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Is Google Maps on your phone a TomTom killer?

Posted on 9th Nov 2009 at 11:50 by Antony Leather with 13 comments

Antony Leather
I've written a couple of previous blog posts about using my phone as a sat nav, and while CoPilot's updates have turned it into a decent app, it's still not a serious rival for a dedicated GPS.

Google's recent announcement that phones running its Android 2.0 OS will all feature free turn-by-turn GPS navigation, however, is something that threatens to change the sat nav market completely.

That said, I don't think TomTom and Garmin need worry about things just yet, and there are several reasons for this. First, we're still talking about running GPS on a phone, so battery life is an issue. The batteries of mobiles I've used that have an integrated GPS receiver are usually flat as roadkill hedgehog inside an hour when using them as sat navs.

Is Google Maps on your phone a TomTom killer? Is Google's Maps Navigation TomTom's death knell?
Google's Maps Navigation for Android 2.0 mobiles might have a few flashy features and it's free but will it be more effective than a dedicated unit?

With my iPhone I've got around this by using an external battery pack but this totally defeats the object really - you're having to remember yet another thing to take with you which is the argument for doing away with your dedicated sat nav unit. In-car chargers might be the answer but they're often ugly, interfere with the gear-stick or just don't reach to the windscreen.

Secondly, there's the issue of GPS performance. GPS chips in dedicated units are far better than those in mobile phones (particularly the iPhone) meaning they rarely if ever drop the signal and are quick to connect. The mobiles I've used for the purpose have been no way near as fast as a dedicated unit.

Is Google Maps on your phone a TomTom killer? Is Google's Maps Navigation TomTom's death knell?
Traditional dedicated units have large screens and superior GPS performance compared to most mobile phones

Thirdly there's screen size. There are only a handful of mobile phones that offer a decent enough screen size to be effective as sat navs but even these are often far smaller than the latest dedicated units which have screens in excess of 4in for a decidedly clearer view.

These three issues will mean that for the people who use in-car sat navs on a daily basis who don't want the hassle of using a mobile will keep their dedicated units and at best, use their Android 2.0 mobile as a backup.

Where phone GPS stands to take over from dedicated sat nav devices is at the low end, the kind bought by people who are very price conscious, or who don't really use it often.I fit into this category, and for £25, the iPhone CoPilot app was all I needed for a 'once in a while' sat nav.

13 Comments

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tk421 9th November 2009, 13:01 Quote
no, but verizon navigator is.

i used to use my tablet with Delorme Street atlas and a Microsoft USB gps receiver for navigation ... both for work and family trips.
While i loved the easy to read 12" screen, the maps were not always all that accurate - especially one way roads.

when i got my Dare this spring, i started playing with navigator on my cell. it might not be as robust as a standalone GPS unit, but it blows the tablet away. it's always accurate, the maps get updated more often, and it tends to reroute the way i drive better than Street Atlas or Streets & Trips ever did.

I just can't see spending money i don't have on stuff i already have. If i had a proper smart phone with GPS enabled, i might get worked up about Google maps. work gave me a crappy Moto Q9e ... bleh. maybe if I switch to a Droid, i will try it out. but i seriously do not see myself being able to afford a new personal phone anytime soon.
ch424 9th November 2009, 13:11 Quote
What phones have you been using?

My (now two year old) N82 would happily do 4+ hours of GPS navigation, along with excellent fix time and accuracy (less than a couple of seconds, and it would even show which side of the road you were on at 70mph). But yes, the screen size is an issue. Similarly, friends' iPhone 3GSes fix really quickly - that's the whole point of A-GPS; it's faster than GPS.

I now have a Samsung Galaxy, and while the display and battery life are amazing, the GPS is a bit weak compared to the Nokia. It sits at about 20m accurate for several minutes before getting a good fix. I can't wait for android 2.0!

Also, have a look at this:

ReH9dmqfOqA
stonedsurd 9th November 2009, 13:21 Quote
Quote:
Is Google Maps on your phone a TomTom killer?
Short answer: Yes.
tzang 9th November 2009, 14:55 Quote
Google Maps is still far off from being a dedicated sat nav killer. You forgot to mention that Google Maps require a regular Internet connection to obtain maps... if you venture into an area where it only supports low speed GPRS or is a blackspot for reception (especially if you hit mountainous roads such as those in Wales or Scotland), you can forget Google Maps altogether.

