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

David arrived first; Apple Maps having effortlessly negotiated the one-way streets to the rear of Waitrose to bring him his choice of parking spaces. Not knowing how long the others would be, he paid and displayed, then saw Jon crawling into the multistorey next door a few minutes later.

Jon insisted he would have been first had Google Maps not mistakenly directed him to the front of Waitrose; Priti and then Mike rolled in ten minutes later, their apps making the same error. Apple had something to boast about for once.

Butler’s Retreat café, Ranger’s Road, Chingford

Daylight was fading fast as Jon handed out the final destination: a café in Chingford. We had a road name but no postcode. This proved fine for Jon and Mike, who were straight out and into the one-way system before David had even plugged his phone back in.

He typed Ranger’s Road into Apple Maps, but had a moment of panic when the journey was clocked at an hour and two minutes – was this the right road? To be sure, he searched for Chingford first then searched for the road; when the latter appeared within the former, he felt happy enough to set off – but then he saw Priti.

She was sitting in her driver’s seat, waving frantically. David hopped out to see what the problem was, and couldn’t help but laugh when she held up a dark-blue map with purple road markings. “Have I broken my app?” asked Priti, unaware that Mike had been showing her his night mode just hours earlier. One icon tap later she was back in the game, and she thanked her noble saviour by speeding away before he was even back in his seat.

It’s no exaggeration to say Apple’s location database is dreadful

Darkness fell as the team negotiated winding country lanes, and David failed to work out how to activate full beam on his hire car. Reaching the Butler’s Retreat Café and finding it closed, the others all had the good sense to continue to the Premier Inn next door to park up. David didn’t, and spent five minutes trying to turn his car around on a sheet of ice in the back garden. It had been a long day.

The results

If the past four pages have given the impression of a head-to-head between Apple and Nokia at times, that’s simply because the other two gave a much smoother ride.

TomTom proved (for the most part) every bit as reliable as you’d hope for £40, and Google Maps Navigation – while lacking useful tools such as lane assistance – has such good mapping and database credentials that it’s a great choice for the more casual driver.

You don’t even have to buy a proper dash mount, although for safety we’d still recommend it. Mike had no problems sticking his Lumia to the dashboard with Velcro, and Jon used an old suction mount and some chicken wire to make a perfectly solid holder for his Motorola. Free really can mean free if you have the right junk lying around at home.

As for Apple Maps and (to a lesser extent) Nokia Drive+, they’re both perfectly good at giving directions, and more than capable of being your main satnav – but only if you learn to play by certain rules.

It’s no exaggeration to say Apple’s location database is dreadful. The core maps are good and the places are all there, but finding them is a game of chance as you try different combinations and details.

Our conclusion, then, is faintly ridiculous: as long as you Google your destination beforehand to get a full address and postcode, you’ll be fine with Apple Maps. Hardly a ringing endorsement when Google Maps is free as well.

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