I was on my way to one of my favorite art house cinemas, about 15 minutes away by car. Even though I go there three to four times a year, I always forget which exit to take.
Fortunately, I had not one but two Global Positioning System devices on my dashboard: a popular model made by Garmin and an Android smartphone.
To my surprise, the smartphone performed better than the Garmin device. But also to my surprise, sometimes they both were no better than leaning out the window and asking a stranger.
The smartphone found the exact name of the cinema, but somehow placed it 90 minutes and 75 miles, or 121 kilometers, away. The GPS device seemed to nail it; I recognized the exit it told me to take and I took it. Then it gave me turn-by-turn directions to the middle of a residential street, with no cinema in sight.
As most users will testify, all GPS devices make mistakes, whether you spend $2,000 for an in-car navigation system or one- tenth the price for the same features on a portable device.
And drivers could ask themselves, Why spend even $200 for a GPS unit when a just-as-smart (or dumb) smartphone can do the same thing?
The navigation advice on smartphones that run the Android operating system is free. Google`s no-cost Maps app, which is bundled with Android smartphones, includes voice directions and turn- by-turn navigation, just like the stand-alone big boys. (In this, Androids clearly trump iPhones, whose Google Maps app does not offer those features.)
But is a free smartphone app as good as a device specifically designed for navigation? I decided to find out with a side-by-side test.
The manufacturers of navigation hardware, who have seen sales of stand-alone units drop almost 20 percent since their 2008 peak, argue that free and low-cost...
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