I have no doubt that the days of the stand-alone GPS receiver are numbered. There’s no reason to get a single-purpose device when your smartphone can do the same thing.
The iPhone comes with a mapping app, but it hasn’t been designed to use while you’re driving. And other navigation software for the iPhone with turn-by-turn directions is often quite expensive. Fortunately, there are a couple of good options that won’t break your bank.
GPS by TeleNav
This app is a scaled-back version of TeleNav’s regular navigation service. That one costs $10 a month, but the free version is, well, free… both to download and to use.
It gives you turn-by-turn directions on your iPhone display, and plays a tone when you are approaching a turn. If you want spoken directions or automatic re-routing you have to upgrade to the for-pay version. Other features you can only get by upgrading are handy “bells and whistles” like distance to destination and?estimated time of arrival.
That said, this app is surprisingly powerful for something that’s free. It will route you around traffic problems, includes a very good database of businesses and other points of interest, offers 2D and 3D maps, landscape and portrait mode, and much more.
If you like this app and you’re on a trip, you might consider upgrading to the full version of TeleNav’s service — you can get one day for $3, or a month for $10.
MapQuest 4 Mobile
The online service MapQuest has an iPhone app that is free and easy to use. And while it doesn’t have everything I could wish for, it does give spoken turn-by-turn directions as well as automatic re-routing.
When you’re driving, MapQuest 4 Mobile encourages you to use the mode in which a brief decription of your next turn along with a large arrow is displayed, not a map. This is safer because it encourages you to keep your eyes on the road, while the vocal and written descriptions are enough to keep you on course. There is a map mode (shown at left), but it supports only portrait orientation.
Be aware, this software is advertising supported. There are pop-up ads, and certain hotel chains get emphasized when you’re choosing points of interest. Speaking of which, its database of businesses is very limited. If you’re looking for a gas station, it can find you one. You might drive past two or three others on the way, though.
The main feature that MapQuest 4 Mobile lacks that these other two have is a tie-in to your iPhone’s address book. If you want to drive to a friend’s house, you’re either going to need to add this to your MapQuest ‘My Locations’ or cut-and-paste the address out of your smartphone’s Contacts app.
GPS Navigation 2 by Skobbler
This app isn’t free, but at $1 is very cheap. It is a very ambitious bit of software, and offers things generally found only in much more expensive navigation applications. Basically, if there’s something you’d expect to find in a full-featured GPS app, it’s probably in Skobbler’s.
This includes spoken directions and automatic re-routing, and is the only one of these three with an estimated time of arrival.
One of its better features is the option to download maps ahead of time. This means you don’t need to use a lot of data when you’re on the road, and is especially handy if you’re traveling outside of your home country.
There’s just one?drawback to be aware of: GPS Navigation 2 is built around the open-source OpenStreetMap. That’s why it’s so inexpensive, but in my experience its maps are a bit less accurate than the ones?the other two apps?are using.
Any one of these is a decent option for someone who only occasionally needs navigation software with their iPhone. TeleNav GPS is the best choice for those who insist on having a moving map to look at when they are diving around. MapQuest 4 Mobile is the safer choice because it has spoken directions. While Skobler’s GPS Navigation 2 has the most features, I don’t trust the maps enough to depend on it when I’m trying to get somewhere unfamilair.
In conclusion, let me point out that these aren’t the best navigation apps for the iOS. If you want better, however, you’re going to have to pay more. These are designed for people who are willing to trade features for savings.