I’m an avid Google Maps fan. Long ago when MapQuest was the standard place to go to for maps, I was that smug guy telling you that Google had a new and far superior alternative. However, the MapQuest 4 Mobile app recently caught my eye and I have to say, it’s an awesome product.
Today we’ll take a look at why should think twice before buying one of those expensive turn-by-turn GPS apps for your iPhone. MapQuest 4 Mobile may be just what you’re looking for, and it’s free.
Is It Really Free?
If you’ve ever shopped around for iPhone GPS apps, you know that it can be a tricky business. Some apps appear to be free or fairly cheap until you realize there’s a big monthly fee. There are plenty of great, fully-featured GPS apps without monthly fees, but they typically cost somewhere between $50 and $100.
Truly free, non-subscription, turn-by-turn, voice guided GPS apps do exist, but they tend to rely a lot on user-provided or open source maps and are known for leading you astray (one of our reviewers was confident that Waze wanted to kill him).
To be fair, the Google Maps app built into your iPhone is excellent, it just doesn’t provide the voice-guided directions ideal for driving while not staring at your phone. Up until now, a quality free GPS navigation app was more of a myth than a reality, but MapQuest seems to have pulled it off. MapQuest 4 Mobile is truly 100% free and it’s actually a really great app. You might remember that MapQuest themselves had a subscription-based navigation app called “MapQuest Navigator,” but that seems to have been pulled from the app store in favor of integrating the features into their mobile app.
Let’s Take a Drive
To test out MapQuest 4 Mobile, I naturally set out for a drive. I intentionally had a location in mind that I knew was a fairly new development. One of the biggest annoyances with dedicated GPS devices like my Garmin Nuvi is that you have to purchase frequent map updates or else newly constructed areas and businesses won’t appear. Testing MapQuest 4 Mobile on just such a location seemed like a good way to put it through the wringer.
I started by searching for book stores near my house to see if the one that I had in mind popped up. Sure enough, the app found several locations close to me, including the one I was looking for.
As you can see, the options show up as pins on a map very similar to what you see in Google. The search bar resides at the top along with a button to view the results in a list.
Once I found the book store I wanted, I tapped on the pin to bring up a little bubble with the address and business name. Tapping on this bubble brought me to a page nearly identical to that in Google Maps for getting directions.
The Voices Told Me To
Once I told the app to get me directions to the location we were off and running. Immediately a voice emerged from my phone telling me where to go. It was a simulated American female voice every bit as good as the one on my $90 Garmin Nuvi.
The directions that the app gave me were clear and easy to understand. Each time I approached a turn I received several verbal warnings: one at .6 miles, one at .5 miles and one at the turn. This made it really easy to follow all of the directions without any last minute lane-changing.
Your next step is always shown at the top of the screen with a constantly updating countdown to your next turn. You can use the arrows to go back and forth and view other steps in the process. You can also view the steps in a list view instead of a map view. The app conveniently enlarges and highlights your current step so it’s always easy to tell at a glance where you are.
MapQuest 4 Mobile isn’t just for finding directions, it’s a fully-featured map client with powerful local search. One of the features that I really like is the customizable row of icons that sits at the bottom of the screen. These make it super easy to find what you’re looking for without even typing in a search string!
If you want to find a place to eat, simply tap on the knife and fork to view the options around you. If you want to also add in gas stations, tap that icon as well to see both food and gas (tap the icons again to turn them off).
If you want even more options, you can tap an icon at the end of the line to include additional options such as movie theaters and rest stops.
Under the settings menu there are a few typical options. For instance, you can change the default measurement from miles to kilometers or set the directions from “shortest time” to “shortest distance.”
My favorite option is the ability to change your position icon. I was quite unhappy with the default waving man and instantly wondered if I could change it. As it turns out, MapQuest 4 Mobile gives you a number of options; everything from robot to a jet! Now that’s more like it.
Honestly, I think the app is nearly perfect as it is, and that’s no small compliment coming from a former MapQuest critic. My only complaints stem from the experience of my dedicated Garmin GPS unit.
For instance, I like that when I make a turn, my Garmin immediately tells me what the next step will be, even if it’s something like “Continue for 200 miles.” This little bit of instruction ensures that you don’t feel like you’re driving along in no man’s land wondering what will happen next. The MapQuest app doesn’t have this functionality and easily could (the screen shows the next step, the voice just doesn’t speak it until you’re close to turning).
Another pet peeve is that when you’re pulling up to your destination, MapQuest simply tells you that you’ve arrived and leaves out which side of the road you should be looking at. Again, most GPS units tell you something along the lines of “Arriving at destination, on right.” It’s a small thing, but it helps a lot when you’re in an unfamiliar place.
One final complaint is the lack of a 3D driving view, similar to what you see in most GPS apps, including the old MapQuest navigator. I honestly like the overhead map view but I’m sure many users will prefer the 3D approach.
Obviously, these are extremely minor complaints. I would have far more suggestions for making my Garmin work like this app than the other way around! For instance, the searching is far superior and incredibly faster.
In closing, there really aren’t that many options available for truly 100% free, turn-by-turn voice guided driving directions in the App Store. Only a few apps meet this description and most of them are fairly poor in practice.
MapQuest 4 Mobile is a genuine exception to this rule. It’s a great app that provides up-to-date maps, clear spoken directions and an innovative, fast search for local businesses.
If you’ve been looking for a good GPS app but are hesitant to spend $50, check out MapQuest 4 Mobile right away and let us know what you think.
MapQuest 4 Mobile is a great mapping application that provides truly free voice-guided turn-by-turn directions and a lightning fast way to search for local businesses (dining, hotels, etc.)9
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