Lost in London? Late in Leicester? Misplaced in Manchester? There'll be no more tears if you're an Android user with no sense of direction, because Google's free sat-nav software, Google Maps Navigation, is now available in the UK.
After a stealthy overnight update to phones running version 1.6 or later of Google's Android operating system, Google Maps Navigation appeared this morning on phones such as the Google Nexus One, Motorola Milestone and Acer Liquid. Unfortunately, HTC Hero users are left out in the cold until the networks can squeeze out an update to its Android 1.5 OS.
We've been craving Navigation since it first came out in the US last October. It adds sat-nav features to the standard Google Maps application, so, when you search for directions, you can now click to see your route as a 3D path along the road. You also have the option of letting a lady with a robotic voice order you around corners.
We tested Navigation on our bike around London, as we did with the iPhone sat-nav contenders. Without a bracket or holder, we had to keep our Nexus One in our pocket, but we found that the directions were up-to-date and timely. That may be due to either the Nexus One's great GPS hardware, or the quality of Google's software. With the iPhone sat-nav software, we were often told to turn at the last minute or too late, while the Google phone gave us plenty of warning.
Sadly, only car directions were available, not walking directions, and Google Maps still doesn't offer cycling routes in the UK -- just the US. Consequently, we had to plunge onto the A roads to do our testing, rather than stick to the quieter routes that we normally prefer.
We found the sat-nav maps clear and easy to follow, and we liked that the synthesised voice gave the road name and the route number at each turn. Sat-navs that use a pre-recorded voice can't read you the name of every intersection, but they do have the advantage of making sense -- half the time the Google sat-nav pronounced street names incorrectly, and we sometimes couldn't understand what it was even saying.
The sat-nav map doesn't support multi-touch for the purposes of zooming in and out. That's confusing since this functionality is available in the standard Google Maps. Instead, you'll have to poke the on-screen buttons to get a bird's eye view.
Google Maps Navigation doesn't download maps to your phone, so, if you're abroad, you'll be stuffed -- the data-roaming cost would bankrupt your whole family. But, within the UK, it offers a huge advantage over rivals thanks to the power of Google's search. You can search for fairly random terms, instead of just postcodes and addresses. For example, search for 'pub' and it searches the Google database for pubs near you, and then steers you there. Using voice search makes it even easier, and in our tests it worked very well.
Google Maps Navigation also incorporates Street View, a satellite view and nearby points of interest. You can search for anything and get results along your route.
The biggest perk may be that Google Maps Navigation is free. If you don't drive often or you just can't justify buying a dedicated sat-nav, you now have a decent alternative available on your Android phone any time you need it.
Click 'Continue' for a photo tour of our wild ride with Google Maps Navigation.
You have the choice of seeing your route on a map (shown on the left), which is how most standard sat-navs do it. But Navigation also has the advantage of Google's insane wealth of satellite (centre) and Street View (right) images, and you can navigate using those views as well.