Up until now you had the following options at your disposal:
- Use a local’s help: Locals are not always available.
- Use a map: Paper maps are so 20th century!
- Use a GPS: Granted, that’s the ideal solution. However, getting an extra map to load into your GPS device can be an expensive affair. For example, if you’re flying to the UK, a Tomtom map would cost you at least $80; the Tomtom UK app for the iPhone would cost you even more. That’s quite expensive, especially if you’ll only use it once or twice, and especially as a brand new Tomtom Start GPS sells for less than $150. In my book, Tomtom has priced its maps beyond viability.
- Use Google Maps on an Android phone: Google Maps can give you turn-by-turn instructions, just like a Tomtom or Garmin GPS would. However, for Google Maps to work you need constant Internet access: if you’re global roaming it would cost you a hell of a lot, whereas putting your hands on a local SIM is not that easy a feat. Then there’s the problem of losing navigation capabilities when you’re out of 3G coverage.
Today I am here to tell you of a fifth alternative.
Called Navfree, it’s a free open source program with maps updated by the community of its users. Navfree is available for many countries (including most of Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the USA). And yes, Navfree will give you turn by turn instructions!
Navfree is available for the iPhone through iTunes. It’s also available for Android but not through the Android Market yet, and at the moment it doesn’t work on Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) but it does work on 2.2 (Froyo).
We tested it yesterday on my iPhone. Look and feel wise, it’s quite similar to the Google Maps navigational experience on an Android Phone. There is a major difference, though: the map is loaded on your device in its entirety, so you don’t need a live Internet connection to use Navfree. That’s ideal for the tourist who does not wish to go bankrupt through global roaming!
Granted, Navfree is not as good as the commercial solutions from the likes of Garmin and Tomtom. However, it is perfectly fine for the casual or the short term user. Navfree is further proof to how a community of people can join hands and come up with a great product that is openly shared with everyone while totally taking greed out of the equation. Great products do not come any greater than that!