February 26, 2021

When an Android Phone Becomes a GPS Device

To my surprise, on the way there, it looked as if the smartphone was performing as well as the Garmin GPS device. But also to my surprise, sometimes they were both about as good as leaning out the window and getting advice from a stranger.

The smartphone found the exact name of the cinema but somehow placed it 75 miles and 90 minutes away. The GPS device seemed to nail it; I recognized the exit it told me to take and I took it. Then, following its turn-by-turn directions, I found myself blocks away in the middle of a residential street, with no cinema in sight.

Thanks to both, I missed the first 20 minutes of the movie.

As most users will testify, all GPS devices make mistakes, whether you have spent $2,000 for an in-car navigation system or one-tenth the price for the same features on a portable device.

Now drivers should be asking themselves: why do I need to spend even $200 for a GPS unit that sometimes makes mistakes when a just-as-smart (or dumb) smartphone can do the same thing?

Owners of smartphones that run the Android operating system are finding an even better reason: the navigation advice on an Android phone is free.

Google’s no-cost Maps app, bundled with Android smartphones, includes voice directions and turn-by-turn navigation, just like the stand-alone big boys. (This is a category in which Androids clearly trump iPhones. The iPhone’s Google Maps app does not offer these features.)

But is a free smartphone app as good as a device specifically designed for navigation? I set out to find out with a side-by-side test.

The manufacturers of navigation hardware, who have seen sales of stand-alone units drop almost 20 percent since their 2008 peak, argue that free and low-cost smartphone navigation apps and stand-alone devices can coexist. Each appeals to a different kind of person. Younger people are attracted to apps, while older drivers like stand-alone devices with larger screens, according to Bill Strand, Magellan’s senior product marketing manager.

To test this premise, I stuck Garmin’s Nuvi, model 2350LMT ($185), and Motorola’s latest Android phone, the Droid X2, onto the dashboard of my Audi. (There are hundreds of GPS models; I selected the Garmin as the representative because of its popularity.) Peering over this bank of devices, I took off with the children onto Los Angeles’s traffic-choked Ventura Freeway and down to Disneyland.

The Droid and Garmin both have 4.3-inch screens. The Droid’s screen was brighter and, with its reflective surface, appeared very sharp.

I typed in “Disney Grand California Hotel and Spa,” and the slight vibration let me know when a key push had been registered. By contrast, I often pushed the wrong button on the Garmin.

Each device’s maps were easy to follow and read; the graphics style comes down to personal preference. But if you like to catch a bird’s-eye view of your travels, only Google offers a satellite view of your route, much like its satellite view on a Google map on a computer. Graphic maps work just as well, but I found something satisfying about seeing what is really there on the ground.

When you approach your destination, Google Maps automatically switches to its familiar street view, giving a street-level shot of where you (hopefully) want to be. Using Google Maps to find my way home, I found it a bit discomfiting to suddenly see a photo of my house — that I hadn’t shot — as I drove up to it.

In navigation, seconds can mean the difference between getting off on the correct freeway exit or driving an extra 10 or 20 miles to the next one. Google Maps was generally quicker; at times, its voice commands arrived as much as three seconds sooner, which could make all the difference if your reflexes are not that snappy.

Google Maps also took first place when it came to searching for a destination. A search for the nearest Peet’s coffee stores on the Garmin took 27 seconds — and it never found the one closest to my home. The Garmin did not find it even when I was parked in front of the store. Perhaps Garmin’s maps supplier is a Starbucks fan.

Alas, speed does not always translate into accuracy. Neither of the devices was ever completely accurate, either in determining the shortest route or figuring out the location of an address.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=45cb6e93ea6a7c610968ccc7da8bae5f

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