These days, a smartphone is expected to do more than just field calls and text messages. Increasingly, users are ditching paper maps in favor of handheld screens, and if you're the owner of an Android smartphone, you just so happen to own one of the most powerful routing devices on the planet. Google's own mapping system is arguably the most robust in the world, but even a world-class navigation system won't do you much good if you wander off-grid. If you’re ever in rural places with weak mobile coverage, or in foreign countries where you’d rather not run up a high roaming bill just to navigate, it’s worth it to understand your offline options.
The good news is that the navigation app that ships on all new Android phones (Google Maps) supports offline mode without any additional legwork on your end. The trick, however, is understanding how it all works. There are two kinds of offline assistance available in Google's app. The first happens without you even knowing, as a process called "caching" works its magic. If you're in an area with solid signal and you plot out a route, the app automatically saves the entire turn-by-turn itinerary. That way, if you drop signal as you drive, there's no interruption in guidance.
The second kind is bona fide offline guidance, but it requires a little front-end work. If you're heading to a location where you know signal is weak (or you're heading overseas, where you don't want to use international roaming), you can zoom into the location in Google Maps. From there, tap settings and select "Make Available Offline." I'd suggest having your phone connected to Wi-Fi in order to not make a huge dent in your data plan. You can download around four or five cities before you need to delete one in order to slot in a new one. It's unfortunate that you can't just download an entire state for offline use, but it's better than nothing – and remember, the app is included free with your phone.
If you want another option, I'd recommend downloading MapsWithMe Pro, Offline Maps. It’s $4.99 in the Google play market, and it’s actually a very powerful navigation program. It provides users with a list of practically every major locale in the world, allowing you to download areas that you'll need offline access to. Best of all, the app is backed by a strong community of users that are constantly updating maps with new points of interests and roadways. Unlike most other applications, this one is designed first for use as an offline program, and even the offline searching for nearby venues is surprisingly accurate.
For a one-time $52.99 purchase, you can grab TomTom U.S. & Canada from the Google play store. If you need the U.S. only, that's available for $24.99, while various regions of Europe can be picked up for similar rates. You’ll need a large amount of free space (around 2.3GB) on your phone to handle all of the maps, but once you’ve downloaded them, you’ll have offline access to every single one. The good news is that you don’t have to do anything differently when operating offline, and moreover, anyone who's used a TomTom device previously will see the same user interface on their Android. The bad news, however, is that mass transit and walking directions aren’t included.
I’d recommend that Android users take the time necessary to download offline regions while you're at home on a reliable Wi-Fi connection. If you aren’t aware, using data to navigate in a foreign country can add hundreds of dollars to your mobile bill, which makes it very much worth the effort ahead of time to prepare your phone for travel.
Own a Windows Phone smartphone? Hang tight: We’ll have offline recommendations for that platforms in the weeks ahead!
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