Exclusive to Android, Google Maps with Navigation is a thorn under the toenail of the sat-nav industry. Why? Because it's free and quite brilliant. So long as you're on an Android phone, that is. Google hasn't extended the sat-nav skills to the iPhone edition of Google Maps.
It gets off to a flying start, powered by the world’s best search engine. You can enter postcodes, street names, towns, businesses, landmarks or a general search term… just about anything you like, as you would in Google. The app is reliant on a data connection for its maps but can cache all it needs for your route before you set off.
The star of the show is the Google Earth-style satellite view option, and it's not just a gimmick. This makes it much more like using a proper paper map (in a good way), because you can instantly see rivers, parks, train lines, major buildings and natural landscape features around you and get a sense of what's beyond the next street.
By collating realtime data on the positions and movements of other phones on the road (and hence other cars) Google Nav is able to feed back accurate info on traffic levels around you, and it does this by colouring roads on the map accordingly: red for a snarl up, yellow for fairly busy and green for a free run. It's so simple and works so well. If you're stuck in a queue you can pinch-zoom the map out and instantly get an idea of how serious it might be, and also check out alternative routes or shortcuts.
Reliable voice recognition makes it easy to use in-car, and Google Nav's search skills are phenomenal. You’ll never want to enter a postcode again. Routing is as intelligent as any rival, with alternatives on hand if you don't like the first suggestion. You’re guided by a text-to-speech robot which is sufficient but not ideal, especially if you're relying on the audio rather than looking at the display.
The snag with Google Nav has always been the need for a data connection, and that's still the case. The Google Maps side of the app will allow you to cache selected areas of the globe, but these can't be used for navigation, and until the navigation end can pre-load entire country maps you’ll still incur big roaming charges if you use it abroad.
So, not a good choice for your European tour, but for UK-based driving this is way out in front.