Thursday, November 1, 2007

Best of the best in GPS apps


By James Booth

In my recent review of Proporta's Freedom mini-GPS keychain I introduced you to a variety of GPS applications, both free and retail. This follow-up piece will showcase those applications individually, taking a closer look at each one. Which are worth your time, and which aren't.

What's for free?

Free is great isn't it? Nothing is better than getting something for nothing. But do you really? Google, Microsoft, and Earthcomber all offer free GPS mapping applications, but are they worth the trouble? Or do you get what you pay for?

Google Maps Mobile

Google's popular online Maps application has gone mobile. Having been ported to Windows Mobile, Palm OS, and Blackberry Enterprise Server, you can now take Google Maps with you on the road. Unlike its desktop cousin though, Google Maps Mobile can make use of a GPS device.

With the mobile version of Google Maps you can search for an address, a specific business, or a type of business like in Figure A; even search directly from your Contacts, and get directions to them.


Search directly from Google Maps. (click for larger image)

Included in the search results are not only the name, but complete contact information. If being used on a phone-enabled device, you can place a call to the location from the search results.

The display can be set as either a map or satellite image; and if available in your area, Google Maps Mobile can also show traffic information. If your device has a GPS connection, Google Maps Mobile can track your location and display it on the map.

The maps themselves, and the routing, were fairly accurate. There were a couple of routes I would have done differently, but unlike the previously covered Delphi and Garmin devices, Google Maps Mobile shows you in Figure B that it will not take you out of the way.


Google Maps provides fairly accurate, straightforward routes. (click for larger image)

The locations of the POIs (points of interest) like in Figure C, were pretty accurate. I noted a few discrepancies, but nothing major. Certainly nothing to get in a tizzy over.


Points of Interest in Google Maps is accurate, for the most part. (click for larger image)

The single biggest fault of Google Maps Mobile is its requirement of a continuous data connection. Maintaining a constantly open wireless Internet connection on your mobile device can get quite expensive.

I used 2MB of data just for the Google Maps segment of this article, so in reality it isn't actually "free."