One of the advantages of owning a smartphone is it’s easier than ever to get where you want to be. No matter where you are in the world, you can pull up a map, see the situation on the ground, and make a plan accordingly. No more Thomas Guide or Rand McNally Atlas weighing heavily on your lap. These days, you have a multitude of digital maps to choose from.
Your phone’s pre-installed map app is probably great, or at least good enough to get you where you need to be. But only if “where you need to be” is accessible by road and you’re not keen to play “alternate routes” roulette. There may be better options out there, as certain apps have a very narrow niche they’re trying to fill. Want to take a train or a bus? Zoom along on a secret shortcut? Make a few specific stops on your way to the office? There are apps for all of it.
We’ve gone through each interface and ranked apps that help you get where you’re going, no matter where that is:
5) Google Maps, The Flexible Backup
Let’s start with the app most people download first thing when they get a new phone, Google Maps. Google Maps is odd in that it’s a jack of all trades and almost, but not quite, a master of them all. It comes with a full suite of tools — live directions, offline maps that automatically download to your phone so you can still navigate without a signal, the ability to track where you parked your car, “two-wheeler” mode, and on and on.
There are specialized apps that do specific jobs better, and you should probably be using those. But for everyday use, and as a handy backup to more specialized apps, you can’t go wrong with G-Maps.
4) INRIX, The Commute Planner
Everybody has those destinations where you go from point A to point B and back again, every day. You go to work, you hit the grocery store, you drive to the gym, you pick up something at the liquor store, and so on. What INRIX is good at doing is analyzing how you get to those locations, and planning ahead to find the optimal route with the least traffic and frustration, every day.
Instead of just mindlessly taking the same route, and being surprised by traffic, you can route around wrecks and get to work on time without having to skip your other stops.
3) Transit, The Mass Transit Navigator
Often when you’re in a new city, or a new part of the city you live in, you’d rather not drive around for months looking for parking. But that means figuring out mass transit. Fortunately, especially in a new city, there’s Transit, which takes all the handy features of Google Maps and translates them to getting around on public transportation.
This app is bright and colorful, easy to read, and the directions tool keeps you on track — making it easy to find subway stops, bus stops, and to dynamically change your route thanks to delayed trains or other infrastructure problems.
2) Waze, The Road-Trip Survival Toolkit
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Waze is famous for its traffic prediction abilities, thanks to how it crowdsources data from other Waze users all around you. But where it really stands out is when you’re navigating places you don’t know very well, or at all. Every city has its own rhythm of traffic, and if you don’t know it, you’re going to get stranded fast.
Waze is great for routing you around hassles and slow spots, even if you have no earthly idea where you are, and that makes long road trips and other potentially frustrating drives a lot easier.
1) Komoot, For When There’s No Road At All
Before we do anything else, a brief safety PSA: If you’re going into the woods, even well-traveled woods with lots of well-maintained trails and plenty of fellow hikers, bring a paper map, bring a compass (and learn how to use it before you go), and practice the basic tricks to find your direction in the woods. That said, Komoot is about as foolproof as outdoor apps get: It works entirely offline, and it’s got the most comprehensive topographical details and user-tracked trails.
As long as you’ve got some battery, or a solar charger, Komoot will keep you on track.