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

Rainham Marshes RSPB

Windscreens were freezing over and Priti could barely speak, so the others gave Mike no time to compose himself before stage three.

Unfortunately, with only a name to go on once more, the problems for the two lesser satnavs (as it was becoming apparent) remained – but this time Mike wasn’t in the mood to hang around. When Nokia Drive+ came up with nothing at all for Rainham Marshes, he plumped for Marsh Lane, Rainham, and raced out of the car park on his way. It was probably the same thing, right?

Less burned by the previous challenge, David tried his best to come up with a route within Apple Maps. Alas, it recognised only the town of Rainham itself. Scrolling around the satellite images, there was a promising mass of green to the south without a single label on it.

He considered driving towards it and looking for signs, but instead opted for a compromise of Googling the name, knowing that would bring up a snapshot of the area – and sure enough it was the green mass. The entrance appeared to be on “New Tank Hill Road”, but entering that into Apple Maps produced “no results found” – despite the road being clearly visible on Apple’s map to the east of the reserve. So David did the only thing left to do, something frustrated Apple Maps users have been doing in vain since it launched: he dropped his own pin on the map, named it Rainham Marshes RSPB, and set off.

This route was longer than the previous two, and the first to head onto the M25, which showed off the four apps in a different light. TomTom’s lane assistance came into its own for Priti, guiding her effortlessly onto exit ramps – but that kind of luxury is the preserve of paid-for apps; the three freeloaders had to make do with a sharp eye for road signs, and the knowledge that “keep left” could either mean take the exit or just to stay in the left lane.

Voice instructions helped to an extent, but David found Apple Maps had an annoying habit of announcing an exit very early, then giving the reminder barely 100m from it.

Apple Maps

Mike’s Marsh Lane turned out to be four miles from Rainham Marshes, so he Binged the postcode, and all four drivers arrived unscathed within ten minutes of each other. Time for coffee and a cake in the RSPB cafe, which we all knew Jon had chosen so he could try a pair of £1,000 binoculars.

The Old Windmill, South Hanningfield Road, Chelmsford, Essex CM3 8HJ

Still muttering something about chromatic aberration and ducks, Jon dished out the next set of instructions, and we were all relieved to see a destination with a full address and postcode.

We’d been chatting over lunch about our experience so far, and decided we should experiment a bit more. How do you experiment with a satnav? It was time for Siri to make an appearance.

“Directions to The Old Windmill pub in Chelmsford, Essex,” enunciated David. “There are 15 pubs matching ‘the old windmill’,” replied Siri within a second. Not bad, Siri. Let’s see, top of Siri’s list was… Oh. The Golden Lion in Bexleyheath. Followed by The Gun in Docklands, The Macbeth in Hoxton, and 12 other faraway pubs with neither “old” nor “windmill” in their names. Back in your box, Siri.

No such problems for Jon, who we later learned had been quietly using Google’s voice controls for his searches since Stapleford Airfield – with flawless results. “For the pub I just read out the full address, including postcode, and it found it straight away,” shrugged Jon, which explained how he’d been first out of every car park so far. He’s a competitive chap and we were driving on his turf; we’d just assumed he was cheating.

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