Google Maps Navigation vs. A Dedicated GPS Device (and Why I Think Google Maps Nav is Better)

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.

» See more articles by Brian Rubin


  • hans

    Don’t forget, real time traffic data updated on your maps.

  • tmnk

    “Google Maps also seems to acquire a GPS signal much faster than other GPS units”

    That’s related more to the hardware you’re using, not the Maps application itself.

  • Nick

    I use Google Nav and love it. If you are interested in different voices you can get different ones from Android Market – just search for TTS applications.

  • Brian Rubin

    Oh really? Could you elaborate?

  • Jason

    My wife bought me a gps unit last Christmas and I have had nothing but fits with it. (We just moved to a different state for career reasons) It tells you too late or to turn onto a road that does not exist or randomly loses signal. I tried 2 other brands with similar results. We just got the Atrix and I decided to give google maps a try and was very impressed with how accurate and no need to update the maps all the time. Just wish we had not spent 200 dollars on a worthless gps.

  • srheug

    I just srove from Eugene, Or. to Knoxville, Tn. and back using my Droid 2 and Google Nav. in my cardeck and loved it. The only issue was the batt. got warm after driving for 12 hrs.

  • http://trevorcarpenter.com Trevor Carpenter

    Search for “svox” in the Market, you’ll find an app and several alternate voices for use with all text to speech from w/in Android.

    Even though I’m a Yank, I prefer the British female voice. Oddly, she gets the pronunciations more correct for the common Spanish names found in California.

  • http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/ralphieboyo/1/1293297759/tpod.html Ralphie Boyo

    We have been traveling in a motorhome for over three months. I have a Droid 2 Global and use the Navigation exclusively. The voice: The Hussy, we call her, can be a bit annoying, but she DOES know where she’s going… most of the time. I had purchased a Garmin Truck-type GPS, but due to the short battery life have abandoned it. My vote goes for the Google App.

  • Kai

    I prefer dedicated GPS by far (TomTom’s my preference).. Larger screen, seemingly stronger GPS signal (I say seemingly because it could be in my head :), real voices if you’re ok with not having street names said out loud – I can’t stand computer generated voices, amongst other reasons.

    There are obvious points where Google Maps (or any navigation utilising a constant connection) will wipe the floor with a dedicated device – but for day to day use, I’ll take dedicated anytime.

  • Jordan

    If you click on the time left in navigation it will give you an ETA.

  • mikolajl

    I can’t use Google Maps Navigation, because it is not available in Poland…

  • http://scotsvoiplog.blogspot.com/ Scot

    While I live in the UK, I prefer kilometres over miles (things like “turn right in 387 yards” mean almost nothing to me). While my Garmin can quite happily give me directions in metric, Google Maps can’t.

  • Chuck Angel

    I was really frustrated with GPS Navigation on my Samsung Captivate until a recent trip from Kentucky to DC. My GPS was inaccurate, kept losing GPS lock, and kept seeing me 1000 feet behind actual location. I had my wife use her Captivate and hers was dead on. I came to the conclusion that I had a bad GPS chip and after several conversations, I managed to convince AT&T support too. They replaced my
    Captivate and now it works beautifully. Because I travel often, this is a great feature and I use it all the time.

    The voice on CoPilot is much better but I love the voice command feature in Google Maps and the Captivate…”Navigate to Bob Evans Restaurant” gets me headed to breakfast with ease!

  • HectorPA

    I like Google Nav as opposed to my old Navigon 5100, except for one nagging thing: I can’t delete old destinations without uninstalling the app and starting over! One would think that simple task would have been addressed by now.

  • Brian Rubin

    All excellent replies people. I got the SVOX thing installed and can’t wait to try it out.

  • LycraLout

    I really like Google Nav, but there are areas in the UK where there is no data signal. Got me a bit stuck on a camping holiday last year. For that reason, we still have (and use) a dedicated GPS unit (Navigon).

    Also, until my contract expires, I’m still using an HTC Hero which, although capable, does struggle sometimes. Has been known to crash at inappropriate times when using Google Nav. I expect it to be better when I upgrade to something more modern.

  • GoPadge

    I have a Garminfone on a T-Mobile pay as you go plan. Garmin’s offline GPS features with Android (2.1) on a 600mhz cpu. It’s ok, especially without an unlimited datplan, but the phone could use more ommph and a 2.2 / 2.3 update.

  • Andrew

    Also handy: from a desktop in Google Maps (while in your google account) you can star addresses. Then you just go to your maps app in android, go to starred places, pick the right one and tell it to navigate!

  • Brian Rubin

    Andrew, I totally forgot about that. Yes, love that.

    GoPadge, my friend has one of those and loves it.

