A few weeks ago, I was driving my girlfriend and a friend of mine to Hollywood to meet some friends for dinner. While I knew the way there, I loaded up Google Maps Navigation on my HTC EVO 4G and put it in my little car mount so I would get an idea as to how long it would take to get there. As I was driving, my friend in the back seat commented, “Wow, I like how good your GPS looks, and how it pans and turns as you drive. I have a great dedicated unit and it doesn’t even do that.” My girlfriend, who also has a dedicated GPS unit, said how cool that was. This got me to thinking about the differences between the Google Maps Navigation app on my phone and dedicated GPS units, and how I ultimately decided that I think Google’s app is better.
For a long time, I wanted a stand-alone GPS unit because I love to drive everywhere I can, and Los Angeles can be dang confusing at times (who the HELL designed downtown anyway for chrissakes?). This changed when I got an iPhone (hush now, I’ve matured since then) and began to use Google Maps to get me everywhere, followed by a few GPS apps like Navigon and CoPilot. The iPhone’s usage of GPS never really got it quite right, however, so I was thrilled when I got my EVO and I was first able to use Google’s amazing navigational program. Since then, I can’t even imagine needing a dedicated GPS system…heck, even if I got a car with one, I doubt I’d ever use it. Why? Well let me explain…
Google Maps Navigation (And Why It’s Awesome)
Sure, I might be biased towards Google Maps Navigation, but there are so many reasons why. First off, I like having my GPS wherever I am, so I can use it not just for driving directions, but for walking and public transit directions if necessary. Here are some other reasons I really love Google Maps Navigation above traditional GPS units:
- Full Integration – Click an address in your calendar, or a contact entry, or a website or whatever else, and it’ll load up Google Maps, from which you can launch Navigatation. Even the iPhone didn’t get this right, sadly. I love being able to put an address in a calendar entry and then click on that entry to get directions.
- Easy searching – No worries about whether a GPS unit has a destination in its POI (Points of Interest) database or anything. With Google Maps Navigation, you just do a natural search. You can also search along your route, and search by voice, which makes it easy to find a place to eat or a gas station while you’re driving.
- Quick rerouting – If you have to go a different way than Google Maps originally planned, rerouting takes maybe two seconds. I’ve used GPS units wherein rerouting takes nearly a minute, if not longer. Google Maps also seems to acquire a GPS signal much faster than other GPS units, which helps in this regard.
- Street View – While not always 100% accurate, this is a neat way to see where my final destination will be…when it works right. :)
- Always Updated Maps – Since Google Maps uses constantly updated map data, you don’t need to wait for map updates like you do with traditional GPS units.
Not everything is all rosey with Google Maps Navigation, though. It needs a cellular connection to function, which hasn’t been a problem for me, thankfully, but I’m sure it is for some folks. Its voice can also be a bit…grating, though I’ve mostly gotten used to it. I also wish I could change the time format. Regardless, now let’s take a look at some of the standout features in traditional GPS units.
Traditional GPS Devices
As awesome as I think Google Maps Navigation is, it lacks a few neat features that some dedicated GPS units have. These include:
- No Data Connection Required – Stand-alone GPS units have all of their map data built in, so they don’t need a data connection to give you accurate directions, which can be handy.
- Lane Assist Features – While the usability of this is debatable, I’ve always thought it’s handy when driving through unfamiliar territory.
- Multiple Time Formats – Oh how I wish Google Maps Navigation would do this. However, it only gives you something of a countdown in minutes, while other GPS units can give you your ETA as well, which I would prefer.
- Different Voices – Several GPS units have different voices built in, and can even add more. Do you know how badly I want to buy a TomTom just so I can use Brian Blessed’s voice?
However, while all of these features are compelling as heck, they don’t drive me away from using Google Maps Navigation on my phone. I’ve used maybe half a dozen GPS units, and their lack of consistency in their interfaces, slow signal acquisition time and so on really prevent me from investing in one, despite the extra cost for the unit itself as well as periodic map updates.
What about you, though? Do you use the GPS solely on your phone? Do you have a dedicated GPS unit you’d rather rely on? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading.