3 voice navigation apps to navigate the mean streets of Kuala Lumpur

Never fear, these apps are here to show you the way

Driving in KL can get really confusing, especially with all the construction.

You still get flashbacks from that time you got lost in Kuchai Lama and felt really scared. Or that time you found yourself in a part of town where kids are riding pillion on bicycles on the wrong side of the road.

If you’ve survived all that and are still alive in 2015, it means you have a preferred voice navigation app already. We say preferred, because in truth, there isn’t a perfect voice navigation app. Each has its own pros and cons but at the end of the day, it brings you to your destination. Not always on time, but you’ll get there if you follow our recommended list of navigation apps.

[Image source: Freepik]


This is the undisputed champion of voice navigation with over 50 million users, according to the developers. Waze offers the deepest level of customization. Get driving instructions from Harith Iskandar (Bahasa Malaysia only), Colonel Sanders, Stephen Colbert (no longer available, but fun while it lasted) or 2 kids. It's a little unsettling to get driving instructions from a kid ("Make a U-Turn. U is short for U be careful!") but you’ll get used to it.

The map is rich with information: user-reported incidents, traffic information, other Wazers' avatars and so on. Easy for millenials to process all that information, but older people might have a tough time and receive an information overload. While you can toggle the visibility of the info to reduce the information overload, it’s telling if the app’s default setting sets everything to visible. Because you’ll need all the help you can get to survive the roads of KL.

The complexity of that information and the speed at which it arrives comes at a price: Waze will drain your battery. Don't even think of leaving the house without a charger, unless you're happy to make a Waze-less return trip. Waze for iOS got a long-overdue design refresh while an Android update is in the pipeline.

Pros: local language packs, rich with information

Cons: eats up your battery

Download Waze from Google Play Store

Download Waze from Apple App Store

Google Maps

Cnet recently did an in-depth comparison of Google Maps and Apple Maps and found their features to be on par with each other. They found the public transportation features to be good (they tested these features in San Francisco, your mileage may vary (literally) in KL).

They also found Google Maps offered more information than Apple Maps when planning a trip. Though compared to Waze, Google Maps issues less info. Google Maps presents that information well, especially when you turn off 3D view. It also struggles to deliver search results relevant to your location. For example, if you search for nearby banks, the nearest bank branch won't be the first hit. I tend to get better search results on Google Maps than on Waze, but it varies.

You might have a hard time understanding the cadence and intonation of American or British English. Unfortunately, language packs are lacking on Google Maps. Considering it’ll be easier for Malaysians to understand localised voices (and a feature that’s somewhat harder for Google to implement), it’s a huge strike.

Some people might take issue with the speed that instructions are given. It's easy to confuse "keep left" and "turn left" when you miss the first word.

Google announced at I/O 2015 that they would be bringing offline voice navigation to Google Maps later this year, but they didn't set a date.

I later found out that it's possible to adjust the language settings for Google Maps voice navigation via Android's text-to-speech options. Not only can you use a language other than your system language, you can adjust the speed it's spoken. You can also change the gender of the speaker.

Pros: simple interface

Cons: less customizable than Waze

Download Google Maps from Google Play Store

Download Google Maps from Apple App Store

Apple Maps

Apple seems to have recovered from the iOS 6 Maps fiasco and the company says that usage of Apple Maps is 3.5 times higher than their closest competitor (on iOS devices, 'natch).

Familiarity with Siri's voice, compared to the Google Maps announcer who doesn't even have a name, is a huge draw. With time, it’s easier to understand Siri’s command since you’ll be listening to it on a daily basis.

As mentioned previously, Apple Maps' features have caught up to Google, and it excels in at least one area: offline navigation. Google Maps has an offline maps feature, but it's only available in certain countries. Sadly, Malaysia isn't one of them and to add insult to injury, Waze is unusable without an Internet connection too.

Apple Maps, on the other hand, lets you download a 50-mile area for offline navigation. No voice navigation, but this could save your ass when you've lost reception.

Pros: offline turn-by-turn navigation!

Cons: iOS 6 Maps was really bad

Final words

The good thing about voice-navigation apps is they take you to places you've never been before.

The bad thing is you have to use your judgment about the quality of the route. And the only time you can make that call is when you're already on the way.

So whichever navigation app you choose, as long as it gets you to your destination safe and safe, is all right in our books.