Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

Summary: The summer travel season is here and that means road trips. Not many cars have a fancy navigation system, so you can use that fancy smartphone you already own as a navigation device.

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The summer travel season is here and that means road trips, and nothing casts a pall over a road trip faster than getting lost, so an in-car navigation solution is the way to go. Not many cars have a fancy navigation system in the dash, so you can either pick up a dedicated gadget to handle the chore or use that fancy smartphone you already own. There are pros and cons to either method, and my preferred way to go is using my smartphone to light the way.

First a little background: colleague Adrian Kingsley-Hughes (@the_pc_doc) and I (@jkendrick) were playing on Twitter and got into a little conversation about our preferred navigation method. This conversation was a result of Dwight Silverman's (@dsilverman) account of his summer vacation where he mentioned using his smartphone for handling his family's road trip navigation duties. Adrian indicated he likes using a dedicated personal navigation device (PND) in his car, and he is sharing why he prefers it on Hardware 2.0. Hopefully if you are on the fence about the PND versus the smartphone, between Adrian's article and this one you'll be able to hit the open road with your chosen device and get where you need to be without incident.

Smartphone as navigation device

Most smartphones have full GPS capability onboard, so navigation is a natural use for that. All that is needed to get going is an app that handles the mapping and navigation. There are many options for all smartphone platforms, and my preferred app for navigation is available on both iOS and Android. I have an Android smartphone, and while it has the free Google Maps navigation app installed, I prefer the Telenav app. There are similarities between the two apps but I like the way Telenav handles the routing and mapping. Many folks like the Google Maps so the key is to try it and see how that works for you.

My smartphone service on Sprint includes the Telenav service free with expanded service available for an extra monthly fee. The full Android Telenav service for non-Sprint customers is $9.99 per month. Owners of iPhones on the AT&T network who use AT&T Navigator may already be using Telenav as this app is produced by Telenav.

Using a smartphone as a navigation device is much easier if you mount the phone where it is easily visible without getting in the way of driving. I use a simple Arkon universal mount that I attach to the windshield when needed and store under the seat when I don't. This lets me put the phone at the proper height for glancing at the map onscreen, but in a non-distracting spot. I use the navigation software's spoken directions for the most part when following a programmed route, and only glance at the phone to see distance to the next turn.

Pros and cons of the smartphone navigation method

Using a smartphone for the in-car navigation is not without issues, but in my opinion they are outweighed by the benefits over a dedicated navigation device. The main arguments for and against the smartphone method:

Pros

  • Smartphone is always with you. No forgetting the PND (or remembering to charge it).
  • Traffic reports. The in-route traffic reports and the ability to reroute should an accident be in your way is invaluable.
  • Up-to-date maps. Since smartphones use maps stored on the remote server, the maps used are always as current as can be.
  • Touch-screen operation. While only some PNDs have touchscreens, all smartphones do. Navigation apps are designed to be easily operated via touch, which is important for operation while driving.
  • Searching during trips. Apps make searching for things very simple during trips. Should you find something of interest close by it is easy to change plans and have the phone re-route as needed.
  • Easy destination entry. Entering a destination on a PND can be a chore, but smartphone apps allow sending addresses to the phone for use in navigation.
  • Integration with contact database. Smartphones make it easy to turn looking up a contact's address into a trip with navigation.
  • Updates. Like all apps, navigation app updates are released and depending on platform are either easily retrievable or pushed to the phone.
  • Walking trips. Google Maps handles walking trips too, and once at your vacation spot is a wonderful way to get around town on foot without losing your way.

Cons

  • Battery use. Smartphones can hit the battery hard with GPS and 3G active during trips. Car chargers are a good investment, especially for longer road trips.
  • Phone calls. While most smartphones allow receiving calls while in a navigation trip, the interruption can obscure important turn information if it occurs at the wrong time.
  • Ties up the phone. If you are in the habit of handing your phone to the kids during road trips to keep them occupied then using it as a navigation system is not an option.
  • Cost. If you use one of the apps with a monthly fee this method is more expensive than using a PND with no fee.

Conclusion

I have been using a smartphone as a navigation device for a few years and like it so much I have never missed my old TomTom. I use it regularly in town for the live traffic reporting, complete with rerouting around accidents as needed. This has saved my bacon more times than I can count, and is reason enough to prefer this method.

How about you? Do you regularly use either a dedicated navigation device or a smartphone for trip routing? Check the appropriate box in the poll below and lets see which method readers are using regularly. If you don't use either method just indicate it in the appropriate slot.

[poll id="7"]

See also:

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Smartphones

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59 comments
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  • RE: Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

    The first time you stumble into a poorly marked detour in a rural area with poor cell phone service you will realize why a dedicated navigation GPS is necessary.
    David Chernicoff
    • RE: Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

      @David Chernicoff That is less of an issue with current nav apps caching the route for times when service drops. Even Google's navigation has just added this feature, and it works pretty well. Not perfect but much better than before.
      JamesKendrick
      • That depends on wher you are.

        @JamesKendrick When on a snowmobile trip, even before we leave the tow vehicle we are usually in the middle of nowhere with poor reception even for voice, let alone data. Mounting the phone to the handlebars of the snowmobile (as I do with my Garmin) would be completely useless. We would be out of reception immediately plus the particular model of garmin I have is water proof and has an extended battery that will last me a minimum of 4 hours even in below zero temperatures - and I have a spare battery in a warm pocket.

