GPS with offline map support. A number of GPS app providers let you (or even require you to) download maps for offline use as a key feature of the system. With offline maps, your phone uses its built-in GPS radio (which works independently of your data plan) to figure out where you are, then simply plots your route on a map that’s stored in your phone’s memory.
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What Are Offline GPS Apps?
As the name suggests an offline GPS will allow you to view a map of your location or destination, without having to download the information. What you have to do is connect your phone or tablet to your Wi-Fi at home and launch the chosen app. You will learn more about recommended apps at the bottom of this page.
Within the apps you have the ability to download all the ma data for specific areas, either around where you live and work, or maybe for a place you planning to visit on vacation or a business trip.
When you then start using the navigation service within the app you will not be charged for data usage. All the information is available and GPS data is not something you get charged for.
There’s no shortage of Android GPS and navigation apps available on the Play Store, but not all maps are created equally, and so we’ve put together a shortlist of only the best navigation and mapping apps for you to check out. Many will work offline as well as online, so you don’t need to worry about having a data connection all the time either, provided you plan ahead a little.
Google Maps has come along in leaps and bounds over the years, and now offers such a solid array of features that many people won’t need to look any further than the Android default. Along with turn-by-turn directions, multiple view options, detailed route information, live traffic updates and everything else you’d expect from a self-respecting navigation app, Google Maps really does offer nearly everything.
However, if you want to use it offline, you’ll need to download the area of the map that you want to use in advance. If you do that, you obviously don’t get those traffic updates anymore though, as they require a connection. In August this year, Google Maps on Android got a few new offline features, like the ability to download multiple areas to your phone and select to use Google Maps in ‘WiFi-only’ mode when you have a spotty network connection.
It also now allows you to store maps on your external SD card, freeing up some space on your phone. If you’re not driving, it offers up walking, cycling, and public transport options for getting you to your destination, as well as quotes from multiple car services.
Sygic GPS Navigation (RATING: 7; iOS, Android, Windows Phone; free app, world map is $50, but promotions are common) is a full-featured navigation system, though it’s considerably less user-friendly than I’d like. Before you get started, you select the states or countries you’re traveling in, then download the maps to your device. For 50 bucks, you can get offline maps for most of the paved world.
Search is slow but otherwise capable, even when you’re disconnected from data. There’s no POI search feature (though a few key POIs like gas stations do appear on the map), so all waypoints or destinations require a physical address, and you’ll need to enter that information piece by piece—first city, then street, then house number—rather than all at once like you might be accustomed to.
On the road, Sygic offers both a top-down 2D view and a smart-looking 3D display, complete with local topography. Throw in some robust routing options, SOS mode, parking info and more than a million POIs to navigate to and Sygic is a strong contender for best offline GPS. It’s also now been integrated with Glympse, if you want to share your route or ETA with friends.
CoPilot’s GPS app is just for drivers, but if that’s what you need, then it’s almost certainly got the features you’re looking for – but they don’t come free. Well, they do, but only for seven days, after that, you’ll need to pay for a Premium subscription to keep access to all the features.
If you don’t want to, you can still use offline mapping and turn-by-turn navigation for free, but you only get the 2D version of the maps, and you’ll be missing a few other features too. Premium users get 3D mapping. In the full version of the app, there sheer variety of customizable route and alert options is impressive, if potentially a little overwhelming for some. There is actually an option for using walking routes, but it’s not the primary purpose of the app, and as such, not really where it’s best.
The breadth of full street level maps for offline download will be what appeals to many people, though you’ll need to purchase additional countries individually, or in a pack like ‘whole of Europe’, for example. If you purchase a map, you also get 12-months free access to CoPilot’s live ‘ActiveTraffic’ service.
Navmii (RATING: 8; iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone; free app, national map packs are under $5 each), formerly known as Navfree, is an exemplary app that is well worth considering, mainly because most of the functionality of the app, including map packs and offline use, is totally free. Android users can download a single app that covers the whole world, but iOS users have to pick from more than 20 regional options. Within iOS (reviewed here), you can download additional country packs for a nominal fee (the fee varies based on the region).
At this point, TomTom is a venerable player in the navigation industry, and while the company might not be spending as much time focused on its standalone GPS units nowadays, that doesn’t mean it isn’t honing the rest of its business. What this means to you is an up-to-date mapping service with pedigree in getting people from A to B and a multitude of routing options. As with others though, if you want that unfettered list of options, you’ll need to hand over some real cash.
To start with, you get 50 miles of use with full features, including live traffic information – if you want to get unlimited mileage for a year, you’ll need to pay to upgrade. The price varies around the world, but in the US it’s currently shown as $19.99 for one year and $44.99 for a 3 year subscription.
Along with voice guidance, offline routing, live traffic updates and full 3D building imagery. Maps are available for over 100 countries, too.
Orux is generally considered the best Android mapping app because it is free and has an incredible raft of features. It will take you some time to familiarise yourself with these features because the user interface isn’t exactly polished, but essentially you can upload all kinds of maps and tiles including GPX, routing, have different user profiles and even track your route (live tracking with an internet connection).
This backcountry app allows you to create, display and save an unlimited number of waypoints, routes, areas and tracks. You can setup multiple maps in layers, with per-map opacity control. You’ll also have access to many map formats including Nokia maps, Yahoo maps, local topo maps etc.