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Google Maps Navigation - Layers, Street View and Verdict

By James Morris



Our Score:


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.

Overall Score


Scores In Detail

  • Features 6
  • Design 7

Mark Horton

June 7, 2010, 11:24 am

I used it a couple of time, although not in the car, when I've been walking about in London trying to find somewhere. Works perfectly couldn't ask for more from a free Sat Nav. Mines running on a Desire by the way.


June 7, 2010, 12:40 pm

Looks decent. Where's the iPhone version?


June 7, 2010, 1:52 pm

I used Google Navigation a couple of times this weekend, in real scenarios, with success. For example, I was at a Homebase. They didn't have what I was after, so went on to Google Maps (on my HTC Desire), searched for B&Q, then followed the Google Navigation to get there.

I think your article overlooked a couple of things:

1) You can't overstate the beauty of having a satnav solution integrated into a mobile phone. There is no way I would have had an independent satnav device with me during my example trip, above. (Also, my dedicated satnav device often takes a few minutes to get a good GPS signal, but my phone only takes a few seconds. Anyone know why that is?)

2) The Google Navigation instructions are detailed with street names. For example after saying "Turn left in 200 yards" Google Navigation adds "onto Hale Lane". I don't know if other dedicated units do this, but my own doesn't.


June 7, 2010, 1:54 pm

"There's no built-in Points of Interest database organised by category,"

Apart from GOOGLE, poosibly the largest "points of interest database" ever compiled.

Seriously, There's nothing more satisfying than typing "aquarium shop, romsey" seeing the result, and have it take you there without you ever needing to know the address.


June 7, 2010, 1:58 pm

I used mine to get from N.London to Lincolnshire on the Desire and it performed perfectly well.


June 7, 2010, 2:17 pm

Why did you choose to test this on a 1st gen handset - sure it's nice to know it works on a hacked G1 but wouldn't it be more relevant to review it on something more up-to-date where it's available as standard? Likewise the conclusion about the performance being frustrating should be put in some context - was this down to the choice of handset or the data connection/googles servers?


June 7, 2010, 2:20 pm

I'm hopeful there wont be an iPhone version. Google should be concentrating on Android. Especially for game changing software like this.


June 7, 2010, 3:21 pm


1) The phone takes a few seconds to get a fix because it's using the mobile network to triangulate your position. It can also use WiFi networks to do the same thing. I believe the tech was pioneered by a company called Skyhook, and is now famously used in the iPhone. Android phones use something similar, but perhaps not by the same company.


Note: This usually isn't a 100% accurate fix though and can of course be affected by a weak network signal. It's still best to stand outside for around 5 minutes or so to get an accurate fix if you're in for a long drive :).

2) This'll be the TTS (Text-To-Speech) feature. It may not be present on some older SatNav models, or may be an upgradeable feature. Most of them now include it I believe.

@piesforyou: You have a good point of course, but I think he meant you still have to type something in whereas with other software you are able to tap 2 or 3 buttons to instantly get all petrol stations(for example) in close vicinity. Not to mention the network signal thing again of course. I know Google Maps can cache the route before you set off, but it's not likely to save all map elements surrounding the route.


June 7, 2010, 3:31 pm

@ epic - I totally agree. Why on earth would you use a 2 year old phone when you have the like of the desire, droid, nexus etc. Come on TR!


June 7, 2010, 3:47 pm

Used it on my Desire to get from central London to deepest darkest north Wales without skipping a beat. Excellent bit of kit for free.

As has been said, why review it on an outdated G1. The Desire or Legend would have been more appropriate. Also as has been said this is just the first version and has really hit the ground running. I'm expecting future updates to really improve things to a point where a seperate Sat Nav will be virtually redundant. Perhaps at some point it will be an install of a national map in the phones memory or on SD card to negate the need to redownload if a user goes off route. Infact I suspect this is very likely as at the moment google maps on a phone is useless abroad thanks to the cost of roaming overseas. How good would it be to be able to go to Paris with the maps data already installed, ready to use without using a data connection there.


June 7, 2010, 5:51 pm


I think it pre-loads the map, so there is the one off data call, after that no data is needed.

However if there was a way of downloading uk and Europe maps to memory card then it would start killing off the sat navs. (since 2.2 froyo, apps can be stored to micro sd... this might be start?)

But for the first version ( and its free!!!) then its great. Should be at least and 8/9 out of 10, as with google the speed they are working at will fix any problems with it soonish.

I would not buy a sat nav. My desire works brilliantly in uk, and landscape using the whole 3.7inch screen... larger then most sat navs!

