How to choose the best turn-by-turn app for your iOS device

The standard feature set and map quality of many of the leading navigation apps on iOS has increased dramatically over the last twelve months. Simply getting from point A to point B is no longer the goal: Many have branched out to include some unique and useful features like the sharing of route position updates and even a nighttime heads-up display.

Navigation App Comparison Chart

A few things have changed since the last time I took a serious look at turn-by-turn navigation apps. Looking beyond the full iOS device integration of Apple’s own Maps app, the access from anywhere Google Maps, and the community-based live updates of Waze, there are times when being online constantly won’t do. You need to be prepared for when you are disconnected, especially when you get lost.

Here some alternatives to these three leaders in online turn-by-turn navigation in an effort to see which offline app has the best feature set you are looking for.

Navigation apps like TomTom and Garmin certainly come from GPS powerhouses.  And even though TomTom has made a lot of improvements over the last two years by adding support for the iPad and integrating Foursquare, the company has not pushed things as far as some of the more innovative apps on the higher end of the price scale.

Share a Glympse of your trip – One of the more expensive navigation apps that I have had the pleasure to own, NAVIGON ($49.99 Universal), is also one of the most feature-full. A brand of Garmin, NAVIGON has many features that the similarly priced Garmin app does not. To start, NAVIGON has gone all in with their support of Glympse, the online social tracking solution. With Glympse you can send live updates of where you are located to your friends and family. Additionally NAVIGON has implemented Google’s Street View to enhance their Pedestrian Mode and the ability to quickly see the weather forecast along your route.

Heads-up display – Sygic’s (Free Universal) must have feature is its ability to display your turn by turn directions on your windshield by unlocking their heads-up display via an in-app purchase for $4.99. When it comes to downloading maps, you can choose individual states one at a time and save some storage space on your device. It also has one of my favorite routing features: the ability to tap and drag your route in order to choose an alternate route or avoid an unpleasant intersection. Another great feature is Sygic’s focus on fine tuning the app for better battery performance. You can turn off background operation and choose between High performance, optimized, or power-saver modes.  Just keep in mind that you will have to pay $29.99 to keep the voice navigation feature after the seven day trial has ended.

Built-in voice recognition – Scout by TeleNav (Free iPhone) has a great new interface that makes exploring places nearby while driving a breeze. The latest release includes the ability to speak to Scout and issue a collection of commands that make navigation more of a hands-free operation. Navigation within the app is streamlined, when it comes to finding out what there is to do around town. The company has also done a great job at improving the speed of the auto complete search fields within Scout’s OneBox search. Its list of nearby gas stations can be sorted by either price or distance. Based on real-time traffic information, Scout’s location sharing feature can be set up to automatically notify your family and friends with updates on when you should arrive at your destination. Like Sygic, there is an option to purchase voice navigation and offline maps beyond the trial period with a $24.99 per year subscription.

Budget minded no-frills mapping

While MotionX’s GPS Drive may be a favorite to many as a low-cost alternative, it just does not perform very well when it comes to offline navigation. And when it comes to searching for interesting locations nearby, the afore-mentioned Scout is the new king of that hill. There are perhaps two other low-cost alternatives that can handle offline situations a little better.

Drag and drop routes – The last time I discussing mapping apps, it was the ease of modifying routes using CoPilot Premium HD’s ($14.99 Universal) drag and drop feature that really grabbed my attention. While CoPilot has not been adding many of the more innovative features to their app, they do include downloadable maps and voice navigation for just $14.99.

Almost free downloadable maps – GPS Nav ($0.99 Universal) by skobbler uses OpenStreetMap, which is like the Wikipedia of community supported mappers. This means that you can download entire countries at $2.99 each or continents for $4.99. If you like you can even buy the entire world for just $7.99. As a sort of no-frills version of a turn-by-turn navigation app, GPS Nav is a low-cost alternative that provides offline routes and maps that are easy to use. For $8.98 you can carry the whole world in your hands.

More than just maps

This is where things get interesting. Rather than look towards the higher priced, fully featured navigation apps, consider augmenting your turn-by-turn experience with some third-party alternatives that can improve your driving experience on their own.

Route-based weather reports – When you are getting ready to make a long trip, you can easily check the weather forecast for your departure and arrival locations, but what about all of the places in-between. Road Trip Weather ($1.99 Universal), from the makers of GPS Kit, will do just that, display the weather for all of the locations along the way. It even calculates the approximate time of arrival for each of the locations you will be passing through to provide forecast information based off the preset departure time of your trip.

Upcoming exit information – Have you ever wanted to know what restaurants, hotels and gas stations were going to be at the upcoming exit? What about the exit after that? Sometimes you just want to plan the best time to make a pit stop and often find your self either passing the exit you wish you stopped at, or stopping just one exit too early and having to settle for a second-rate meal. With iExit ($0.99 Universal) you can quickly see what lies ahead and more importantly, how far ahead.

Share your time of arrival – More and more navigation apps are starting to feature live updates to your friends and family along your route. Glympse (Free Universal) can add this feature to your iOS device even when your favorite navigation app can not. While your turn-by-turn app is keeping you from getting lost, Glympse can be updating your followers where you are at in the background.

Speak to your destination – Another common feature that is starting to make its way into more navigation apps is the ability to use speech recognition to discover the target location. Drive Mode ($1.99 Universal) will let you add this feature to TomTom, Sygic, Navigon, and even skobler’s GPS Nav. All you need to do is speak the address or point of interest that you are looking for and Drive Mode will look it up for you. Once identified, Drive Mode will then pass that location over to your selected GPS navigation app.

iOS map integration – So much of iOS is integrated into Apple Maps you may think that using a third-party navigation app is not a convenient alternative, but that is not true. Once you have found the destination location you are looking for in Apple’s Map app, simply tap on the “Transit Directions” which is located next to “Directions to Here” which will bring up a list of registered navigation apps that can quickly create a route from the destination selected in Apple’s Map app.

If you take advantage of Apple’s iOS Maps integration through the Transit Directions feature, and install a few additional apps to add speech recognition, route-based weather reports, exit information and social ETA sharing, you can create your own state-of-the-art navigation app suite.

For just $8.95 you can have the OperStreeMap for the U.S. with GPS Nav or for $19.96 you can have a slightly better multidestination drag-and-drop routing system with CoPilot Premium HD. Either way you are still getting just about all of the features of the higher priced alternatives that are included within one app.