Google Navigation for Android is one of the best map solutions you can get in the palm of your hand, but what if you don’t have a data connection? Whether you’re traveling abroad, using a Wi-Fi-only Android tablet, or just looking to use less data on your phone, you can use one of these map applications to see where you are and get navigation directions.
If you start digging through Google Play for offline GPS apps, you’ll find a lot of poor-quality free apps and high-quality apps that cost money. We’ve done the digging for you and found the best free options.
Google Maps has built-in support for offline maps. This feature lets you download a map area to your Android, so you can view it without a data connection. This sounds very convenient, but there are two big problems:
- Only map tiles are downloaded. You can’t search for points of interest or get navigation directions offline.
- Maps are automatically deleted after 30 days. There’s no warning and no way to change this behavior. If you depend on your map, you might find it has disappeared when you need it most.
I’ve also found that maps sometimes disappear at other times — perhaps when the Google Maps app gets updated. I can’t pin the exact cause down, but a quick Google search reveals other users are also having problems. It is a “labs” feature, after all.
To enable this feature, launch Google Maps, go into its Settings screen and tap Labs. On the Labs screen, enable the “Pre-cache map area” lab.
To cache a map area, long-press anywhere on the map and tap the location that appears. You can also search for a specific location to pre-cache the map area around it.
Tap the “Pre-cache map area” option on the location’s details screen.
Google Maps will download the map tiles within 10 miles of your selected location. After it’s done, you’ll see a square on the map, indicating the offline map area you have available. If you want more offline map coverage, repeat this process to download additional areas.
Navfree is a full GPS application that offers turn-by-turn directions and an offline point-of-interest database. It also has other features that you might be accustomed to from GPS devices, including spoken directions.
Navfree uses OpenStreetMap data. When you launch it, you’ll be able to download a map for one or more countries. If you’re looking for maps of the USA, you’ll need Navfree USA instead.
Navfree provides an interface that you’ll be familiar with if you’ve used GPS devices. Some of the features, like the Google Search feature, require a data connection, but the basic map-viewing, navigation and point-of-interest features don’t.
For my location (Vancouver, BC), the point-of-interest database wasn’t as complete as it is on commercial GPS applications. There’s a good chance it may be better in your area, though. And OpenStreetMap’s data will continue to improve over time as users add to it.
The below screenshot was taken in night mode, but there’s also a brighter day mode.
MapDroyd uses the same OpenStreetMap data as Navfree, but it doesn’t provide point-of-interest or turn-by-turn navigation features. It’s a small, simple application — it’ll show you a map and display your location on it.
MapDroyd’s strength is its small map data. It also lets you download smaller areas of map data instead of entire countries, saving space on your device’s storage.
If you just want a simple GPS app that shows you a map — one that won’t vanish! — MapDroyd is a good option. MapDroyd shows your location with a red X on the map.
While point-of-interest search isn’t available, you will see some locations and landmarks if you zoom in far enough.
If you’re looking for more great Android apps, check out our list of the best Android apps. We also have a full guide to Android — free! PC users can try GMapCatcher to download and view maps on their PC without an Internet connection.
Have you tried any of these apps, or do you know a better one? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.
Image Credit: Smart Phone Navigation via Shutterstock
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