Monday, September 02, 2013

Review: Google Navigation on Jelly Bean, Android 4.3

I have been a fan of Google Maps on my phone for a long, long time - since the original G1 to be exact. I enjoyed finding directions easily and being able to plan my trips to avoid traffic, too. But the G1 had a tiny screen. My HTC one had a tiny screen, too. Even with the larger screen of the Nexus 4, I find that I need a bit more help.

Enter Google Navigation. I didn't find Google Navigation until I got the HTC One with Android 2.3. On that phone, Google Navigation calls out the directions over the phone as I drive. The voice is somewhat feminine, mostly robotic on the HTC One, but on the Nexus 4, the voice is now definitely feminine and easy on the ears.

I've come to appreciate Google Navigation for another reason: missing a turn. When I miss a turn, Google Navigation recalculates the route and gets me back on track. This means I don't have to pull over to the side of the road recreate my route. Google does that for me, on the fly. On the Nexus 4, it's quick, too.

If you have an Android phone and you've never used Google Navigation, that might be because they don't make it easy to find. Its appearance is rather subtle. Once you find your destination in Google Maps, then you are presented with a choice of routes. Select your route and a map appears to show you the route on the map.

With a bit of discernment, you can find a little blue arrow pointing north in the bottom right-hand corner of your phone. That's the Navigation icon. Tap that to get started. To hear the sound, you should be equipped with an audio cable to connect your phone to your car audio system. A 3.5mm audio plug is standard on Android phones and new cars these days, so if you have an older model car, you'll have to use the phone speakers or a headset.

With audio connected and the route started in Navigation, you're ready to roll. Just drive and as you progress on your route to your destination, directions will be promptly called out as you reach each turn. Directions are called out with plenty of time for you to make adjustments to your position so that you can execute a turn or merge to an interchange ramp on time. Google Navigation won't put you in a position where you have to cut across 4 lanes of traffic to make your exit as you drive down the highway.

Directions can be subtle, too. Most directions call for a right or left turn, sometimes a U-turn. But from time to time, especially on the highway or freeway, you will hear something like "keep to the left at the fork". If you come to a fork in the road, Navigation provides early directions to be sure that you are in the correct lane when approaching a fork.

I have used Google Navigation to get to many destinations without even checking the route and did not get lost. It's rare to get lost these days with Google Navigation. In the early days, mistakes were common and I had to use greater care. But I've become confident that even with a time constraint, I don't have to worry about getting lost while driving.

One other feature I like is that I can use Google Navigation while I'm playing music. As directions are called out, the music is partially muted so that I can hear them. Then the music volume resumes to normal during playback. This is nice for long trips where I want to play music but am not familiar with the territory. It works during phone calls, too, but you'll find that the other caller's voice is partially muted when directions are called out, so I don't recommend Navigation during a call. Besides, multitasking on the road is probably not a good idea.

Google Navigation is well worth the minimal effort required to setup. It also works together with Google Now, a new card reminder system in the latest version of Android. With Google Now, I get a card that shows the time to commute to work. If I'm out, Google Now will show the time to get back home. Tap on either card and a map will pop up, showing the route in Google Maps. Once in Google Maps, getting Navigation to run is a tap.

Google Maps has become a great tool for getting around. If you have an Android phone, take some time to get acquainted with Google Maps and Navigation. With a little effort, you'll hear directions being called out while you drive, too.
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