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

The presence of that all-important postcode made this test one of the simpler ones to begin with, and all four of us were on our way in no time. We took slightly different paths to the M25, but once on we all took a similar route, initially belting along the motorway before hitting the A127 and winding through the country lanes of Downham.

David was liking Apple’s navigation more with each successful journey, but also beginning to notice more flaws. It had no speedometer, no visible clock and no ETA, all of which became an issue as our test routes grew longer and more complex.

A tap of the screen brought up a timer that he could squint at, but he was reluctant to do so at 70mph. To add to the sense of confusion, while Apple Maps’ voice instructions stated the numbers of A-roads, often the screen listed the lesser-used street name instead, which led to at least one last-minute swerve across the lane markings.

The Old Windmill pub was lovely, with beams low enough to make a hunchback out of poor Mike. The team stopped for an orange juice and watched him show off Nokia Drive+’s automatic night mode, which flips the screen to a dark blue when the ambient light drops. Priti wasn’t paying attention, as we’d discover later.

Waitrose car park, Saffron Walden

The next one didn’t even require paper: we were to meet in the car park of Waitrose in Saffron Walden. Easy. David slapped those exact words into his phone (it goes without saying that Apple users have added all the Waitrose branches) and he was off, seconds behind Jon.

Mike followed soon after, but this time it was TomTom that had trouble, with Waitrose seemingly not something you’re supposed to search for. After a few tries in various search categories, Priti had to search for Saffron Walden itself, then for Waitrose as a place near there.

Leg five will henceforth be known as The One With The Roundabouts, as it was the hour in which they conspired to have their revenge. Jon pulled off the A12 at the eastern tip of Chelmsford, and proceeded to hit five of the hateful things in quick succession, his satnav spitting out early, medium and late warnings at each one until instructions began to overlap.

Google Maps satnav

Was it the second exit at the first one and the third exit at the second one? Or the other way round? The screen struggled to keep up with the notifications, the traffic flowed too fast for Jon to get his bearings, and before he knew it he was pootling down the wrong exit into Sainsbury’s.

As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, as he swung his Citroën Berlingo around yet another mini-roundabout to double back on himself, he glanced out of his window to see David following him down the same dead end. David tried to duck out of sight. Jon gave him a sheepish wave. They both decided not to mention it to the others.

Roundabouts were a common theme of the moaning after each stage, with incorrectly labelled exits and unclear instructions often causing confusion.

David had another on this leg where the voice instruction told him to “turn left” at a three-exit roundabout, even as the onscreen map pointed to the rightmost exit. A second roundabout immediately following may have been the culprit, as a left turn was the clear instruction for that one.

Jon followed Google’s roundabout instructions, but found they led to some odd routing choices, through tiny towns rather than main roads. Nokia Drive+ insisted on so many warnings about exits that Mike quickly stopped listening and relied on the visual prompts.

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