People who use phones that don't have an "unlimited web" use will also have to pay a substantial amount for data use, especially those not wanting to opt for the £35+ price plans on a twelve million year contract. You can also forget using it abroad unless you have access to a mobile operator abroad who will supply you with data connection for a reasonable price.

Products like the TomTom Go series have been refined constantly to make it as good as a modern sat nav product can be. It does have its weak points, like the initial cost and the need to pay for updated maps whereas Google Maps seem to be updated often and for free.

Pros and cons on both end but dedicated sat nav is a clear winner. Personally, Google Maps is a good backup but for every day use, I'd stick with my TomTom Go.
eek 9th November 2009, 15:53 Quote
I like the idea of Google Maps as sat nav as it would get around the problem of maps getting out-of-date...of course the flip side of this is that it means a net connection is required for the entire journey.

What I'd like to see is some way of entering your route, and then having all the required parts of the map downloaded and cached before setting off.
This would also help with download limits as you can use your home wifi.
Of course if you take a wrong turn then you'll need a net connection of some sort, but it'd solve 99% of problems!
Combatus 9th November 2009, 17:03 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by tzang
Google Maps is still far off from being a dedicated sat nav killer. You forgot to mention that Google Maps require a regular Internet connection to obtain maps... if you venture into an area where it only supports low speed GPRS or is a blackspot for reception (especially if you hit mountainous roads such as those in Wales or Scotland), you can forget Google Maps altogether.
AFAIK the Google application caches data so it doesn't need a constant connection.
Combatus 9th November 2009, 17:15 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by ch424
What phones have you been using?

My (now two year old) N82 would happily do 4+ hours of GPS navigation, along with excellent fix time and accuracy (less than a couple of seconds, and it would even show which side of the road you were on at 70mph). But yes, the screen size is an issue. Similarly, friends' iPhone 3GSes fix really quickly - that's the whole point of A-GPS; it's faster than GPS.

I now have a Samsung Galaxy, and while the display and battery life are amazing, the GPS is a bit weak compared to the Nokia. It sits at about 20m accurate for several minutes before getting a good fix. I can't wait for android 2.0!

Also, have a look at this:

ReH9dmqfOqA

My 3GS lasts a little over an hour and my N95 lasted about the same. HTC TyTN II was a little better at about and hour and half. My point was really more about the need to remember to charge your phone before hand or to have an ungainly in car charger compared to mant dedicated units that have batteries that last for ages or sit in cradles that charge them automatically.
ch424 9th November 2009, 18:35 Quote
Ahh, fair enough!
Cupboard 9th November 2009, 20:12 Quote
For me, having a navigation application on my phone is a good thing. I don't need a dedicated GPS unit enough for it to be worth while but it is useful to have access to something like Google Maps occasionally.

So its not stopping me buying something dedicated, just providing me with a service I wouldn't otherwise have.
phuzz 10th November 2009, 10:09 Quote
I use google maps instead of a SatNav, but not on a phone, I just check my route beforehand and occasionally write a few notes.
I almost never need to get my phone out, except for a quick position check.
Combatus 10th November 2009, 13:23 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cupboard
For me, having a navigation application on my phone is a good thing. I don't need a dedicated GPS unit enough for it to be worth while but it is useful to have access to something like Google Maps occasionally.

So its not stopping me buying something dedicated, just providing me with a service I wouldn't otherwise have.

That's my situation too although I do now insist that my phone has sat nav capavility as it's bailed me out the poo in the past as I don't have a dedicated unit. It's very useful to have. I think Google's effort may well hurt mobile apps by TomTom and the like, but I can't see it making any sizable dent in dedicated unit sales.
Landy_Ed 11th November 2009, 22:41 Quote
No more than the TomTom is a Garmin handheld killer (a much more valid comparison anyway)

Still got my pre-zirf eMap, and despite the inaccuracies I still find it a lot more flexible, at least away from the road.
Dave Lister 18th November 2009, 10:55 Quote
I find that even the dedicated satnavs get confused too often and should only be used as a secondary navigation device, with the first being road signs.

Oh and i could get from Reading,Berkshire,England to Perth,Tayside, Scotland using my N95 on one battery charge. And it would normaly take between 5-10 minutes for a proper satelite fix.
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