        What I'm getting at is another con of using the phone is that if you are also into outdoor activities you will probably end up with a separate device for that anyway.
        cornpie
      • Right tool for the jobs

        @Cornpie:

        You example is using he right tool for the job. For most people the smart phone is a better option. For specifics activities like you describe the dedicated device is much better.
        voska1
      • RE: Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

        @cornpie

        Your Garmin has offroad routes?! Yours must be different than all that I've ever seen. If you just need to record your location so you can find your way back, pick up "My Tracks" for your android device. Bailed me out a few times running around the Sierras with grossly inadequate gear :-P Somehow, every spring I forget how cold it gets at 5,000 feet at night. As for the waterproofing, get a Motorola Defy. I hope, as smartphones get more pervasive, that basic things like water resistance become common place across the industry. Maybe Apple will do it and all the OEM sheep will follow.
        tkejlboom
      • RE: Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

        @tkejlboom Garmin makes GPSes intended for hiking, boating, and other off-road uses--the "water proof" is a clue his GPS wasn't built just for cars.
        Kayle0
    • RE: Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

      @David Chernicoff

      You mean like when you forget to buy/download/install the new $50 map package? Or when you simply forget to pack the proprietary charger for your dedicated device?

      I'll take my chances with Google Maps Navigation...fully cached pre-journey, of course. Even in a state largely composed of widely scattered Nowheresvilles inconveniently and vaguely connected by a paucity of rural roads, Da Goog hasn't let me down in recent memory.
      Justa Notherguy
      • Proprietary chargers...NOT.

        @Justa Notherguy I don't know about other brands but these days Garmin uses a standard mini usb connector.
        cornpie
      • RE: Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

        @Justa Notherguy

        USB now for charging/powering up while driving. Garmin, on many models, now has lifetime free map updates. So moot point now.
        dave01234
    • RE: Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

      @David Chernicoff

      I agree david these city/ burbs folks only know great cell coverage. So this would make sense to them.
      MLHACK
    • RE: Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

      @David Chernicoff
      Excellent point. I was using my phone last week while traveling in OK and TX. Lost cell coverage several times and GPS a couple. My EVO seems to have a problem with GPS. Once the signal is lost, I had to reboot my phone before the navigation would pick up the GPS. Even task killer didn't work. I spent 15 minutes on the side of the road, lost, trying to get the navigation working again. In HTC's defense, it didn't do this before the 2 week old Gingerbread update was pushed out so I expect it to get fixed. I would have given my right arm to have a dedicated GPS system on that trip.
      10kwfence
    • RE: Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

      @David Chernicoff The other issue can be overseas if you don't have a world phone. The GPS chip is extremely slow to boot or doesn't at all without a cell signal on some phones. In a pinch, cached maps like mapdroid are ok when you don't have data. For the US, Google blows away our Lexus Nav for street navigation.
      A good complement to Google maps is Point Inside! Mapping and navigation for inside airports, malls, theme parks and large convention centers. Let's see a dedicated device do that.
      LarsDennert
      • right tool for the right job

        @LarsDennert
        I think we can all agree, the smartphone is preferred in the urban/sub-urban areas when data & charger power are abundant.

        In the other extreme, several friends of mine took our dual-sport bikes down in the jersey devil turf, and one of us only had an iphone for gps - was funny to see him have to stop, pull off the gloves and try to keep it clean while he was looking for directions. The rest of us just wiped the mud off our waterproof hiking garmin devices and we were good to go. The on-site guide also had a laptop to upload all the waypoints to the major GPS brands, made it very painless.

        Perhaps they will make smartphones run for 20+ hours off of AA batteries and make them IPX7 waterproof standard so I can ditch my garmin. LOL
        ~doolittle~
    • RE: Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

      @David Chernicoff Absolutely!
      rphunter42
    • RE: Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

      @David Chernicoff

      I have to agree. If the travelling is within strong network signals for the phone to download the maps, it is a no brainer. Get out into the wilderness, the dedicated GPS with built in maps WILL BE a life saver.
      wilswong1
    • RE: Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

      @David Chernicoff... Never had that issue. I always keep a map in the glove box just in case. In fact I rarely use my Tom Tom app, as the only time I ever use it, is when I need to travel into Minneapolis or St. Paul, otherwise everywhere else I go, I already know where I am headed.

      Technology is nice when it works, but a burden when it doesn't. Everyone should have a map or atlas of where they are headed, and should know how to use it to navigate.
      Snooki_smoosh_smoosh
    • RE: Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

      @David Chernicoff n his followers
      Welcome to 2011. James Kendrick's choice of favourite app wasn't very good.

      More and more iPhone users like I have no reason to spend $45 (or more) on a dedicated GPS device (then additional $20+ monthly/yearly fees for new maps) when we can easily get most* of the benefits with FRE.....cough.....excuse me, $60 TomTom app ;) which works <b>EXACTLY</b> as the dedicated TomTom device; all the maps are built into the app :p hence no need for any cellular data if you don't care to take full advantage of getting instant map updates from <b>anywhere</b> or even submitting map corrections of your own the instant you find them on the road :p

      *The only TomTom specific benefit I've seen on a friend's dedicated GPS device which isn't available on my iPhone is "Road Side Assistant", I'm B-) with that.
      MrElectrifyer
  • RE: Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

    Get a good navigation app on your smartphone and it will work even in areas with zero cell reception. I used Navigon in West Virginia in places that didn't even have Edge coverage or reception to make a call.
    teetee1970
    • RE: Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

      @teetee1970

      GPS uses your data plan connection right ???? So now with tiered data plans. Hows is that cross country trip going to work out now... Gas and data overage costs there go's your vacation money.
      MLHACK
      • RE: Smartphone for GPS Navigation is better than a dedicated device

        @MLHACK <br><br>No. Smartphone GPS radios aren't as good as the radios in dedicated GPS devices, but they do not need data to work. They use data to download GPS data (Assisted GPS), but once the data is downloaded, the GPS receiver works fine without data. Even without data or AGPS, both smartphones I've owned with GPS have been able to lock after searching for awhile.
        toadlife