Navigation without data for free - the solution is HERE


#1

ask-directions1.jpg
(image from ICPC)

Ever since Republic made changes to limit roaming data, many of you are concerned that you’ll end up lost while traveling in the boonies, unable to use your phone’s navigation app for directions. The thought of dealing with paper maps or asking another human for directions can be quite daunting!

It would be nice if we had unlimited data everywhere, because Google Maps is about as good as it gets for details and accuracy, and the turn-by-turn navigation is top notch. The only problem is, Google Maps depends on access to Google’s cloud – in a word “data”. While it’s possible to save map areas to the phone, doing so for a large area or entire state is quite cumbersome, and planning a route requires data nonetheless.

Fortunately, there are alternatives known as offline navigation apps. These

apps include maps that are downloaded to your phone on a state-by-state basis, and route calculation is done entirely within the app, requiring no data.

There are a few free or inexpensive apps that use crowd-sourced maps from OpenStreetMap.org (OSM). The trouble with OSM maps is that they’re not complete - street addresses often aren’t known, and sometimes entire streets can’t be found. The apps that use OSM can accurately locate an address with a bit of data, but the holy grail is reaching your destination on zero data.

I originally was going to write about two OSM-based apps and a soon-to-be-released beta app that wasn’t officially available. But the unofficial beta has now been officially released for use by all (though still in beta), and that changes everything. The beta app is so good, there’s little reason to talk about OSM-based apps. Without further ado, the winner in the Best Free Offline Navigation category is…

HERE Beta (now available from Google Play)

Cost $0

The announcement that Nokia would offer an offline navigation app for free must have been a bombshell for those making money from offline navigation apps and dedicated navigation devices. Nokia’s professionally developed and maintained maps rival those of Google, Garmin and TomTom.

Although Here is still in beta, its operation is far more stable than the often mentioned NavFree app that uses OSM maps. There’s been a steady improvement in Here’s quality over several updates to the beta app.

The downloaded maps are large – with just one state installed (Virginia), the app’s stored data was 340MB – about twice as much as OSM-based apps. Moto E users will definitely want to invest in a MicroSD card and instruct Here to use that storage rather than internal memory. Unfortunately, Here requires Android 4.1 or later, so Defy XT users may rightfully be sad that it’s not an option for them.

Here can work online without downloaded maps, or fully offline by ticking a checkbox on the main menu. Online operation includes Screenshot_2014-10-21-17-07-04.pngperks such as traffic delay information and satellite maps. Unlike OSM-based apps, Here can find addresses and POIs (points of interest) equally well whether online or offline - just start typing the address or POI name, and instant search results follow. There’s no direct access to contacts from within the app, but you can select Here when tapping an address in the People app. I did encounter a problem though when doing that; Here received the street address without city and state, and searched for that street in the local area. So you may need to manually append city and state when starting from a contact address. Hopefully this is just a temporary issue for the beta version.

Right after installing, you’ll want to change the speed limit warning under Settings, which is set to zero tolerance by default. While there, you can choose to download spoken voices of either gender, available in either space-saving somewhat raspy quality (4-8 MB) or “hi-fi” quality (40-60 MB).

For turn-by-turn instructions, Here gives directions for turns and exits in plenty of time nearly every time. It was a bit less accurate for the final destination, but usually not by more than a few hundred feet. Sometimes, perhaps owing to the beta nature, it would give a direction far too soon, or after the time for that direction had long passed. In one case after I drove off-route it seemed to have figured out that I was back on course, but then repeated a previously given u-turn instruction. The app continues giving directions with the screen off, which is good for battery life and your attention to the road. It also posts a notification icon that changes to show what the next turn is going to be, along with distance to that turn when you view notifications.

One concern for Here is that registration with Nokia is needed to download offline maps. I dislike registration generally because it’s a hassle and can lead to unwanted E-mails, but after several weeks, Nokia hasn’t bothered me. If you’re a conspiracy theorist, you might worry about privacy issues - but in today’s world, unexpected privacy abuses end up as headlines that leave a mark, so my take is the risk is tolerable given the benefit of quality offline maps.

Finally, decent navigation without data has come to Android, and our limited roaming data is much less a concern for the traveler than it was just a little while ago.

UPDATE Dec 10 2014 HERE for Android now available for free on Google Play - HERE Three Sixty

UPDATE Oct 30 2014: I reported a couple of issues to the Here development team, and received a very congenial reply!

From: Developer Support
Sent: Thursday, October 30, 2014 10:52 AM
To: Carl H
Cc: Developer Support
Subject: Re: Beta android app feedback

Hi Carl,

Thanks a lot for your feedback and your support, much appreciated! This has been shared with the development team (AOA-12831) and will be analyzed thoroughly.

Stay tuned for the official release in the coming weeks!

Cheers,

Boris G.

