If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 21 March 2011

Free Satnav

The iPhone has a built-in GPS receiver which seems to be slow in comparison with my TomTom 720, but nevertheless functional and reliable. It's quite handy to have, but it is principally for telling you where you are and letting you browse maps. It won't give you route directions; for that, you need a dedicated navigation program. I have been wondering for a while whether to get the TomTom app for the iPhone, and perhaps use this on the bike in preference to my (relatively) bulky car unit. Yesterday, a friend pointed me to a free iPhone app called navfree. I downloaded it today, and I have been playing with it ever since.

On first sight, it seems very good. Bear in mind I haven't used it on the move yet, but the interface is clean and clear, and it seems to have most of the features that are standard on the TomTom. There's a crisp map display, which automatically goes to night mode, and is switchable between 2D and 3D and zoomable. It has turn-by-turn voice navigation, automatic re-routing, and the ability to play music while you are using it. It seems to have the same kinds of POI that the TomTom has (including 'safety' cameras), and uses the OpenStreetMap system, which is a collection of user-editable maps available under the Creative Commons licence and which are therefore free to use. You can edit the maps yourself (although I haven't yet found out how to do this) and share with other users, so it's a bit like a map version of Wikipedia. I guess that means it has the same drawbacks ("this information is worth exactly what you paid for it"), but with common sense this shouldn't be a problem.

Best of all, the maps are downloaded and stored on the device, so you don't need a 3G connection to use it. It seems as if the postcode and address lookup needs 3G access, but other than that you are free of any network.

I'll post a proper review when I have had a chance to use it in anger, but for now I am pretty impressed. If it's as good as it looks, then the TomTom UK & Ireland software for iPhone at £39.99 (launched in 2009 at £79.99) looks pretty expensive. The TomTom software is fairly intelligent and has things like lane guidance, and I am very confident in it, but even if the Navfree software lacks some of the more sophisticated features it is still remarkably good for - er - the price. A Western Europe option for Navfree is in the pipeline, apparently. TomTom are going to have to do some quick footwork if they are to maintain any kind of market in the face of a decent free alternative.

More in due course.


  1. Thanks for the info Richard. I'll pass it on to my daughter & son-in-law who both have iPhones.


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