Windows Phone navigation - Road test

Updated: February 10, 2018

Many a moon ago, I wrote a comparison article between HERE Maps, Microsoft Maps and Windows Maps. This article was rather important following an announcement by Microsoft that they will no longer offer HERE WeGo on WP10. And then, software updates for the same program on WP8.1 would also stop. This mandated a test.

In that article, I did write that my testing was limited at the time, and I never offer any advice without in-depth research. Now that I've finally had a chance to clock several thousand km navigating by foot and car abroad, across several European countries, I can finally offer a proper verdict.

Teaser

Windows Maps on WP10

It was good but not fantastic. Fast and elegant, but a tad behind pure HERE products, with a female English RP voice guidance that is distinctively less impressive than the original thing. Once upon a time, I used Ovi on my Nokia E72 and E6 phones, and the voice was loyally carried over into HERE Drive on Windows Phone 8 on the little Lumia 520, alas this is no longer true. Probably legality restrictions. Windows 10 has its own voice thingie. The device used in this wee experiment: Lumia 950. Behold.

Both offline and online modes worked fine. I had no complaints when it comes to functionality, but it's like someone saying, here's a new product, it's just like the old product, except it's ever so slightly different, and in some cases, you will only get 99% of what you're used to. It does not feel right. It feels unnecessary. The original thing was perfect, and there was no functional need replacing HERE with anything else. On the plus side, it works pretty well, you have tabs, and it's a very good app overall.

Lumia 950, Maps 1 Lumia 950, Maps 2

HERE Maps/Drive on WP8.1

My device of choice for this experiment was the old Nokia Lumia 520. You may think the program would struggle or lack up-to-date maps. Nope. I was able to download map updates, a whooping 2GB of worldwide terrain and road infrastructure data. The program launched good and true, and it was a delightful experience overall. The old familiar stuff.

Excellent voice navigation, fast GPS response, and you can actually use it purely offline but also online with live traffic updates. In fact, I felt no need whatsoever using Microsoft Maps (on WP8.1), as this program only came about and became relevant when I heard about the HERE app demise. Since that did not happen, there's no need to invoke the doomsday scenario alternative.

Lumia 520, HERE 1 Lumia 520, HERE 2

And what about Android?

Well, this one is also interesting. Until not that long ago, HERE products were not available on Android. But as soon as a beta version was released and made available, I did my share of testing, with great delight. Then, very recently, I had a chance to use my converted Aquaris M10 tablet, previously with Ubuntu and now with Android, in a real-life scenario, including GPS functionality and voice navigation while driving.

The software is now called Here We Go (or Here WeGo), but it is essentially the same program that we had before, combining several functions under one umbrella. We're talking Maps, Drive and Transit. And it does a spectacular job. I also tested Here We Go on yet another Android device, one Motorola Moto G4, and it also worked brilliantly. Fast response, good accuracy, all the bits and pieces you want and need.

Navigation 2

HERE on G4 1 HERE on G4 2

Other offline tools?

Again, a few years ago, I tested (and lamented) a lack of offline navigation for Android, as the available choices at that time were quite lacking. HERE Maps started the data-less revolution. But then Google is also trying with Google Maps. There's a definite Waze feel about it and no mistake, plus you can actually download country maps for offline use for four weeks until they expire and/or require an update.

However, if you go offline, this no longer works. While the traffic updates and estimates are quite impressive in terms of accuracy, you don't get full, proper offline functionality, and the program does not display speed limits. For some reason, probably because of the language choice in the interface, distances and notifications show in a combo of units. Might be a glitch or something.

Google Maps 1  Google Maps 2

Conclusion

Now that I've churned some decent kilometrage under my proverbial belt, including pedestrian escapades and driving adventures, I can give an accurate verdict. Here apps remain at the top of the GPS food chain, and the availability of this software product family on Android severely diminishes the advantage that Windows Phone once had. For about three to four years, Windows Phone was the king of frugal, the prince of offline, and it gave users a superior experience, with unsurpassed quality of the Drive app and the amazing point-to-point urban commute help with Transit. Ah, the good ole days.

Windows Phone still does most of this rather well, but it follows in the footsteps of a giant, and unfortunately, redoing the same thing over feels rather unnecessary. Maybe it was a political thing, or a financial thing, which we can excuse. But if you are WP10 user, you will not feel like you've been shorted with the Windows Maps deal. It's not quite as delightful, but there's no need for mutiny. It does everything well and still uses the smart HERE engine underneath. Small tweaks, a few touches of polish and spit, and it could be the next generation of offline. But with HERE beating strong, it's a tough choice.

Anyway, offline navigation is live and present in Windows Phone 10. Most delightfully, HERE Drive continues to work on Windows Phone 8.1 without any problems or stutters, and with fully up-to-date maps more than a year after the tragic announcement. Other operating systems and apps do give some offline functionality, but it still comes down to HERE or nothing. That's my biased opinion. I hope you find this useful. And be prepared for some extra car reviews, because those kilometers happened under some serious rubber. See you soon.

Cheers.

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