Review Part 2: Navigation Apps on Android

Since the publication of this review, I have written another post where I

  • review our experience with off-line navigation after 35,000 kilometres,
  • add my 2 Cents worth about other navigation apps not covered in this review.


This series of articles is still relevant if you want to learn all about the features of the 2 apps reviewed: MapFactor Navigator & Skobbler/Scout. Be warned: it’s long ;)

Part 2: category & coordinate search, map display and navigation settings

Skobbler/Scout versus MapFactor Navigator

Android gps navigation - review part2

Android gps navigation – review part2

Introduction

This second part follows my Review of Road Test Navigation Apps on Android Part 1 (I recommend that you read that first), where I explained the basics and my personal set-up, the menus and settings options, and finished with a review of the address searches. In this post I will compare other search options, and highlight some differences in map rendering. Part 3 covers my experiences with the process of navigating a route on each app.

Category or POI search

The basic functions are the same, except that Skobbler names it “Category Search”, and in Navigator you access very similar options via the “POI” tab from its search button.

GPS Review: Skobbler category/POI listings

GPS Review: Skobbler category/POI listings

Skobbler/Scout

The “Category Search” in Skobbler can be started with numerous options: type in a location, start from current position, select a point on the map, recent searches, and “Favorites” (if you have saved some). Once you’ve decided where to search, you are presented with a rather detailed list of sub-categories. For my example photos I picked “Shopping” > “Supermarket” in Los Andes in Chile, because in real life I have used this several times (coming from Argentina you can’t bring much fresh food across the border, and Los Andes is the first town to fill your fridge).

Other categories include Food (e.g. restaurants), Sleeping, Health, Transport and Public. In Los Andes, to stay with the example, there’s neither a library nor a museum listed (I’ve checked: they have both), but there is a sub-category with Public Toilets although only the one at the central plaza is shown (you’d probably find that on your own). Under Sleeping, you get both hotels and camping places in one list – a good option for some, confusing for others.
In Uspallata, Argentina, a rather touristy little town, both apps mention only the hostel (which is quite a way out of town) despite the fact that there are at least three hotels right in town, plus an uncountable number of cabañas.

GPS Review: Navigator category/POI listings

GPS Review: Navigator category/POI listings

MapFactor Navigator

Navigator’s “Category Search” is under POI (Points of Interest) in the main search function and it works fairly similarly to Skobbler’s. The main distinction is that the menu points are sorted slightly differently; for example, camping places are listed separately from other accommodation offering rooms.

Coordinates Search

For overlanders like us this is usually an important search function because specific locations of interest, like camping spots, good mechanics etc., are usually passed on in the form of GPS coordinates. Both apps offer to search for coordinates, but again the approach is slightly different.

GPS Review: compare coordinates search

GPS Review: compare coordinates search

Skobbler/Scout

Coordinates have their own menu point on the “Search” screen, then the next screen offers two format options to search in: degrees minutes seconds or decimal degrees.

Navigator

Its coordinate search is the fourth tab on the search screen. Here you can enter your reading into the search field in any format you choose: decimal degrees, degrees (decimal)minutes, or degrees minutes (decimal)seconds.

Navigator: point on map

Navigator: search point on map (next chapter)


The big advantage of MapFactor Navigator is that under “Tools” > “GPS Info” you find your current GPS coordinates. We use this frequently to record (on paper, the old-fashioned way) locations of overnight places or other addresses. If Skobbler has the same function it must be well hidden – so far I haven’t been able to find it.
MapFactor Navigator: display GPS location

MapFactor Navigator: display GPS location

Search on Map

Skobbler/Scout

“Search on Map” is one function where Skobbler really shines, in more ways than one. First of all Skobbler has a lot more landmarks labelled on its maps. This was extremely useful when I drove through Mendoza recently on a 6-lane highway: I spotted a combined Jumbo & Easy hypermarket on the left of the road, but couldn’t take any note of its exact location. So the same evening I searched for it on Skobbler (using an iPad of friends with much clearer resolution). Since I knew the rough area, I found it really quickly. Navigator shows this property on its map, but without any label, so I wouldn’t have found it with any certainty (see photo).

GPS review: better labelling in Skobbler compared to Navigator

GPS review: better labelling in Skobbler compared to Navigator

Skobbler/Scout: point on map 1

Skobbler/Scout: point on map 1

Skobbler/Scout: point on map 2

Skobbler/Scout: point on map 2, options menu

The main “Search on Map” with Skobbler is really intuitive: scroll over the map until you find the spot you want to go to and tap it with your finger. It then sets a marker with an identification of the location and two small arrows, left and right. Tap the left blue arrow and Skobbler will navigate to this location straight away. Tap the grey arrow on the right and you are presented with a menu screen offering a number of functions (see photo 2). I use this all the time. I found our current camping spot in Santiago with it (though there was also some luck involved, as the maps don’t show contours – only upon arrival did we find the spot was sufficiently level and quiet).

MapFactor Navigator

The first thing you might notice, when using Navigator’s “Search on Map” function, is that for some reason it’s not as responsive to finger tapping and swiping. Once you manage to get a reaction you are presented with several icons on the top of the screen. I must confess I haven’t 100% worked all of them out yet (there’s no ‘Help’ associated with this). You can set the spot with a Marker, an empty black frame (no name with it), as your Departure or Destination point, save it as a Favourite, and initiate a search around the location. In practice I noticed a couple of times that a Departure Point was ignored if the Destination was across a country border (e.g. start in Chile, destination in Argentina).

Juergen

webmaster, main photographer & driver, second cook and only husband at dare2go.com. Freelance web designer with nearly 20 years of experience at webbeetle.com.au

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10 Responses

  1. Johanna says:

    Just read your interesting summary of the good and not so good about Airbnb, which was very interesting and gave me lots of food for thought. I enjoyed this post too, and as someone who is not a good navigator at all, I’m going to read Part 1 as well because it looks like something I need to learn and come to grips with.

    • Juergen says:

      Navigation with your mobile is certainly the way into the future. Right now very helpful but not 100% reliable; but it sure will improve very rapidly. I can’t even imagine anymore how we used to search for museums and other sights in foreign cities by using substandard maps in guidebooks and asking locals.

  2. noel says:

    I haven’t really tried doing this type of navigation yet, what a great introduction, will have to study in more detail

    • Juergen says:

      Certainly worthwhile a try, in cities like Santiago I quite often use the pedestrian mode. It certainly help to find your way around.

  3. We’re Apple folks, but I can certainly appreciate the effort involved in this series. We use nav apps all the time (at the risk of becoming very dependent upon them – which sometimes doesn’t let serendipity do its thing).

  4. How nice to have this all laid out and explained! I’ll come back to it again later.

  5. We’re part old school in that we love our electronics but we also love our big wall maps that we stuff in our suitcases. I’m looking forward to trying both of these apps in 2015 while we’re trying to navigate our way around some of Europe’s cities. I’ve also bookmarked all three sections of this post for referral later – thanks for sharing.

    • Juergen says:

      Until recently I would have called myself “old school” too, though last trip (up to 2009) we travelled with a Garmin GPS. I’m sure in Europe you will encounter much less hiccups with these apps than we do in South America – after all: both are of European origin!

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