you don’t need to be tapping the screen every five minutes. Multiple routes can be loaded up for the same journey, and if you follow particular roads on a regular basis then Waze will learn your favourite routes as you drive around them. Other nice touches include Foursquare integration and a petrol station finder

Free on Android & iOS

The funky sounding M8 has its eye on the local deals market and, with this in mind, offers its core satnav app free of charge - the idea presumably being that you interrupt your journey and pull over to take advantage of a 2-for-1 offer at Pizza Express

Don’t let that put you off, though, because the vouchers and offers are discreetly promoted and the app as a whole has a lot going for it. It’s not top of the tree in terms of design and polish, but it gets you where you need to be, and is free of charge

There are plenty of bonus features here too that you might have expected to pay for, such as live traffic updates, speed camera warnings and pedestrian navigation. It goes beyond the satnav basics to bring you local places of interest, suggestions from Yelp, Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor, as well as the aforementioned deals and vouchers (extra content, like the Good Pub Guide, can be purchased from within the app)

While the 3D toy car view may not be to everyone’s taste, M8 is straightforward to use and well worth trying out if you don’t want to spend any money for your satnav app

Free on Android, BlackBerry and iOS

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February 08, 2013

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