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How to Get Navigation Directions (Even Offline) Without Buying a GPS

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Dedicated GPS devices are going the way of the dodo, and for good reason. That smartphone or tablet you have can be a capable GPS with turn-by-turn navigation. This works even if you don’t have a data connection.

Find a way to mount your smartphone or tablet in your car and it can even make a capable in-car GPS solution. This is illegal in some jurisdictions, so check your local laws before mounting anything.

If You Have Mobile Data…

Using a smartphone or tablet as a GPS is very easy if you have mobile data. Google Maps, Apple Maps, and even Nokia’s HERE Maps are capable map apps with turn-by-turn navigation directions. If you have data access, these solutions are better than a dedicated GPS device in many ways.¬†You get a more user-friendly interface, up-to-date search results from the web, links to open websites in your browsers, and real-time traffic data. Some services will even route you around bad traffic on the fly.

On Android, use the Google Maps app to search for directions to your destination. Tap the Start navigation button and you’ll be taken to a GPS navigation-style experience with spoken, turn-by-turn directions.

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On an iPhone or iPad, you can also install the Google Maps app and use it in a similar way. You can also use the Apple Maps app included with your device. Tap Directions in Apple Maps to get directions to a location, tap the Route option to view the route, and tap Start. Apple Maps will display turn-by-turn directions.

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Windows Phone users can use Nokia’s HERE Maps to get turn-by-turn directions in a similar way.

Offline Turn-By-Turn Navigation

This all works great if you’re paying for mobile data, but you can use your device as a GPS navigation solution even if you don’t have mobile data access.

Dedicated GPS devices include a GPS receiver and an offline map database they can use to display your location, provide directions, and allow you to search for locations. Your modern smartphone or tablet also has a GPS chip so it can determine its location offline — all you need is an app that will provide offline map data and navigation directions.

Google Maps allows you to download map data and view it offline. To do so, zoom to the area you want to cache in Google Maps and type “OK maps” into the search box. You can then open Google Maps and see where you are on the map — the map will work fine even when you’re offline. Unfortunately, Google Maps doesn’t provide a way to get navigation directions offline. You can search for navigation directions before you leave Wi-Fi and continue using the cached navigation directions to get to your destination, but that’s it.

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If you’re looking for a free offline GPS navigation app for Android , try Osmand or Navfree. If you’d like something more full-featured and polished, you may want to buy a paid app like Sygic or one of the many other offline navigation apps in Google Play. Sure, they cost money — but they’re cheaper than buying a dedicated GPS device and having to pay for map updates.

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On iPhone or iPad, you can use Google Maps to save offline map data in the same way, but it still won’t provide offline navigation. Apple Maps doesn’t provide offline navigation instructions, either. You’ll find a variety of offline navigation apps in the app store, like the paid Sygic and CoPilot GPS.

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On Windows Phone, Nokia’s HERE Maps allows you to cache maps for offline use and even get navigation directions offline.


Note that you can’t use an iPod Touch as an offline GPS device. Apple’s iPod Touch doesn’t include GPS hardware, so it can’t use GPS to figure out where it is.

Image Credit: Yutaka Tsutano

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 02/20/14

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