It’s no wonder Canadians are increasingly turning to their smartphone for directions these days: you no longer need to buy a standalone GPS unit to mount on your dashboard or windshield; pre-installed navigation systems in new vehicles still cost an arm and a leg for the upgrade (and updating maps can be a pain); and GPS-enabled smartphones are also ideal for finding destinations via public transit, on-foot or on a bicycle.
Because most of us want directions while driving a vehicle, however, it’s critical your GPS solution gives you audio-based turn-by-turn directions – not just visual cues you need to look at while behind the wheel.
Until recently, you had to pay for an app for this audio feature – from the likes of TomTom, Garmin or Navigon – but both Google Maps and Apple Maps now offer this important feature for free. Some people mount their smartphone in their vehicle, too, so they can catch a glimpse of a map at a stoplight, but it’s not recommend to try and balance your phone on your dashboard for obvious safety reasons.
Whether you use headphones, the smartphone’s built-in speaker or your vehicle’s stereo system, the important thing is you can hear where and when to turn – while keeping your eyes on the road and hands upon the wheel, as the late Jim Morrison once sang.
In fact, most devices today let you use your voice to say where you want to go, as well – instead of having to type it in. With Apple’s Siri, for example, simply say something like “take me to 123 Sesame Street” and it’ll immediately pull it up on a map and start giving you turn-by-turn directions. You can also ask for points of interest (“find me a gas station,” for instance) or a business search (e.g. “show me Japanese restaurants near me”). Siri works with iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad with Retina Display and the latest iPod touch. Google Maps works very much the same way.
If you prefer to type in an address, be sure to do it when your car is parked. Many in-vehicle navigation systems won’t let you input an address while the car is moving, which is for your own protection and the safety of others. In fact, just as it’s against the law in most provinces and states to hold a phone up to your ear or text/email while driving, you might also get a fine for tapping on a standalone GPS or GPS app on your smartphone while driving.
Be aware, using your smartphone’s GPS uses up data, and you’ll likely have a limit on how much you can use every month. Be cautious using GPS while in another country, as it’ll count as data roaming, which will cost even more. Some GPS apps, like NavFree, give you the option to download the data to the device before your trip, so you won’t need to incur extra data charges.
Using GPS for a while on your smartphone can also drain its battery, so try to have a way to charge up the phone if needs it (such as a power kit for the car).
While these shortcomings might deter you from using your smartphone as your main GPS solution, the abovementioned benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. In fact, keep in mind your smartphone uses A-GPS (“assisted” with cellular signals) instead of regular GPS units that require line of sight with the satellites that hover above the earth — so you’ve got more flexibility where to keep your smartphone in the vehicle.
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