Nokia HERE Maps and Navigation Review

There are plenty of GPS Navigation apps available to Android users, from big names to odd names and no names. The latest addition to crop is Nokia’s HERE. Obviously this is a big name! Most importantly this is a primary provider since Nokia’s HERE subsidiary is a mapping company – this isn’t just a third-party app that relies on someone else’s data.

The next thing to take note of is that this is coming from the new Nokia that is no longer beholden to Redmond whip masters. I was always a big fan of Nokia (most of my mobile phones were from them) so I really hope they do well and work hard to get out of the Microsoft shadow and regain their former glory.

I finally had the opportunity to really put HERE through the paces on a recent road trip to the USA – which means no data while roaming!!!

Unfortunately the Android HERE app is only available in the Samsung App Store at the moment. Hopefully it will come to Google’s Play Store soon so that more people can benefit from it (and so Samsung users can continue to keep the Samsung App Store disabled on their phones and avoid the surreptitious installation of more bloatware). If you really can’t wait then head over to HERE’s blog and download it.

The key feature is that HERE let’s you explicitly cache maps region-by-region. And once a region is cached locally it’s kept up to date too – no more plugging a GPS unit into your computer every 6 months and letting it run all night to update. It’s also more efficient since you just keep the regions you travel to most often as opposed to carrying (and updating) an entire continent or two. You can do this as soon you install the app so even if you have a data connection (and sufficient allotment in your plan) the app will be much more responsive when drawing from local data.

This is significantly different than how the Android incumbent Google Maps works. You can download routes and sections, but functionality is limited; and rather then update they expire so you have to remember to refresh all your sections before you need them.

Other navigation apps from the GPS manufacturers (e.g.: TomTom and Garmin) also offer locally cached maps but they don’t seem to be as efficient as HERE. Nor have their user interfaces embraced the abilities of capacitive smart phone multi-touch & gesture screens – they still seem to be designing interfaces for resistive GPS screens.

In fact, HERE seems to adhere to Google’s latest UI guidelines for Android and the multitude of taps, swipes, swishes and slaps (okay, not that last one) quickly give you access to all the features of HERE.

The HERE navigation app also gives you a large selection of voices to choose from. These can be cached locally too so feel free to change them daily to what ever suits your mood.

HERE integrates with Glympse to allow you to share your location with specific people for a specified limited time (you specify the people and the amount of time). This is a worthy alternative to Google+ Location Sharing since you let more people glympse your location but once the time’s up they can’t follow you any more – where as with Google it’s on all the time for the people you designate (perfect for family members, maybe not for everyone in the group you’re trying to meet-up with for dinner).

A few issues I did have with HERE were:

  1. I’m liking Material Design more and more and it would be nice if HERE adopted more of it;
  2. One thing that I miss most from Google Maps is actually Google Search, if only there was some way to marry HERE and Google Search (when on-line obviously);
  3. Parking lots really throw navigation for a loop (some times hilarious, some times scary) so HERE should either direct you towards the most appropriate exit; or wait until you’re on a road to start navigating;
  4. HERE (and every GPS for that matter) needs a Pit Stop button that at a minimum pauses navigation and perhaps even suggests nearby gas stations, restaurants, or other traveller stops;
  5. and the notion of national borders seems to be an issue – even though the same road continues after crossing the Canada/U.S. border it has a different name and number but HERE seemed to ignore that and considered it one single road!

In conclusion, I think Nokia’s HERE is finally a smartphone solution that will allow me relegate the old TomTom Via 1435TM to the electronics bin the garage and rely entirely on my smart phone – even for extended trips and trips where I wouldn’t have data (without taking a second mortgage on my house).

Cross-posted on 2 Fat Dads

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