  • http://www.gpsforcartrackers.com/ GPS For Car

    Do you have to pay your telco for the download and data transmission while using this application?

  • Brian Rubin

    I guess it depends, GPS for Car. My provider has unlimited data as part of my package, but that varies by carrier.

  • ZARk

    1/ You can’t use your google maps abroad without paying excessive amounts for your data connection (roaming)
    2/ No options … I want a 2D view and the street names to be read in the language of the country i’m in .. (French street names read in English is just useless). Only way to de-active TTS is to uninstall it..
    3/ Roadblock ahead ? You can’t warn google maps so it finds a new route, you just have to pick something random and just HOPE it doesn’t tell you to turn around
    4/ Destination input could be better.
    5/ Speed restriction indications like tomtom would be nice.

    i could go on and on …

    no seriously, i use google maps a lot, but i’m still very happy to have my TomTom at hand.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mark.donohoe Mark A. Donohoe

      Few things.  Google Nav does support 2D maps.  Just touch the compass to switch between them.

      As for the speech, you can half-do that by changing your voice preferences to be in French for instance. Problem is that’s phone-wide, not nav-specific.

      Also, there is a re-route feature.  Not sure how you missed that.  Button is right on the screen. (Do you have it hidden perhaps?)The speed thing would be nice.  Bet that’s coming.And finally, how POSSIBLY could the destination input be any better?  It lets you type in practically any format!  Street address and zip (i.e. no city or state needed)… City only… intersection of… voice input… order input to match real addresses (i.e. most nav start with state, then city, then street whereas when writing addresses it’s much more natural and reversed and what Google accepts.That last one really left me scratching my head there.

  • Ray of Perth

    The Google Voice search has never worked on my Android, for any applications. I have spent ages trying to get it to understand just about any words and it is useless!! It cant open apps, it cant do anything on the calendar, it cant dial people. Just Useless!! Stick to my other mobile Nokia N8 with Nokia maps, no data transfers needed, and it works straight away with voice updates!!

    • Ranger5150

      One of the big mistakes people make with voice command is talking too slow thinking they need to for the device to understand and then it types junk you didn’t say. Try talking at a regular speed as though you weren’t talking to your phone and see what happens.

  • Brad

    Check out Back Country for a cool hiking Smart Phone app. 9 bucks for app. All sat. and topo maps are free. No cell reception required. Can use only GPS antenna within the phone. If you anticipate no cell recep. you can download maps in advance to sd card. If you have cell recep. then sat. and topo images will be pulled from the internet as you move around. Very cool app. As far as I’m concermed my Evo with this app beats the $700.00 new Montana from Garmin. I also think Google should come out with their own GPS unit to go with their maps. Google are you reading this??

  • Brad

    Only one problem… I don’t want to take my EVO into the woods.

  • Gambalunga

    In the Australian outback there are many places where you can not get a cell phone signal. Google navigation would be useless there.

    I would like to have a dedicated navigator based on the Linux/Android operating system where you could download the whole map for a country when required. Obviously satelite view and street view would not be available for a whole country. Perhaps optional 3G would be good where it was available-

  • Marcel

    OK, this is by far the best I’ve read about Google Maps Navigation. We’re about to embark on a Roadtrip following the West Coast between Los Angeles and San Fransisco (as well as downtown LA and even Hawaii).
    We are coming over from the UK (but are Belgian and Danish… just have to add that) and I’ve spend so long searching for the choice if I should unlock my Samsung Ace (already done) and load it either additional GPS software or use Google Maps, or rent an in-car GPS together with the car.
    There’s so much more we want to do with this phone (it’s for a wedding, so pictures, movies, staying in contact and then Navigation) that I think it’s worth it.
    But.. as my phone is A-GPS, I got somewhat scared as I know some sport on the West Coast, on that route are having dead spots when it comes to reception (which I Need for my A-GPS phone).
    I’ve tested A-GPS here in the UK with Google Maps, and it works wonderful, just as mentioned above.
    Sure it’s a battery drainer but that’s why you get a charger for the car anyway.
    But I was sill reluctant to wonder how A-GPS would work in the US, knowing… at at least thinking that the US didn’t really had much of G3 coverage, and went straight to G4.
    But with this article, I’m so glad I found it as now I’m sure I can use Google Maps AND I do not need to invest in additional SatNav software :)
    I will get AT&T simcard, maybe get it in UK before leaving as then it comes with a 2GB data package which I surely will use ;)
    Thanks!
    Marcel

  • Chicknlcker

    I want a stand alone GPS that is based off Google Maps.  I need a dedicated GPS, because I often need to use both the phone and GPS at the same time. My Garmin does fine, but I like Google’s maps so much better.  So I would like Google to make a dedicated GPS that does not need a cell signal and runs off satellite only.

