The Best Navigation Apps for Android – April 2018

We’ll just come right out and say it: smartphones are the most important invention of the past sixty years or more, right up there with the internet and the MRI. Smartphones are the modern Swiss Army Knife, designed to replace dozens of different devices and utilities in our life. MP3 players, landline phones, cameras, and more have all been replaced by smartphones, but one of the most useful tools provided by your phone is a free, always-connected GPS. Gone are the days of having to find your way around an unfamiliar town or using paper maps to map your way through a road trip. Instead, your phone uses a combination of GPS, mobile data, and WiFi to guide you to your destination. Whether you’re looking for a local restaurant or turn-by-turn navigation to drive across the entire United States from New York to Los Angeles, using a navigation app on your phone is the idea way to get around.

There is no perfect navigation app for any one person on Android, though some apps do come close. Whether you’re looking for the best voice navigation system on your phone, offline country data saved to your device, or the ability to use your phone to find your way through the woods with a helpful compass. There are so many different reasons to want a GPS on your phone, there might even be a good reason to keep two or more navigation apps on your phone, depending on your personal needs. Not every app is worth trying out, however, and there are certainly some apps that happen to be better than others. Here’s our guide to the best navigation apps on Android today. Let’s take a look—and with any luck, get you to your destination just a little bit faster.

Everyone else

Mapquest has long been one of the most popular suppliers for online maps, directions and navigations, dating back to the early 2000s before the rise of Google Maps. While you’d be hardpressed to find anyone who still relies on Mapquest over a newer application like Google Maps or HERE WeGo, the company has done an excellent job in upgrading and updating their application with accurate mapping data and turn-by-turn navigation. Though Mapquest only supplies turn-by-turn and voice-navigated directions in the United States and Canada, that doesn’t stop the app from being a pretty great navigator. The user interface isn’t quite as good-looking as Google Maps, but it’s easy to use, includes dark and light modes for staying easy on the eyes while driving, and has added features like a speed limit display and a timeline showing when you’ll reach your next destination. One of our favorite aspects of this application is the ability to choose alternate routes while on the go, which makes it easy to avoid accidents or crowded highways The lack of offline options is a bit of a bummer, but if you want to use an alternative to Google Maps, turning to Mapquest is a great option. Worth noting: unlike both Google Maps and HERE WeGo, Mapquest contains in-app purchases.

While the majority of smartphone users throughout North America might live in areas that typically require to commute to your destination by using a car, tens of millions of people throughout the country use public transportation everyday in cities big to small, navigating to their destination by relying on subways, buses, and other forms of cheap transportation that can take you from one location to the next without having to worry about the high costs of Uber or relying on standard taxi fare. Transit helps you navigate the public transit system in your area, featuring information for over 125 cities in North America and Europe, including New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto, Washington DC, and many more. The interface has a clean look to it that takes from Google Maps’ green-themed design without copying, and the ability to view different transit options on a timeline puts it over the more basic transit options we’ve seen from Google’s offering. Transit also includes push notifications to help warn you when a specific ride is approaching or when service disruptions are going to interrupt the schedule, and generally, we found the app to be easy to use and light on resources. Transit isn’t for everyone, but if you live in a major metro area (the full list of cities is in the description of the app on Google Play), you’ll likely find this app is indispensable.

Waze is a fan-favorite navigation application that happens to be Google’s secondary navigation app, after having bought the app from its original Israeli developers. Unlike Google Maps, Waze uses publically-sourced information from its user base to update you on live traffic reports, slowdowns, accidents, closed routes, and even speed and police traps when navigating through your city. All of this information, reported anonymously through the application, is reported back to Waze’s servers and appears on your device while using turn-by-turn navigation. Similar to HERE and some of the other applications on the list, Waze also features a built-in speedometer that tracks how fast you’re moving, along with a built-in gas finder that selects the cheapest gas station along your route. The app isn’t perfect; the amount of icons on your display at any given time can be overwhelming and even distracting while driving, and despite the app sending information anonymously, some users feel uncertain about sending information about their driving habits to Google. The interface is solid, if a bit cartoonish, and generally works well, but as a final note, we should add that it’s important to not add information to the app when you’re driving, as using your phone while operating a motor vehicle is illegal throughout the US and Canada.

TomTom and Garmin were the GPS brands in the mid-to-late 2000s, prior to the public moving solely to smartphones for their navigation needs, and both brands have made moves to join the smartphone market in the decade since the launch of the original iPhone. But where Garmin has pivoted to offering smartwatches and activity trackers, TomTom has stayed focused on offering navigation systems, and overall, they’ve done a pretty good job moving their navigation experience to Android. TomTom GPS Navigation is an app that offers a simplified layout, real-time traffic alerts while moving through your area, a favorites section that allows for setting places like Home, Work, and more, and a 3D-style navigation screen that reminds us of the dedicated GPS devices we used to carry in our car, TomTom is, for many, the full package. There’s two major complaints about TomTom that keep us from ranking it higher on the list: first, the app requires you to download map data before you can use it, and the maps are several times larger than HERE’s own content. Second, you can only drive 46 miles (75km) per month before TomTom requires you to subscribe to their service, and with the abundance of free offers both on this list and in the Play Store, it’s tough to sign up for a monthly or annual subscription for features you can find elsewhere.

If you’re looking to set off on a hike through a nearby nature reserve, or travel to some previously-unknown destination to conquer the wilderness set before you, Polaris is the GPS app for you. Despite the dated interface, Polaris still routinely sees updates to the application, adding bug fixes and still supporting older Android 4.x phones in the process. This is an all-in-one navigation system, with access to data from Google Maps, MapQuest, OpenStreetMap (an open-source Google Maps alternative), and even Cycle Route Maps for bicyclers, making this a great utility if you can accept the dated, mid-2000s-style interface. With dedicated options for trails, sunrise and sunset times, a built-in compass, and the option to download full maps to your phone for taking your device off the grid, Polaris is a great option for anyone looking to replace their older dedicated handheld GPS systems used by hikers, campers, and hunters to find their way through the woods. There are some paid upgrades necessary to get the full experience out of the app, as well as included advertisements, but for a specific crowd of outdoor experts who need an app they can rely on to get them in and out of a forest, desert, or other extreme climate experience in one piece, you won’t find a better app on the Play Store than Polaris GPS.

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