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A Smartphone GPS showdown: Windows Phone Here vs Android's Google Maps

Nokia Drive on a Nokia Lumia 920
Nokia Drive on a Nokia Lumia 920
Nokia Press Release Kit

One of the standout features of smartphones is their ability to be used as GPS units. In this article we will take a look at both Windows Phone's Here, and Android's Google Maps, the two undoubted powerhouse GPS apps available for smartphones today. Why overlook Apple maps? Well simply because after two years of development, it still cannot compete with the offerings from Google and Microsoft. I have road tested both, Google Maps, and Nokia Here (formerly Nokia Drive) extensively, so buckle your seat belts as these two navigation apps go head to head.

Google Maps - Android and iOS

Google Maps is a powerful tool that is integrated well throughout the entire Android OS. It is feature packed, receives constant updates from Google and offers a deep GPS experience, but it's not without it's flaws.

Google Maps has come a long way since first being introduced in Android 2.3. Maps has the ability to show real-time information regarding businesses that are close by, traffic information, detours, weather, special offers, lane assistance and much more. The level of integration throughout the entire operating system is simply superb. You could be searching for a business in the browser of the phone, then when the address pops up you can click it and your phone automatically switches to GPS. You can also use a feature like this to point your GPS to the contacts in your phone book (if you have their address information saved); you can also just type, or speak to Google Now and say “navigate to the Statue of Liberty” for instance and Google Maps will find directions for you from your current location.

Google Maps is perhaps the most powerful navigation tool available in the smartphone world, but it is not the most user friendly, and at times it can be quite complicated to use. Google have done a fine job toning done Google Maps without stripping away any of the powerful features, but it can be quite easy to get lost in the myriad of overlays and information that can be displayed on the screen. This really comes as no surprise because Android has never really been known for its ease of use. However if you spend the time to really get to know the ins-and-outs of the app, you will be simply amazed at everything it can do for you.

Google Maps has also been implemented into Google Now very well. Google Now is basically your main hub on Android powered devices, the widget that accompanies the app can display the most frequent routes that you take, and can offer real time traffic information. Having this information handy at a glance is a major plus point, and it makes it so that there is no reason to be late to that all important meeting now.

Perhaps the biggest negative aspect of the whole application is that after all this time in development here is still no real option to use Google Maps completely offline. You can save 10 small chunks of map to your phone to use offline, but this is hardly adequate. What this means that every time you use Google Maps you will likely burn through data at an alarming rate, unless you have those small segments of maps saved to your device. This is a crying shame, and really because of this it is probably not the best app you can use if you have a small data plan.

There is no doubt that Google Maps is the most powerful mapping application available for Android, and iOS for that matter but there are others available on Android such as Sygic, which offers true offline use, but it is not free to download. If you do not mind having to have a constant data connection to use Maps, then it's really a not a hard decision to make when it comes to GPS on Android, and iOS for that matter.

Nokia Here - Windows Phone

When Windows Phone 7 was first launched in 2010 it did not have a native navigation app, which was a massive oversight on Microsoft's part, but now since Nokia and Microsoft joined forces things have just been getting better and better for the platform. Nokia drive was originally only available on Nokia Lumia devices, but now the app is known as Here, and it is available to download on every single Windows Phone device. This is a massive plus for those who use the Windows Phone platform.

Nokia Here is integrated throughout the entire OS just like Google Maps is on Android. Most of the features of Nokia Here mimic those found in Google Maps; see an address in an app, tap it and Here will launch so that you can get to your destination. Just like on Google Maps, if you need to reach a contact, tap the address in their profile and Here does the rest, and of course you can type in, or say any address, and the device will work on finding the best route for you to take.

Here is simple in design, but overall it is beautiful to look at. The main screen is not cluttered with information and overlays like Google Maps, everything is clean, crisp, and serves a purpose. When looking at the map you will see that businesses are displayed as a small icon rather than text, and a simple tap on that icon will bring up all information about that business. Traffic delays and detours are visible, and your daily commutes are remembered so, Here can tell you if there are any delays on the roads you use the most. These are great features, but perhaps the biggest feature is that Here can be used offline.

During initial setup you will be asked to download maps to your phone. The maps you choose to download are stored on the phone, and you can use the Here GPS application without ever having to worry about data usage. You can download as many maps as you want and they are all free of charge. This is feature is a major win for consumers who use Windows Phone, and it could really come in handy if you know you will be driving to a location with spotty reception.

The other big difference compared to Google's offering is ease of use. Here is very easy to use, there are no complicated menus, a simple set of options that allow you to tweak the most important aspects of the app, and easy to read fonts are what you will find here. Compared to Google Maps, Here is as simple as plug and play. Overall, Here is a joy to use, but it is not as powerful as its Android based counterpart. Here on Windows Phone is beautiful to look at, and you do not ever have to worry about using up your expensive data, but the simplistic approach to GPS and mapping may leave power users yearning for more.

Conclusion

Both Here and Google Maps are excellent navigation aides. Both are packed full of features, and both will get you from A to B, and in all honesty it's really hard to recommend one over the other. On the one hand Here is far easier to use, is easier on the eye, and it will not burn through all of your data, but if you are a road warrior and crave data and information, then Google Maps could be the one for you.

At the end of the day it does not really matter which platform you end up using, because both Android and Windows Phone devices have you covered when it comes to GPS, you just need to decide if you want to side with Google or Microsoft.