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Perhaps the most sophisticated feature of Google Maps Navigation is its layering ability. The Layers menu option lets you display parking, petrol stations and cash machines on the map. You can also toggle traffic views, as well as switching the map to a satellite picture. However, the latter slows map updates and requires further mobile data downloads, so is not recommended.
Google has also harnessed its Street View data to provide a junction illustration, which doesn't just show you a realistic graphic, but a street-level panoramic photo view of the actual road. An arrow illustrating the turning is overlaid on top. However, the arrow doesn't always line up with the photo, sometimes giving the curious suggestion that you should drive into a nearby building.
And that's about it for features. There's no built-in Points of Interest database organised by category, and no safety camera information either. There are no speed limit warnings, and traffic information doesn’t automatically recalculate your route. But considering that this is a free sat-nav app, all the basics are provided.
Google Maps Navigation is far from perfect, and you’re unlikely to want to rely on it if you’re a regular traveller. The necessity of a mobile data connection makes it much more limited than software that comes with maps and route calculation abilities preinstalled, even if the dynamic maps are always going to be the most up-to-date. But it’s perfectly functional for the occasional journey, and the fact that it’s free means you might as well try it anyway.
The question is, with Google Maps Navigation available for nothing, does this mean the beginning of the end for standalone software? It's certainly true that you might not consider a standalone device if you're only likely to use it a few times a year. But we found performance on our G1 occasionally frustrating. For now, at least, even a standalone smartphone app will be more dependable. Still, we'll be keeping our eyes on Google Maps Navigation, because like so many things Google does, it's still in beta and is likely to improve.
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