If you enjoy the articles in this web site, please consider supporting it by ordering the items you want by clicking on the recommended Amazon product links in the articles, which will just add those products to your Amazon shopping cart.

The product links contain a referral tag that allows me to earn a small commission on the sale of the products from Amazon.  This doesn't cost you anything extra but will help to offset the cost of running this web site and writing new articles.

Article Index

While I always have an old school map in the car, it is way better to travel with GPS (Global Positioning System) navigation device. I usually plan my trips before leaving the house using Google Maps, which often gives me routing plans that I haven't previously considered. It is super handy to check for navigation landmarks with Google Streetview so I know what to expect along the way. When I'm done planning, I can then send the route to my phone.  There are lots of other good GPS programs available (like Waze) but Google Maps is a core Android function so every Android phone includes it and it doesn't require additional storage.

For both Android and Apple phones, the best navigation system is the Google Maps app. Android phones can also have the additional functionality of Android Auto, which is can be used without having a complementary vehicle entertainment system, unlike Apple CarPlay. Android Auto can be set to automatically start if you've paired your phone with another bluetooth device (like your car). Android Auto is not necessary to use Google Maps for navigation.

Google Maps has a couple of shortcuts (widgets) that save a few steps: Google Driving and Google TrafficDriving gets to navigation faster and Traffic lets you see traffic conditions near you and for your commute.

 

Map with Pin

 


Google Maps can easily replace a standalone windshield-mounted GPS device, especially if you have a data for your phone and you're not visiting another country. I got a prepaid plan with Freedom Mobile that gives me unlimited data, the first 1.5 GB of which is at 4G/LTE speed. Although you can make Google Maps work without data (by downloading routing over WiFi and having off-line maps), data gives it far more on-the-road functionality. For those of us with less than accurate speedometers, Google Maps has the ability to display vehicle speed while navigating.

One handy aspect of GPS devices is the ability to save locations. An Android phone easily uses the contacts associated with a Google account. An iPhone can also use your Google contacts with Google Map searches but it starts up Apple Maps if you select a destination from your iPhone's contacts. Apple Maps does a good job of navigating but doesn't have the ability to minimize data usage with offline maps downloaded over WiFi.

Google Maps has the ability to categorize places and this is done in several ways:

Android App Online via Browser Apple App
[Recent Searches] [Recent Searches] [Recent Searches]
LABELED LABELED LABELED
SAVED SAVED LISTS
SHARED - -
FOLLOWING - FOLLOWING
UPCOMING - RESERVATIONS
VISITED VISITED -
MAPS MAPS MAPS

Recent Searches

All your recent searches (in both your desktop computer and phone) appear chronologically in the search bar. I find that it is much handier to figure out where I'm going with the large screen of a desktop computer instead of the miniscule one in my phone, which allows me to better understand the other route options. The search locations appear in the search bar's drop-down list in chronological order and will eventually drop off the list with enough searches. There is no need to save a search location if you're going to start driving right away and don't expect to need it again.

Another super handy feature is that you can also plan a trip using your own custom routing with your home computer. Once you're satisfied with the route, you can then send the route to your phone.

Labeled Places

Besides the default Home and Work locations, you can add others like School or Gym for quick access. I add labels (eg Mom & Dad, Uncle Joe, etc) to addresses of my friends and relatives, which places them in this list rather than having to search for them. This would be handy if you're using Apple CarPlay but the CarPlay app only shows the default labeled places (Home & Work) so you need to use your iPhone to access others. Similarly, Android Auto shows a list of recent searches you would also need to switch back to the phone and/or the Google Maps app to get your other labeled locations.

Android devices also show some labeled contacts (eg, home, work, etc) but I have no idea how Google decides to put them here. You can hide these labeled contacts from appearing in the maps list but there isn't an obvious mechanism to add a contact. Setting a Work location allows the Google to add Commute functionality (bottom middle tab on Android screen). Labeled places are displayed after the Work location in the order of proximity: nearest first.

Saved Places / Lists

Saved Places are for defined place categories, each with its own options. The locations in these lists do not show the label (if you've assigned one to it) so they are better used for places with their own business/location names. If you're adding someone's home address to a saved place, you'll need to remember who lives at that address. Each location includes a note field but this is more of a descriptive function than a name.

