Updated: October 11, 2014
One of the many advantages that Nokia phones have over their competitors is the presence of free, offline navigation software, in the form of Ovi and HERE Maps, the latter installed and configured on the Lumia line of products. Indeed, this has always been one of the critical arguments I used against Android and the likes. No more.
Recently, HERE maps have also become available for Android. True, we're talking beta software, and at the moment, it's available from the Samsung store, which means you will need a Samsung device to test and play. In my case, an S4 bricklet. Later, this should become available for all Android platforms. But let's see what gives.
Get the software
You will have to sign up for a Samsung account and login into the Samsung store before you can download the beta version. This is a different signin from the Play Store, and as such, it can annoy you, which it sure did annoy me. Took me a while to get the download rolling, but after that, it was all cream, butter, caviar, and high-fat cheese. To my surprise, the number of comments and reviews was really low, but it is quite possible that most people and reviewers have already obtained the software using direct downloads.
Optionally, you can also sign into the HERE application, and you can use different credentials from your system mail, used for the Play Store, and then again, the Samsung thingie. This allows you to backup your maps, favorites and settings if you think that's necessary.
Now, it's almost trivial. The familiar interface is there, the awesome capabilities are there, and you can download maps for offline use later on, without having to bleed your budget when roaming abroad. As a pure navigation application, HERE is superior to many other alternatives available on Android, as we have seen in my dedicated comparison review on that topic. The flow is smoother, simpler, more beautiful, more elegant, more intuitive. Then again, pretty much everything created by Nokia has always had superlative ergonomics and quality compared to the rest.
You can tweak the application as you see fit. Set the general map settings, and then fine-tune the driving settings. On the Lumia devices, the software actually comes as two separate pieces, Maps and Drive, and here, the functionality is unified, which explains the chunky and pretty sidebar and the plethora of options that you can play with. But it's all dandy, slick and robust.
The fun part. Works like a charm.
Driving and such?
Well, at the moment, I have only installed the software, so the next step is to actually drive around and test. But doing that on the home turf is trivial, so you will have to wait a little until I go abroad and do some real testing and driving, which is how navigation software needs to be evaluated. In the unknown, Indiana Jones style. Therefore, you will forgive me if I don't have any Android driving screenshots. Instead, you get a bunch more from the Windows phone, captured earlier this year, but then, it's not the same thing. On the other hand, knowing Nokia and their products, it will be exactly the same. It is going to work fast and true and accurate, but you shall wait for the right moment. Indeed.
Furthermore, since this is a beta product, a word or two on stability and possible glitches. Well, it's surprisingly robust and quiet and stable, and there have been no crashes or errors of any kind. The GPS kicks into motions within seconds of starting up the program, and all the little buttons respond to the touch and do as expected. Seems like a winner, and we only need to announce the race for it.
I am pleased. On many fronts. First, I am glad that Android users will finally be able to enjoy proper free offline navigation of the highest caliber, something they have been missing all these years. Second, this is a very good sign for Nokia, as it will be expanding its market, and we need that fine brand around, so we do not end up drowned in the lowest common denominator of flashy mediocrity.
As software, and beta, HERE did fabulously well on the S4 smartphone. Worked without any problems, the interface was quick and responsive, and everything has been laid out with clear, intuitive logic and functional reason. Very good. This is an excellent step, and an encouraging hint of good things to come. I suggest you grab the application and start testing. You won't ever need another navigation program, I guarantee you that.