Satnavs: TomTom vs Google Maps vs Nokia Drive+ vs Apple Maps

Amazingly, he wasn’t the last to arrive. The trusty TomTom app had guided Priti all the way to the course, and in fact she was right behind Mike when he pulled his U-turn – but the app told her to continue on to the next turning, a tight “unknown road” leading to an activity centre.

Okay, she was technically inside Fairlop Waters Country Park, but the 40-acre lake that is Fairlop Waters was blocking her route to a quick nine holes. After stressing over a seven-point turn, she found her way back with a bit of outside assistance. Passing dog walker, 1; TomTom, 0.

Stapleford Airfield

Warm-up complete, the next test was sadistic. Jon handed out paper slips containing the above two words – and nothing more. No road name, no postcode, not even a rough area in which to begin the search.

The place name proved no trouble for TomTom and Google Maps, so Priti and Jon were out of the car park within two minutes. David and Mike, meanwhile, sat engaged in a battle of patience, neither showing any sign of pulling away before the other.

The problem for Nokia Drive+ and Apple Maps was the same: they had no entry for Stapleford Airfield, Airport, Aerodrome nor any other air-related suffix. Mike was first to crawl out of the car park, having found a nearby village called Stapleford Abbotts and hoping he’d be able to wing it once he got there.

Two minutes later, David was on the move too. Having exhausted every possible search term, he’d reluctantly Googled the airfield and found it on Ongar Road. That name brought up a large empty space on Apple Maps that could feasibly have been an airfield if someone in the mapping department had bothered to label it as such. (If he’d thought to switch to satellite view, as he later did, he would have seen planes. Lots of planes.) It would have to do.

Priti was enjoying her smooth morning with TomTom, its clear instructions and large turn arrows making navigation easy for the most part.

TomTom iPhone

The single hiccup saw her take a left turn she shouldn’t have, after a confusing “keep left” instruction put her into a filter lane.

This little diversion brought her in less than a minute after Jon. She watched light aircraft glide out of the grey sky to land on the runway behind the main hangar, and Jon went twitching again.

David was making his way fairly smoothly after the long planning delay, and was actually rather enjoying the company of Apple Maps. Its 3D display was clear, with mocked-up road signs to denote the next driver action. Voice instructions came nice and early, then were repeated just before a turn.

As he’d hoped, once on Ongar Road it was pretty obvious an airfield was coming up on the right, thanks to the fields full of planes. It was just a case of keeping an eye out for the entrance.

There was still no sign of Mike. Unbeknown to the others, he was skating sideways down icy country lanes, at one point passing Priti going the other way and almost running his Ford Focus over a bolting sheepdog.

Stopping in a pub car park to search again, Mike was by now more than a bit perturbed by the conditions; Nokia Drive+ then proceeded to make him drive up a snowy road, make a U-turn and then head back down the same road again.

He was then routed down a farmer’s driveway, where he saw the mirage of a windsock on the horizon. He was almost at the airfield, just on the opposite side to everyone else. An angry Bing search finally gave him the correct road name, and a flustered Mike tore into the car park 17 minutes after Jon.

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