Hot on the heels of a roundup of free GPS apps for Android OS phones, we'll now take a look at seven paid rivals ranging in price up to $29. For each of these seven, we'll answer the burning question, "Does this app offer you enough to justify its price?"
When it comes to choosing a GPS app, one of the first things to ask yourself is whether you mind spending anything for it. With excellent navigation and toolbox options like Google Maps Navigation and GPS Essentials available absolutely free, many people will have a hard time with the idea of forking over money.
However, the defining difference here is often the need (or not) for Internet access. Most free apps require at least some level of internet access for downloading maps to your device on the go. That's why free apps are fine for casual users who only expect to want to know which exit to take, here or there.
Yet, if you're engaged in serious traveling like a road trip, the need for on-the-fly map downloads can become problematic. No coverage, spotty access or roaming can rapidly turn your usually ever-so-helpful smartphone into a useless paperweight. You might even take a wrong turn onto a gravel road through the "Hanging Bog Wildlife Management Area." Trust me, I've been there, and you don't want to be there, too.
The advantage of a paid navigation app like CoPilot Live Premium USA or Mireo's DON'T PANIC is that you can store and use maps directly on your device. Even if you lose your wireless connection, you won't lose access to your maps as long as your battery has power. The farther away you're planning to travel, and the more you'll be stepping into areas that might not provide good Internet access, the more likely it is that a paid offline map will be worth it.
Beyond that, though, the paid apps vary in terms of what kinds of maps are available (and the cost of those maps), along with criteria like ease of use and non-mapping capabilities like traffic monitoring and location sharing.
Let's start drilling down into the seven paid apps: CoPilot; Mireo; Sygic: GPS Navgation; Locale; Locus Pro; One Touch Location Pro; and Latify for Google Latitude.
CoPilot Live Premium USA
Priced at $19.99, Live Premium USA is the highest tier of a series of CoPilot offerings which also includes CoPilot Live USA ($10) and CoPilot Live Standard ($4). The difference all comes down to features. CoPilot Live Premium includes perks like traffic monitoring, local searching, increased route-finding options, map updates and so forth that are only offered in the other two apps as fee-based add-ons.
Live Standard, meanwhile, supplies offers bare-bones 2D mapping and minimal voice guidance, with no traffic awareness and no special rules for matters like avoiding toll roads or driving specialized vehicles such as RVs or bicycles. While you can add features to it later, if you total up the prices of all the "upgrades" to Live Standard, you're looking at twice the price of Live Premium USA.
Back to Live Premium USA...the full North American maps are pretty hefty, weighing in at roughly 1.3 GB, downloaded straight to the device. However, it's great that you can break that up by region, downloading only what you need. For instance, I downloaded the entire northeastern U.S. as far south and west as Atlanta, Georgia in just 275 MB. This sort of piecemeal downloading makes it actually plausible to grab maps while on a trip, without totally overrunning the limits of your data plan.
After your maps are aboard, CoPilot is relatively easy to work with. I wish it were simpler to zoom out for an overview of your route, and to switch between 2D and 3D modes. All in all, though, CoPilot Live Premium USA is a very nice package for the money.
Mireo DON'T PANIC viaGPS
Mireo's DON'T PANIC, another full-scale nav system, offers TomTom maps. In fact, you get a one-week free trial on the maps before you even need to buy them, whereas with most of the alternatives you basically have to commit in advance and hope that you like the outcome.
After you've chosen your maps for this app, make sure that you turn on the WiFi and don't spare the memory card. Unlike CoPilot, Mireo doesn't let you choose to do maps by region in order to save space. Moreover, the map data is even bulkier than CoPilot's. The North American map set that I got for this article measured out at almost 2 GB of data.
Once you get Mireo's app installed and you figure out where the controls are, everything is very straightforward to use. It does just what it's told.
You can either search for a destination or simply tap one on the map.
At $29.99, this app isn't exactly inexpensive. Still, my only real complaint is the level of detail that the maps display. Unless you're zoomed in almost all the way, it's impossible to see much other than major routes. However, a few good updates good easily fix this problem.
Sygic: GPS Navigation
Sygic is the only one of the big mapping packages here that allows you to download on a state-by-state basis. Unfortunately, though, this doesn't save you much space! New York alone takes up 168 MB, and that's on top of 400 MB of "base files," for a total amount of space consumption much larger than CoPilot allots for the entire Eastern Seaboard!
Sygic offers a seven-day free trial. The app itself is free, but this courtesy is offset by the relatively high pricing for maps. While the site boasts of prices starting from just 12 euros (US $16), you find out in the fine print that the 12 euros price is for their cheapest map, depicting Pakistan.
Map data of the United States costs 26 euros (about $33 US dollars), while the full North American map set costs 43 euros ($55). That's practically twice the price of Mireo and three times that of CoPilot for the same gegraphic areas.
The map pricing might be justifiable if Sygic's app were that much better, but it suffers from issues around both map detail and ease of use. In fact, in Sygic's case, it's not simply that smaller roads don't show up except when zoomed in on. Instead, smaller roads don't show up at all!
This app doesn't do a whole lot to distinguish itself otherwise, with a couple of exceptions. It contains an interesting "SOS" feature which automatically gives you your last known location, along with a one-touch button to trigger a call to emergency services. These are cool, but not enough to save this app.
Part 2 of this round-up of mapping and navigation apps covers for more options: Locale, Locus Pro, One Touch Location Pro, and Latify for Google Latitude.
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