Have you tried Nokia’s Here? Post a comment below about your likes, dislikes or problems encountered.
(Please don’t comment about other navigation apps here - see this discussion instead. )


I am very disappointed with Republic
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#2

For those who need to know, the Here app has the following permissions:

  • read phone status and identity
  • send SMS messages
  • approximate location (network-based)
  • precise location (GPS and network-based
  • read call log
  • read your contacts
  • read your own contact card
  • modify or delete the contents of your USB storage
  • read the contents of your USB storage
  • change network connectivity
  • full network access
  • view network connections
  • view Wi-Fi connections
  • control vibration
  • prevent the phone from sleeping
  • mock location sources for testing

#3

Thanks for such a detailed write-up. I’m going to give it a try. I haven’t been very impressed with the other free options I’ve tried.


#4

Thanks @carlh

Nice write up and directions. Together with the Wander - Android Apps on Google Play RW members can’t go wrong.

~~bocephous


#5

This is great news!! Thank you for taking the time to share all this info. I was just out today trying to locate an address without any luck and wished I could have used my navigation app. I switched to the $10 plan from the $25 plan since experiencing a data usage overage problem and have decided to stay on it. I realized I really could live without it, so the timing couldn’t be better for me!


#6

I like ‘Here’. The maps appear complete and high quality. I especially like that switching between suggested navigation routes is easy - just swipe left or right.

My only issue, and it’s small, is that when you’re in the app and search for a destination, contacts aren’t used like other navigation apps. So I can’t enter “John Smith” for a destination and have John’s address looked up from my contacts. It’s something I’ve found convenient in other apps. It can be worked around by tapping the address in ‘People’ as you said, but it’s just a little awkward.

As far as the OSM maps, I’ve logged in and added corrections - I’ve found some street names have typos. OSM is built by community input, so fixing issues you encounter make the maps better for everyone.


#7

Going to give it a try thanks! I have been using Navigator without any issues so far.


#8

Thanks for the tip, I’m downloading maps now. I’ll give it a try and get back with my assessment. tip.


#9

I’m a big fan of HERE Maps myself - I used Nokia Maps for years prior to joining RW and I’ve missed that app (I actually preferred it over Google Maps). While HERE isn’t the same product as Nokia Maps, it shares a lot of core features and, of course, shares the same map data!

One aspect that folks might want to highlight is that HERE Maps provides offline voice guided navigation in pretty much every country world-wide. Nokia’s NAVTEQ subsidiary has historically been much better than Google at covering travel destinations - so if you want to go on a vacation to Timbuktu, you can download the HERE Maps ahead of time and rest assured that you’ll know exactly how to find your hotel, restaurants, etc.


#10

Great news. I have been hoping for a more robust offline map/navigation app. Looking forward to trying this one.


#11

I started testing Here a few days ago. So far, I would say it is the most robust and has the best interface of all of the free options. I’m traveling out of state this weekend and will get a chance to put it through more extensive trials.


#12

You noted in your post that “The downloaded maps are large – with just one state installed (Virginia), the app’s stored data was 340MB – about twice as much as OSM-based apps.”

I downloaded the app to my Moto X (16GB). When I use the option to “Download maps” so I can use the app off-line, I don’t have the option to download individual states - just “North and Central America” which is more than 6.8GB and would use all remaining storage space available to me! Can I get individual states or regions? Any other options to download maps for off-line use?


#13

@selfruler

Just tap on “North and Central America” - that doesn’t start a download, it gives you more options. An item will only start a download if it shows the down-arrow icon.


#14

Thanks for the info. I had not clicked through to the additional options.


#15

Every time I open the Here.com app, I get a notification that an update is available. I tap the notification and get a notice that says “downloading update”. However, after a few seconds, I get a second notice saying “couldn’t download”, I could find nothing in the “Help” section referencing this issue nor any way to ask for additional help. On the “About” page, it shows “1.0.175 beta - wk40 -8.30.55.109”, if that helps.


#16

Try removing the app and re-installing it again. Something may have gone awry during the original installation.


#17

Again, your suggestion worked! I checked Settings, Apps, All and found not 1 but 2 “Here Beta” apps. I uninstalled the apps and deleted the original download from my phone and then downloaded and reinstalled the app. All is well - no more notifications about updates being available.

Also, this will confirm that the state maps I wanted were installed without further problems.

Thanks for your help! Now, I will be trying out the app to see if it will be useful for me!


#18

I can’t WAIT to try this out! I know what I’ll be doing tonight! And then I’ll have to go on some road trips just to try it out!


#19

I used this app today and I’m just thrilled! It worked perfectly for me. Thank you so much for GREAT TIP!


#20

Thanks Carlh! Just downloaded and can’t wait to be able to use it. Looks like I can also do walking directions!! I have a Garmin that I use all the time when we’re traveling, but this looks like it’s going to be a great backup! Kudos…