The Best Apps for GPS Navigation on a Smartphone

Alee January 21, 2014 9

We look into the best and most popular smartphone apps for both Android and iOS. There are apps for all your mapping needs – you’ll find apps that allow for navigation without any internet connection, apps that you can upload custom maps to, apps that track your ride, apps that can create routes for you and apps that do turn-by-turn navigation with a voice.

For more on navigating with a smartphone, check out our resource ‘GPS Navigation: Bike Touring with a Smartphone’.

Offline Apps

Download maps for use without an internet connection

OruxMaps Offline Maps (Android): Orux is generally considered the best Android mapping app because it is free and has an incredible raft of features. It will take you some time to familiarize yourself with these features because the user interface isn’t exactly polished, but essentially you can upload all kinds of maps and tiles including GPX, routing, have different user profiles and even track your route (live tracking with an internet connection). Play Store Rating: 4.9/5

Locus Map Pro (Android): Locus is also highly rated by Android users. It has access to huge quantities of different maps (inc. terrain, cycling, hiking, skiing), either while you use data, or as in-app purchases for offline use. You can import custom maps, enjoy turn-by-turn voice navigation or understand places with the incorporated Wikipedia information. Play Store Rating: 4.8/5

RMaps (Android): Similar to Galileo for iOS, you can upload your own maps to this highly-rated free app. There is no navigation or routing, just mapping, but it’s free and has great reviews! Play Store Rating: 4.7/5

Maps.Me Offline Maps (iOS/Android): Our go-to application for offline mapping. Maps.Me isn’t as powerful as other apps, or as beautiful as Google Maps, but the user interface is great and it packs in a lot of searchable travel information on restaurants, hotels, campgrounds, hospitals, police stations etc. The map data is provided by OpenStreetMap (OSM) which is a collaborative open source database with information provided by hundreds and thousands of people. It’s easy to get maps, simply download the countries you need in the app (usually 5-500mb per country) when you have have a good internet connection. App Store Rating: 4.5/5

MotionX GPS HD (iOS): This is one of the top iOS app for a backcountry use. Download the maps within the app and enjoy travelling on backroads and hiking trails with detailled topo maps. Super easy to plan, track and store your exploits. App Store Rating: 4.5/5

City Maps 2Go Offline Maps (iOS/Android): For a couple of dollars, you can download maps for all countries in the world which are stored on your device. The map data is provided by OpenStreetMap which is a collaborative open source database with information provided by hundreds and thousands of people. This app even has inbuilt Wikipedia and WikiTravel information which can be found at landmarks on the maps. App Store Rating: 4.5/5

Pocket Earth Offline Maps (iOS): This highly rated and powerful iOS app allows you to import and export GPX files, download maps (cities, regions, countries) for offline use, route, turn-by-turn navigate and track your trip. It incorporates 500,000 Wikipedia entries which are incredibly useful for travel. App Store Rating: 4.5/5

OsmAnd Offline Maps (Android): As the name suggests, this app has access to OpenStreetMap data which can be downloaded to your phone through the app for offline use. If you don’t want to store maps, you can also use mobile data to access maps. A great feature of this app is the cycling and walking routes. This app includes navigation features such as voice guidance and re-routing. You can also search for addresses and find GPS co-ordinates. Play Store Rating: 4.5/5

Backcountry Navigator Topo GPS (Andoid): This top selling backcountry app has OpenStreetMap and OpenCycleMap information available for download, so it’s not just good off the beaten path. It’s also super easy to import GPX/KML information / GPS co-ordinate information – here’s a great guide to using it. Play Store Rating: 4.5/5

Gaia GPS Topo and Trails (iOS/Android): This backcountry focused app allows you to explore remote places once you’ve downloaded the topo, road or aerial maps. You can import/export your own GPX/KML files by web browser, DropBox and email. The app isn’t as cheap as other options ($20USD) but once you’ve invested, all map downloads are free within the app. Play Store Rating: 4.3/5

Soviet Military Maps Free (Android): These downloadable world topomaps (100k-500k) are former soviet military (mostly from 1980’s), and for many countries in Africa and Asia are still the best topomaps available! Play Store Rating: 4.3/5

NavFree Offline Navigation Maps (iOS/Android): This highly popular, free, OSM app has great features including offline mapping, routing, re-routing, turn-by-turn navigation, Google streetview and more. Did we mention it’s all free? Play Store Rating: 4/5

CoPilot GPS (iOS/Android): This app is free, and has lots of offline maps available. For iOS users, this is one of the better apps for offline searching and routing. You’ll need to purchase features such as turn-by-turn and voice navigation for a modest amount. App Store Rating: 4/5

Galileo (iOS): One of the most powerful offline mapping apps for iOS, although we’ve found that you’ll need a computer with iTunes to make the most of it. You can upload your own custom maps in a number of formats to the app. App Store Rating: 3.5/5

UDirect Offline Maps (iOS): The UDirect maps are clunky, so we only use them for checking out topography (which happens to be very accurate with this app). You can download entire continents of maps at a time. App Store Rating: 3/5

OruxMaps often rates as the best offline smartphone mapping app

 

Online Apps

You will need an internet connection to make use of these apps

Apple Maps (iOS): These inbuilt maps are nice to look at, but severely lack detail when compared to Google. Having said that, we have found that Apple maps are sometimes randomly better in rural areas! Like Google Maps, you can set up the turn-by-turn navigation while you are on wifi – it will then be able to navigate you to your destination without an internet connection.