(being able to save maps to micro sd card the only thing holding it back)


June 7, 2010, 8:01 pm

Even better than a N1 or Desire, couple this with something like the Dell Streak with it's 5" screen and you'd have a much better experience than with the G1. Especially if the Streak gets Froyo (or Eclair) soon.

James Morris

June 7, 2010, 9:32 pm

I'm afraid a G1 was all we had to hand at the time. We don't always get left with phones for very long, particularly the very new ones. The PR companies are desperate to move these products around as many places as possible, so we often only have them for a week or two. I think the fact that Navigation works acceptably on the G1 is very telling, though. It will therefore work on any Android phone quite well.

I do talk about the integration of sat-nav with smartphone in both the text and video reviews! However, there are still quite a few reasons why a standalone device is better - often larger screen, POI category system, safety cameras and live traffic, to name but a few. It's also sometimes annoying to have your phone be your sat-nav when you want to place a call and not switch away from the sat-nav screen, or get a passenger to do so. Still, I must admit I find myself using TomTom on the iPhone more and more, instead of a standalone device, now that it has HD Traffic as well.

On the POI front, yes I was talking about the ability to find "all petrol stations nearby", which is almost always available with standalone sat-navs but isn't with Google Maps Navigation. Of course you can use Google Maps' own search to find many POIs by keyword. But that's kinda obvious. It's what Google Maps has always done.


June 7, 2010, 10:37 pm


Actually there's no typing required at all to navigate - you can press the voice search button and speak "navigate to pizza hut" or somesuch - and it does the search of the vicinity and bangs it straight into the navigation app.

It's fast - and so far extremely reliable at a) recognising the command b) immediately and correctly finding the local point of interest

To say that I think the nexus one with Google navigation makes the iPhone look like a complete turkey would be putting it mildly


June 7, 2010, 11:57 pm

@James Morris

You can use layers to overlay things like traffic, car parks, petrol stations, cash machines automatically on the map without any searching.


June 8, 2010, 1:29 am

@Castalan: Good point. I'd forgotten about the voice search. It's just that whenever I've tried such a feature on ANY phone in the past, it ends up trying to ring my boss!

@ravi: I've seen the traffic overlay on the Google Maps app for Symbian, but how does it handle finding an alternate route around traffic?


June 8, 2010, 2:08 am

I still haven't had a (real) chance to try the navigation on my N1. Glad to know that if its needed in a pinch its there and up to the task.

Im still waiting on my (probably cheap and nasty) car holder to arrive.


June 8, 2010, 2:48 pm

@Bluepork: two reasons one it can use aGPS which uses the phone network to narrow you down, but also if you are using the HTC clock/weather widget that changes the weather depending where you are then the phone has been tracking you all along and when you start the maps it already knows where you are, also if you have location following you turned on in settings.

Tariq Pugh

June 8, 2010, 3:02 pm

I've been quite impressed by Google Navigation so far. I tend not to use it for typical getting-from-A-to-B type stuff (i still prefer the old fashioned looking at a (Google) map before leaving). But it integrates well with my geocaching app, so I can find a cache online, navigate to it by car, and then use maps or the compass to do the last bit on foot.

I think that is the USP for Navigation (gNav for short? That's what I'm gonna call it). And I hope more apps integrate the functionality. Google does need to continue developing both gNav and Maps though. I'd really like to have draggable and saveable routes like on the desktop version.


June 9, 2010, 11:06 am

I'm in Germany this week and needed to help the taxi driver find the hotel - "I know - I'll whip out my nexus and use the navigation app to guide us there"

I speak my destination - it finds it - all is going well......

I push the "Navigate to ..." button

DISASTER - "Navigation not enabled in your country" ( or somesuch )

I tried it again this morning - and guess what - Google appear to have placated their number one fan overnight by turning on navigation for Germany :)

Hugging my phone right this second :)

Anyway the moral of the story is - Google navigaiton is great in the UK - patchy in Europe right now ( although they appear to be working on it )

Geoff Richards

June 9, 2010, 5:22 pm

List of confirmed new countries so far: Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, and Belgium.



June 28, 2010, 9:13 pm

Good review, and some good comments too.

I refuse to pay Navman's silly prices for a map upgrade, so now that is reserved for driving in Europe only (mobile roaming charges being what they are currently).

Having experimented, I have found Google Navigation a distinct improvement over Nokia, which seems to love taking longer routes. But both versions do tend to announce junctions just a bit late.

What really is useful on the google version is the voice search. It's not perfect for obscure names, but works really well for major cities and also appears to recognise brands well (starbucks for example).

As a first effort, it's pretty good, and even if you do have an existing dedicated unit, it's a great backup.

ps - how long before they do a "on foot" version? And add some real trails ;-)

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