The standalone sat-nav was born from peripheral attachments to the now obsolete PDA. But it’s under increasing pressure from the same competitor that killed off the PDA – the smartphone. This is particularly the case when you can get functional satellite navigation for free, such as the Navigation facility in Google Maps on Android phones, or Drive on Nokia’s Windows Phones. But iPhones have not had anything so potent available gratis. Enter Navmii’s Navfree, which promises premium-grade sat-nav functions for the princely sum of nothing.
This isn’t the first free iPhone satellite navigation app. Waze has been going from strength to strength, and it’s not alone. But these are still very much community projects. Whilst Navfree relies on mapping data from OpenStreetMap, this has been converted to its own format, and the app provides an interface with many of the features of software normally found in smartphone software costing £20 or more. Navmii has made this possible by serving ads within the app, although you can pay £1.49 to remove these.
You also pay £1.99 for each additional map you install within the app, although curiously you can avoid this by installing multiple versions of the app, one for each country. You then have to load different apps for different countries, so travelling across Europe would be annoying, but this still means you can navigate large portions of the world for free. Aside from Europe, versions are available for South Africa, North America, and even India. Best of all, the maps are stored locally, so you don’t need a data connection to access them.
The icon-driven menu makes the majority of features very easy to find. Navfree offers the usual ways of entering a destination. You can drill down from city, to street, to house number, although there is no keyword option for finding a street without knowing which town it’s in. You can also search for a full UK postcode. It’s possible to search for an address from your iPhone contacts, but Navfree isn’t entirely reliable here. Some contacts work fine. But if there’s no country defined, and sometimes even if there is, Navfree will say there isn’t and refuse to find your destination.