“ Manufacturer: Google / License Type: Software / Subcategory: PDA Software „
Only a few years ago, dedicated Satellite Navigation systems would have cost you a small fortune. Then came the paid smartphone applications which made use of the phone's in-built GPS receiver to turn your phone into a fully functional Sat-Nav system. Now Google have pushed the boundaries on step further with Google Maps Navigation. This is, in reality just another smartphone navigation application, but with one difference. It is completely free.
==So what is it?==
So what is Google Maps Navigation? Well, take the standard Google Maps applicaton, add route planning and then include the GPS overlay and you pretty much have it. You might be thinking that, seeing as the application is free, it might be entry level material which is very low on functionality. This is Google though, and Google do not do things by half, they aim to be the best and if being the best means giving away Sat-Nav for free then Google will do it.
Like all Sat-Nav applicatons, this one relies on you entering a destination to begin with. Based on your current location, Google Maps Navigation will give you the quickest route to your destination. You don't have to accept this route though, if there are viable alternate routes, these will be displayed too, allowing you to pick the one which closely matches your criteria, for example you might not be interested in the quickest but want the shortest. Once you have your route programmed, you are ready to go.
==Using Google Maps Navigation==
The first thing you will notice when you begin your route is that the spoken directions are extremely good. Google Maps Navigation actually speaks street names, town names and road numbers, something that some of the more expensive Sat-Navs don't even do. These directions are easy to follow, the only gripe is that sometimes the direction can come a little too late to act on, for example, on some occasions if you are supposed to take the first turn on a roundabout, you might not get the instruction until you are on top of the first turn, making it impossible to act. The application does use a real-time map so if you are in doubt about where you should be going, you can also look at the map which will show your turn. Of course, only do this if it is safe to do so without compromising yours or anyone elses safety.
As with other standard Sat-Nav devices, Google Maps Navigation allows you to display points of interest on the map. These include the standard points such as car parks, filling stations, banks and restaurants. Being Google though, we get a little bit more. As Google Maps is being used we are able to get a satellite view of the map, this is in effect a birds eye photographic view of where you are, just as you would get if you were using Google Maps on your PC. This is not the only advanced feature however. Google Maps Navigation uses real time traffic information to keep you informed of any hold ups on your route. If your route is green then you have a clear run, amber means that there is a possibility of hold up while red means you will definitely be delayed unless you divert off your preferred route. This is an excellent feature as it gives you plenty of advanced warnings to change your route, thus meaning that you should never be late arriving at your destination.
When you are in the close vicinity of your destination, you are able to switch to Google Street View which, although it sounds like a really good feature, doesnt actually give you any extra benefits as all it does it give you exactly the same view as you get by looking through the windscreen. This is just Google showing off slightly but you can't really blame them, this application is an excellent product and deserves its time in the limelight.
==Google goes the extra mile (not literally)==
Google Maps Navigation is also a great tool if you are unsure of your destination. If for example, you are on vacation in an unfamiliar city and want a pizza for lunch, just type the word pizza into the destination box and, using the main Google search engine, you will be given a list of all the pizza establishments in your immediate area. All you need to do is choose one from the list and the application will direct you to the door.
Google Maps Navigation also ties into another Google product, Google Lattitude. Google Lattitude allows you to track where all of your friends currently are (with their permission). This is great if you are due to meet someone at a certain time and the haven't turned up. Simply fire up Lattitude and see where they are, you can even use Google Maps Navigation at this time to plot your route to their exact location.
Google Maps Navigation will almost certainly be used with a GPRS/ Mobile Internet signal and for that reason it has to be very light on data usage. With this in mind, it is only worth using the satellite view if you have an unlimited data plan. The standard view is more than adequate however and the maps flow without any problem over the GPRS signal. As an indication, a 20 mile, 30 minute journey will consume approximately 4Mb of your data plan. This seems very reasonable to the casual user although if you are using it for long journeys each day, an unlimited plan is essential.
Google Maps Navigation is available for Android based smartphones and comes bundled with all recent versions of Google Maps. If your version of Google Maps does not contain this feature, an update from the Android Marketplace will be required.
As somebody who already owns a dedicated Sat-Nav device, I have to say this is an excellent application, the fact it is free makes it a must have for anyone who has an Android Device. Since installing this, I haven't used my dedicated device. The only thing that Google Maps Navigation is missing is speed cameras although I'm sure it won't be long before Google add these.