A sense of direction, free

Published: 25 November, 2012 09:54 IST | Nimish Dubey |

Once considered a niche option, maps have now become an integral part of most smartphones. And many of the best come without a price tag. We take a look at six free apps that deliver a lot of mapping punch

Rare is the mobile device these days that does not come with GPS connectivity, allowing you to pinpoint your location. Accompanying this, inevitably, are a set of maps that let you not only find out where you are but also contain information such as interesting and important places in the vicinity, navigation directions and so on. If the maps on your device turn out to be less than satisfactory (like what happened on Apple’s new set of maps for the iPhone and iPad), you can explore alternatives. Most of the best map software costs a pretty penny, but there are also a number of free ones around for your phone and/or tablet that can deliver a fair bit of directional delight. Here are six that we think are the best of the lot.

In terms of sheer amount of traffic displayed by a single map application, it is tough to better AOL’s MapQuest. It works briskly, and lets you not just find your way around town (with full voice navigation and voice input) but also serves up details of cafes, restaurants, hotels, shopping malls and a host of other locations. It also claims to give traffic information but we found that a bit sketchy. In a very neat touch, you actually can just press down on a place in the map to get directions to it from your current location — very handy when the place you wish is not marked by name on the map but you know its general location in geographical terms. You also have a satellite view, a night view and the option to directly inform developers of any bugs that may pop up while using it. We just wish it had an offline mode as using it all the time can run up data charges, and that
it understood Indian accents a tad better.
Available from: Google Play
Works with: Android

Yes, there will be people who will scream “wait, this is not really a map-map app” (that rhymes!), but we have gone ahead and placed Glympse in this list of apps because of its simple utility. All it is designed to do is show your location on a map to a person. So if you do not know where you are, all you have to do is run the app and send a “Glympse” to a person you know — and they will be able to see your location (even if they do not have Glympse installed on their devices) and tell you where to go or even come down to see you. You can even allow people to see where you are heading for a specific period of time if you wish. It is not the greatest app when it comes to navigation and we have definitely seen more detailed apps, but for sheer “here-I-am” utility, we think this merits a download by all smartphone users.
Available from: http://www.glympse.com/get_glympse
Works with: Android, iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry

‘Tis the era of social networking, we are told. So it was only a matter of time before maps too got a social networking touch, and Waze is a showcase of this. Although it is a map and navigation app, what marks Waze as different is the fact that it depends on a community of users to not only point out interesting landmarks but also to inform you when there are traffic jams or problems along the path you are following. And thanks to the fact that it has thousands of users, you actually end up getting some very sensible advice. Also on board are voice navigation, and the option to chat with other Waze users and even meet them. The maps are not the greatest we have seen but more than suffice for most needs and importantly, are “live” — you can actually see new information coming in as you use them. There is no offline navigation but in terms of speed and efficiency, Waze works a treat. Small wonder it has become the chosen alternative to the default Maps application for many on the iPhone.
Available from: http://www.waze.com/
Works with: Android, iOS

Nokia Maps
Google Maps might have the features and popularity but when it comes to performance, the best free mapping solution on a mobile device is Nokia Maps. It serves up a delectable treat, including options such as voice navigation in different languages, and several points of interest with reviews to boot. You can download maps and keep them ready on your device, saving on roaming charges (yes, they will work even without a cellular connection, depending on your device). Traffic updates are not really the greatest but the app more than compensates by offering the best navigation we have seen — no free app works out new routes as fast as this one does. And there are maps for just about every place you can think of — more than 200 countries. What’s more, they are no longer a Nokia phone exclusive but are also available for the iPhone and iPad in the form of Here Maps, albeit in a slightly watered-down avatar.
Available from: http://www.nokia.com/global/apps/nokia/nokia-maps/
Works with: Nokia Symbian and Lumia devices

Google Maps
It might no longer be available on the iPhone and iPad as we head to print (there is talk of it arriving shortly, though), but there is little doubt that when it comes to free map applications, Google Maps is among the best. It packs in detailed maps of just about every location you can think of, comes with navigation and traffic information, details of important landmarks in the vicinity, a street view of different locations (placing you literally in the middle of the road and letting you look around yourself) and if you are the sharing type, also shows you your location and those of your friends using the Latitude feature. Yes, not all features are available on all platforms — for instance, offline browsing is an Android preserve at the moment — but its wealth of detail (there are layers and layers of information) and the fact that it works on so many platforms (you can still use it as a Web app on the iPhone) make this the boss of all free map apps at the moment.
Available from: http://www.google.co.in/intl/en/
Works with: Android, BlackBerry, Symbian (iOS expected soon)

One of the most popular free map options in the world, NavFree utilises maps from the OpenStreetMap Project, a community mapping project to which thousands of users contribute. The result is an app that works even in offline mode (you will have to download about 100-150 MB of maps for India after downloading the app) and has navigation to a number of places and locations in most cities and towns. There is even a day and night mode for those who like to go in for that kind of stuff. And of course, if you find it getting inaccurate, you can just head out and notify the OpenStreetMap community to fix matters. Navigation could have been a whole lot better, we agree (some of the routes it recommended were way longer than those shown by the likes of Google Maps), but this app has the ability to surprise you by showing addresses and locations that others do not, thanks to its relying on a community of map makers.
Available from: http://www.navmii.com/gpsnavigation
Works with: Android, iOS and Bada OS 

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