Easier to use than the ones that come with your phone

Over the past decade, devices to help drivers and pedestrians find their way have proliferated—and among the most versatile are smartphones.

Here’s help finding your way when choosing among today’s many smartphone navigation options…

 

HOW TO USE THEM

If you have a smartphone and data plan, you don’t need to buy any other navigation device. Just load a free navigation app onto your phone, and it can do almost anything that a GPS device can do. Smartphones usually have smaller screens than standard GPS screens, and they can be somewhat more difficult to use, but the best apps still are attractive alternatives to standard GPS devices.

Our smartphones tend to go wherever we go, so we can even use a smartphone navigation app when we go for a walk or rent a car on vacation.

People who use navigation apps sometimes try to hold their smartphones while they drive or glance down at phones positioned on passenger seats, but that isn’t safe. And most navigation apps are big power drains that will run down smartphone batteries in as little as an hour or two. Solution to both problems: Buy a 12-volt in-car charging cord and a bracket to attach your smartphone to your windshield or dash.

Also, standard GPS devices tend to have louder, clearer speakers than smartphones, but Bluetooth wireless can be used to sync the smartphone to the car’s speakers or an earpiece.

Most navigation apps are heavy data users and should not be used frequently by people who have very limited data plans with their cell-phone carriers. Otherwise, you’ll go over your data limit and be charged extra.

HOW TO CHOOSE

Phones that use the Android operating system come with an application called Google Maps installed, while new and updated Apple iPhones come with Apple’s own Maps app, which has drawn widespread complaints about its flaws. Also, Google released a new version of its mapping service for iPhones. And Nokia, whose own maps service is provided on new Nokia smartphones, has released an app for Android phones and iPhones called Here Maps that also has some flaws. All of these come with turn-by-turn navigation, including spoken directions.

Some other free and low-cost apps offer easier-to-follow route guidance or other specific benefits…

Scout provides the best, easiest-to-understand guidance among navigation apps. It clearly displays upcoming turns and speaks turn-by-turn directions. It also offers real-time traffic and weather updates and understands voice commands such as, “Drive home” or “Find gas station.” Upgrade to Scout Plus, and the app automatically will reroute you around traffic jams, among other added features. (For Apple and Android phones, Scout is free…Scout Plus is $4.99 per month or $24.99 per year. www.TeleNav.com/products/scout)

Waze is a community-based navigation app. In addition to route guidance, it provides updates from fellow Waze users about risks on the road ahead, including traffic accidents and speed traps. It also provides updated gas prices at stations along your route to help you cut costs when you fill up. You also can connect this app to your Facebook account and then coordinate travel with your Facebook friends who also are using Waze. (Free for Apple and Android phones, www.Waze.com.)

CoPilot GPS is a useful app for driving through rural areas that have spotty cell-phone reception. Like stand-alone GPS devices but unlike most smartphone navigation apps, CoPilot downloads complete maps to your device. This means that you won’t temporarily lose your way if you lose cellular reception. It’s an appropriate app for those with limited data plans because downloading maps requires less data than continually accessing map data. Unfortunately, CoPilot GPS doesn’t automatically recalculate your route if you miss a turn, and if you want spoken turn-by-turn directions, you must upgrade to CoPilot Live. (For Apple and Android, CoPilot GPS is free, while CoPilot Live charges a onetime fee of $9.99 to $19.99. Download CoPilot GPS from iTunes for Apple or http://Play.google.com for Android. For Windows versions, go to www.CoPilotLive.com.)