Sunday, May 20, 2012

Don’t forget the app: How do I get there?

On my laptop, I use Google Maps, and when I got my smartphone, I started using Google Navigator to find my way to unknown locations. What I’ve discovered, however, is that it’s best to have more than one navigation app on your phone, just in case. Models of phones and/or where you are when you use the app can make some difference in the success of the app.

App Choices
A friend had recommended Navfree USA. One of its features is downloadable maps so that if you have no data signal, you could still use the app. This app did not work well for me. It couldn’t find my house successfully, so getting started always affected the route it gave me. Even navigating from other locations always seemed to be off a little, and it would constantly lose the GPS signal.

This same friend also told me about Waze (also free), and this one works well for me. Waze calls itself a social navigation app. You can see where other Waze users are and even chat with them. I believe that typing is disabled while you are driving—that’s a good thing.

Waze users have the option to post information about various traffic conditions that they are seeing along their route. What I didn’t like about this, however, was that it was constantly popping up warnings about things that were not technically on my route. I would be near something, and it’s possible that the issue could affect the street I was traveling on, but that was really a slim chance.

Waze App
I actually decided to turn off the popup information from other Wazers and the actual location information for other Wazers. You will still see warning bubbles for the items that you indicate that you are interested in—for example, speed cams, police, accidents.

There are many items that can be changed in the settings from color of map to how you’d like to travel—avoiding highways. You can tell Waze that you don’t want to travel on dirt roads, to minimize turns, and have the map be 2D or 3D, just to name a few of the options.

After you enter an address, Waze will suggest a route, but you can click an option to see other routes. Waze will also become familiar with your favorite routes for the next time.

App use example
Recently, I was going somewhere in town that I had not been, so before leaving my house, I checked Google Maps on my laptop. I entered the street address and it showed the location as being very near somewhere I’ve been many times, so I really didn’t need to use a navigation app.

I was so glad I had allowed extra time that morning because almost everything that could have gone wrong did. There was no street sign when I finally got to where I thought I should be turning. Google Maps had shown that I would need to go left on this road, but to do so I would need to travel beyond the street and loop back—the reason for this was that there was no left turn allowed at that intersection.

But guess what, the place I was going was not to the left, it was to the right. This may be the first time Google Maps has misdirected me. Since the street was not marked, I was now unsure that the street I thought I should turn at was it, and I was having issues finding a place to turn around and go back—rush hour traffic and all.

As I was stopped as a traffic light, I turned on Google Navigator—I didn’t know yet that Google Maps had been wrong, so I was sticking with my love of Google—after all I have a Google phone and a Google blog.

Since my phone has voice recognition, I spoke the number and name of the street (Dekalb Avenue) and the first try came back with The Cab Avenue. I tried again and I got D Cab Avenue. Uggghhhh!!!! I’m starting to feel frustrated now so I switched to Waze and she got it right—Dekalb Avenue—she’s so smart.

But as she started navigating me back to Dekalb Avenue, she was telling me to turn the other direction. I didn’t believe her, but guess what: she was right! By the way, I say she because the default voice is a woman, but you can change that to a man’s voice if you so desire.

When it was time to return home, I needed to turn on Waze for a few minutes because I wasn’t sure if I would encounter any issues regarding which way I could turn. But I encountered something new—going through a tunnel and losing my GPS connection. When I came out the other side, I didn’t know which way to go until she found me again.

My last helpful hint is to take a minute before setting out to look ahead and see which way you’re going to be sent, just in case. I highly recommend Waze, but she’s only going to be able to help you if she can find you.

One last note about using a navigation app is that turning on your GPS—which is necessary for this—will run down your battery. Also, having the screen on constantly—also necessary—will run down your battery, so you will need to be prepared to charge your phone if you’ll be using the app very long.

To make using your phone as a GPS device easier and also while charging your phone, see my previous post about a great gadget to assist with phone location in the car.

Question: Do you have a navigation app that you recommend? Do you have any funny stories of getting lost and being saved by an app? Or have you been misdirected?
Please leave a comment below and let me know.

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