There can’t be many free smartphone applications better known or more widely distributed than Google Maps. Unsurprisingly, it is preinstalled on every Android smartphone. A maps-only version is provided on the iPhone. Windows Mobile and BlackBerry users can also use it for free –visit m.google.com/maps from your phone to get the appropriate version.
Android users get by far the best deal when it comes to add-ons and extras besides the basic mapping service. Only Android users get turn-by-turn spoken instructions, though other users can get navigation instructions. Also, only Android users get access to 3D mapping. Features such as satellite view are available to all and there is a range of layers users can add to maps. Check http://www.google.com/mobile/maps/ to see what’s available for your platform.
We used Google Maps with spoken instructions on Android and it was really easy to work with, it found a GPS fix quickly, and calculated travel directions at speed. Mapping in the navigation mode is good with intelligent use of screen space and a visual of the next turn in one corner of the screen.
We like the pinch to zoom support, and the ease with which layers are applied. We often use Google Maps for walking instructions, and particularly on a larger screened smartphone it eliminates the need for a printed street map.
On other platforms, however, Google Maps falls down. We got horribly lost when trying to use it on our iPhone to get to a destination in the outer reaches of Manchester. Scrolling out to check the instructions are taking where you intend simply result in you losing your place (and your temper), making a great case for buying a commercial app for use when driving.
Google Maps is flexible, feature rich and constantly has new features added. It gets a extra half point for delivering so much for free, but check to see what’s available for your chosen smartphone platform.