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Chart your own course

Navigation apps help you get directions in strange cities. Now, if they only could help you negotiate life as well...

india Updated: Jun 11, 2012 22:41 IST
Gagandeep Singh Sapra

Have you ever had an experience while visiting a city that everything about it has changed? Like it had new roads, buildings, lanes and bylanes though you were there only a couple of months ago.

So you feel lost. You go around in circles, making desperate phone calls, asking all and sundry for a landmark, an address, a person — sometimes to no avail. What if all this is happening in a city where you don’t even speak the local language?

Here is where digital navigation solutions come in.

Google maps (Free)

A few years ago they were still objects of curiosity, flaunted by with-it geeks, but now they have become ubiquitous, thanks to the proliferation of cheap GPS (geographical positioning system)-enabled smartphones and tablet devices.

The importance of navigation can be seen from the fact that just last week, Google announced that over the next few weeks, it will make available its incredibly detailed maps offline. But whether Google Maps will work only for the Android platform, and if it will provide turn-by-turn navigation, is yet to be seen.

Google Maps is a must-have for your smartphone, especially if you are a frequent traveller, be it in your own city or away from it. Google Maps are freely available, and cross-platform in their current form (download it on your handset from But the software has limitations: it offers no verbal directions, for instance. Nor does it prompt you to take the next turn, or alert you if you have missed your exit.

On some phones, you actually need to click “update” for the software to update your location on the map — it is not ‘live’. Which means, of course, that you need your cellphone to be online all the time, which would run up huge roaming charges if you are outside your circle.

So what is the right solution for you? We take a look

MapMyIndia Aura (Rs 3,000)

MapMyIndia is an Indian pioneer in digital mapping. Aura is a paid application, downloaded and installed on your device. It means you can use it even if you are offline — though its maps are limited to India. It gives turn-by-turn voice-guided GPS navigation, a free map update for lifetime, a dynamic lane guidance system (don’t want to break any one-way rules, do you?), and it works entirely offline. That means you don’t need your 3G card to be running to use this software. The downside is that Aura is only available for the iPhone and Android. BlackBerry or Windows devices get left high and dry!

Aura lets you create routes in advance if you are going on a road trip, it lets you avoid routes you know are likely to be congested, or use side roads rather than main highways — all useful features.

If you have 3G connectivity, Aura has more features: weather information, traffic, city guides (from Wikipedia), Google Local Search — and each time you go online, it downloads all available map updates, so you are updated all the time.

Nokia Maps

(Nokia phones, Android, iPhone: Free)

Nokia has been making waves with its map application. It is actually a web-browser-based application, and to get it up and running you access ( ) via the browser of your device. You need 3G connectivity; if you are offline you don’t get directions — or even a map. Even if you are connected, if the phone goes into sleep mode, you would have lost the map by the time you get it to wake up, which is a drain on the battery.

Nokia Maps (theoretically) allows you to get public transport directions. I could not get this feature to work, though. Wherever I was it said the feature was not available in my area.

Also, by default it uses imperial units — miles rather than kilometres, and has to be reset.

Nokia maps also shows current traffic conditions through colour-coding — green or yellow roads. I could not find options to do re-routing or avoiding certain roads.

The upside is that you get a global map, the downside is that you need to be connected.

If you would rather use a dedicated device, than burden your phone or tablet. There are a number of GPS navigators available out there. We will take a look at some of these next week.

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