    • LarryKritcher

      Hey Chicker Knicker, I love google maps, too, and travel abroad, mostly Europe, but are there maps of Asia and Africa, too?  I can download the google maps by wi-fi in my hotel, but in Europe, to go onto cellular data is ridiculous…either requring a stop in a phone store for a local chip, or getting a data plan for overseas from AT&T..either one is unlikely for me because I’d rather use a poorer display on my Garmin NUve.  Alas, I’m going to choke in electrical adapter cords, antennee and name tags!

    • Ranger5150

      With Google maps navigation you can use the cell phone and the GPS at the same time. It’s easiest if you purchase a windshield navigation cradle for it and use a blue tooth.

  • http://tiptail.com/ Cynthia

    I love my Google Maps on my Android, too… but I travel long distances between cities, and I don’t want roaming data charges. So really I haven’t tried it out during these stretches.  I don’t want charges. I’m on AT&T and I have a limited data plan too. I wish Google Maps would have a No Data option, just GPS, on the phone. Or a dedicated GPS only device with the Google Maps installed. Preferably with free updates. I also have a Garmin, and I dislike how any map updates cost a LOT, and it might not even be of my area.

    I like, about my Garmin, that I can have it running the whole time on my trips. Sometimes 12 hour trips out west where there’s nothing around but desert.  I wouldn’t trust the phone to run for 12 hours, I could only imagine the Data would be very high!

  • Larrykritcher

    Where do I find this wonderment?  What is the exact name so I can find it, by google of course! Thanks Larry

  • http://www.facebook.com/kcjoey2009 Joey Enderle

    i love google maps more but my Garmin does just fine since every time i use google maps it loses signal or something then i have to read the directions almost half way to my destination i use Galaxy 3 on Verizon 4g LTE which is almost always full bars so its either the app or something that keeps losing signal. I WISH GOOGLE WOULD COME OUT WITH A DEDICATED GPS SOON!

  • Jim Bros

    Google NAV NEEDS:
    -different voices
    -simple interface like GARMIN and TOMTOM
    -ability to INCREASE and DECREASE frequency of INSTRUCTIONS; right now it gives 5 instructions while GARMIN & TOMTOM give dozens of instructions during the same time period; who the HELL wants to wait for instructions when they’re driving!!!
    -who the hell at Google came up with the bright idea of integrating Google Maps and Google Navigation! no one needs fricking satelllite view when driving across the city
    -I can PLAN and SAVE dozens of routes on GARMIN and TOMTOM and then just get in my car and click on my saved route and I start getting instructions
    -I CANNOT PLAN AND SAVE a dozen routes with Google Navigation because it’s STILL JUST A FRICKING MAP application!
    -Google WAKE UP AND READ THE WRITING ON THE WALL: your feeble Navigation app SUCKS BRICKS when compared with the pros like GARMIN and TOMTOM!

  • Dan Hess

    I am a musician and i travel hundreds of miles every week. I find myself using google maps more than my dedicated nuvi GPS but both fail in traffic rerouting. The biggest problem I have with Google maps is that it will show traffic problems on the traffic view for your selected route but it will NOT alert you nor will it offer to reroute you to avoid the issues. So, it clearly is aware of the heavy traffic (shown in red on the map) yet does nothing to prevent you from entering it. Hello, Google…what is the point of monitoring traffic if you can’t do anything to avoid problems? I would pay for their service on my android if this could be corrected.

  • Jon

    I’m a Saturday Air Driver for a large logistic company. In the town I live in we have about 10-11 Saturday air drivers on a given day. each driver has around 10-20 stops to be completed by noon. We do not use the normal EDD system that the M-F drivers use. We have to set up our route in an efficient way, so we get done on time. I started out using Google maps on my phone, and used it in conjunction with an APP called “Fast Delivery Route Plus” which worked great as long as I had network and enough battery life. There is no charging system in my package car, and network was not a problem unless I had a delivery that was really extended in the mountains.
    Last week I purchased an $320 Automotive GPS unit with a Route planner built in and all the bells and whistles. I came into work excited to try my new toy, loaded it with all my stops, hit the route optimization, and off I went. let me remind you I was expecting the same experience I got from Google. Not even looking at how it routed me (My Bad There) I went to my first stop, second, Third, Forth and soon I noticed i was headed back to an earlier location i was already at, a different address, but the same area. After a discouraging day with my new Automotive GPS unit i came home and got a previously save route on my Google Device and put the same stops in on the GPS unit and compared them….
    Anyone who says Google maps nav. is inferior should do this and see for yourself.