Google Maps (iOS/Android): Easily the most elegant and up-to-date of all smartphone maps, they are best used with data. It’s also possible to save the Google Maps in the cache (to view it offline). While you have an internet connection, zoom in on a part of a map that you want to save. Type “OK Maps” (minus the quotes) and hit Search and you can save highly detailled maps out at 15km if you need.  Google Maps also allows you to view larger regions offline, by caching any areas you view; just remember to zoom into any areas you’ll need to view in more detail later. The turn-by-turn directions even works offline if you search for them while you’re connected to wifi and continue travelling without. App Store Rating: 4.5/5

With an internet connection, Google maps is brilliant

 

Turn-by-Turn GPS Navigation

Get on-the-go directions from your app

Apple Maps (iOS): Like other apps such as Google Maps, you can set up the turn-by-turn navigation while you are on wifi – it will then be able to navigate you to your destination without an internet connection.

Bike Hub Cycle Journey Planner (Android): This turn-by-turn app was funded by the British Government and allows you to find the quickest and quietest cycle routes in the UK. You will need an internet connection to make the most of this app. Play Store Rating: 3/5

CoPilot GPS (iOS/Android): This app is free to use however you’ll have to purchase features such as turn-by-turn and voice navigation for quite a modest amount. App Store Rating: 4/5

Google Maps (iOS/Android): The turn-by-turn directions to places works offline if you search for them while you’re connected to wifi, but we haven’t tried it out. App Store Rating: 4.5/5

Locus Map Pro (Android): Locus is highly rated by Android users. You can import custom maps, enjoy turn-by-turn voice navigation or understand places with the incorporated Wikipedia information. Play Store Rating: 4.8/5

NavFree Offline Navigation Maps (iOS/Android): This highly popular app has great navigation features including routing, re-routing and turn-by-turn navigation. Play Store Rating: 4/5

Navigon / Garmin Maps (iOS/Android): Although expensive ($50+ per country), Garmin maps are considered some of the worlds best in navigation circles, especially for rural areas where free or cheap apps lack a lot of detail. You can expect all of the usual car-GPS features in this app, although the value for money is incredibly low. App Store Rating: 3.5/5

OsmAnd Offline Maps (Android): This app includes navigation features such as voice guidance and re-routing. A great feature of this app is the cycling and walking routes. Play Store Rating: 4.5/5

Pocket Earth Offline Maps (iOS): This highly rated iOS app allows you to turn-by-turn navigate. App Store Rating: 4.5/5

Sygic (iOS): Sygic is the worlds most downloaded offline navigation app. It employs high quality car-based maps from TomTom and other providers which are stored on your smartphone allowing you to navigate without an internet connection. The navigation is voice guided, provides alternative routes and drag and drop routing. The app is free, but you will have to purchase the maps (you can even download the world maps for 111 countries for $85 AUD). App Store Rating: 4.5/5

Sygic is a car based navigation app which is great for turn-by-turn routing

 

Tracking

Like a GPS Bike Computer… track your ride

Cyclemeter GPS (iOS): Similar to Strava except without the need for an account, you can track your rides among other things. App Store Rating: 4.5/5

GPS Essentials (Android): This app includes 45 different widgets to choose from, ranging from altitude, bearing, declination and distance to latitude, longitude, sunrise, moonrise and more. If you need the numbers, get involved! Play Store Rating: 4.4/5

Map My Ride (iOS/Android): Track your ride with this app with bike computer functionality. App Store Rating: 4.5/5

OruxMaps Offline Maps (Android): Orux is generally considered the best Android mapping app because it is free and has an incredible raft of features. You can track your route or even live track with an internet connection! Play Store Rating: 4.9/5

Pocket Earth Offline Maps (iOS): This highly rated and app allows you to track your trip. App Store Rating: 4.5/5

Strava (iOS/Android): Track your rides, analyse your performance, compare yourself to others. App Store Rating: 5/5

*Ratings collected in January 2014

 

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  • Will

    Hey Alex,
    As an Android user it took me a while to find a fitting solution for our navigation. I’ve come to like Orux considerably and use it for everything now, although I hear that other Android users are as happy with Locus. Both can make use of offline maps like OpenAndroidMaps (http://www.openandromaps.org/en/downloads) and offline routing software such as BRouter (http://brensche.de/brouter/). I think OsmAnd uses BRouter for its routing too. BRouter is the dog’s nuts!
    So anyway, we just crossed into crazy Vietnam. At least it seems crazy after a very relaxed Laos. Heading for Hanoi. Maybe our paths will cross again down near Cambodia… ;-)
    Cheers,
    Will.

    • http://www.cyclingabout.com/ Alee Denham

      Thanks for your input, Will. I’ve added a bit more info into our article. Hope to see you again in Vietnam/Canbodia!

  • Tom

    Just tested “brouter” with free “Locus” on Android 2.1. Works very fine, “nogo” areas in meters (radius) can be added.

    (See Will’s links below: http://brensche.de/brouter/)

  • Goran Omni

    The app is now on sale. You can also use the additional 25% discount by entering a discount code, e.g. REF5620RPSBHC1198

  • http://www.bodenseepeter.de/ Peter Eich

    Check Bikemap ;)

  • Dave

    Thanks, great information

    • http://www.cyclingabout.com/ Alee Denham

      No problem!

  • Wolfgang

    ‘Sketch a Track’ for Android (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.wolfgangknecht.sketchatrack) could be interesting for you guys to create GPX tracks. You can draw tracks directly on the map and you also get an elevation chart.

    The app also works great in combination with the Samsung Gear/Gear 2 to get the tracks on your wrist.

    I’m the developer of the mentioned app and would be happy if you give it a try!

  • http://hpka.net/ Henry Armitage

    Absolutely awesome wrap up article on this subject. Even if you didn’t intend this, it’s a great list for hiking and skiing too.