Saved Place Category Options My Usage
Favorites
(downloadable with Google Takeout in CSV format)
Hide on your map
Edit list
Share list
Sharing Options
Places that I visit regularly
Want to Go
(downloadable with Google Takeout in CSV format)
Edit list
Share list
Sharing Options
Places that I would like to visit
Starred Places
(downloadable with Google Takeout in GeoJSON format)
Hide on your map
Edit list
Temporary destinations
New list
• create with +
• appears in the order created
(downloadable with Google Takeout in CSV format)
Hide on your map
Edit list
Share list
Sharing Options
Delete list
Specific types of locations such as:
  • favourite gas stations
  • travel centers

For heavy map users, you can also create pairs of categories such as Restaurants - FAV (ie, favorite restaurants) and Restaurants - WTV (ie, want to visit restaurants) but plan ahead as these will appear in the order created.

 

Options Actions
Hide/Show on your map toggles whether the location pins appear on your map
Edit list add, change, delete list entries
Share list generates a share link with shortcuts to Facebook and Twitter
Sharing Options Private Only you can see this list
Shared Anyone with the link can see this list
Public Anyone can see this list in places like Google Search and your public profile (eg, Google - My Maps)

Shared

Collaborate with friends: Share, suggest, and vote on place to go with group shortlists.

Following

With an Android device, you can "follow" a place to get updates. A business that has set up a Google business profile can be followed, which lets them see your public profile unless you chose to follow them privately. "Unfollow" removes this location from Google Maps. Updates for followed locations will appear in the "For You" tab at the bottom of your Android screen.

Upcoming

Locations identified in your calendar and Gmail.

Visited

Places found in your timeline.

Maps

Maps that you've created or shared. This feature lets you create a specific route and identify features on that map. You can share your map with as many people as you like or keep it private. You can add, edit, and delete maps from Google My Maps. These maps can be toggled on & off and closed from the main Google Maps slider menu icon.

References


Android Auto and Apple CarPlay work with your phone's built-in capabilities but the GPS and cellular antennas will work better if they are close to the windshield to minimize the Faraday Cage effect of the car's structure. You'll know that your phone isn't getting a good GPS signal when the map display starts spinning around unrelated to your travel. So, even if your car is equipped with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, you should ideally be using a windshield mount for your phone.

Clamping Windshield Mounts

 

Magnetic Windshield Mounts

 


We've used GPS devices for many years and have both Garmin (Nuvi 250) and Magellan (Magellan 3065T-LM & Magellan 5045-LM) gadgets. Hands down, even though the Nuvi 250 is older (~2007), it is a far better GPS that either of the somewhat newer Magellans. The problem with the Magellans is poor routing, which often has us unnecessarily doubling back or taking the long way. The Garmin gives accurate ETA estimates while the Magellans' estimates only become accurate when I'm approaching my destination. I don't have any experience with TomTom devices but they seem to be on par with Garmin.

Magellan's "lifetime" maps is for the expected lifetime of the device: 3 years, see Magellan FAQ. In contrast, Garmin just requires you to regularly update the device to ensure the continuation of its "lifetime" (see Garmin Lifetime Maps T&C). Magellan's PC software for managing addresses and updating software is terrible. TomTom provides free lifetime map updates for the lifetime of the device, which is as long as it continues to support it (see TomTom Lifetime Services).

We use the Nuvi 250 in our daily driver because my wife doesn't like (despises?) the Magellan GPSs. I continue to use a Magellan GPS in my 65 Barracuda because it still functions adequately well as a metric speedometer. The Google Map app only displays road speed during navigation, which is a bit inconvenient for older cars with inaccurate speedometers. A nice thing with the Nuvi 250 (unlike either of the Magellans) is that it has a trip odometer function, which is very useful for calibrating odometers and speedometers (see Tire Upgrades).

My parents sprung for GM's OnStar in their Chevy Cruze. It too is terrible for navigation as it has occasionally stopped navigating in the middle of a route. While you can get OnStar to store destinations and contacts with voice recall, the process is cumbersome and not intuitive. Not having the ability to manage destinations and contacts online through your OnStar account is another major shortcoming. ONLY get OnStar if it is super important to you that your car has the ability to summon help in an accident.

Because using a smart phone for navigation requires WIFI at a minimum and ideally a least 1 GB of cellular data, it can make sense to buy a standalone GPS device for navigation. If you regularly visit a foreign country, a standalone GPS can pay for itself by avoiding roaming charges.

 

Garmin GPS Devices

 

TomTom GPS Devices

 

 

Garmin Replacement Mounts