Google Navigation version 1 real life review

The world was made to be driven.  Since getting my Motorola Droid a month ago, I’ve put about 3000 miles on my car with the Droid acting as my GPS.  Before that, I used a Magellan GPS and Google Maps on an iPhone for guidance.

Google Navigation basically puts the features of both devices into one and throws some extras in there as well.  But in other ways, it’s not nearly as good.  Here’s the breakdown:


  1. Google voice search integration. It is the coolest thing to be able to bring up voice search and say “Navigate to Walmart” and it gives you a list of the nearest Walmarts and you pick one and go.  No typing, no taking your eyes off the road, and it’s Google so you have a really good chance of the POI being both in the DB and still in the real world.  With the Magellan, I didn’t bother using the POIs except for gas stations and maybe food, and even then I had to call ahead to make sure the place was even still there because half the time it wasn’t.
  2. Maps are continuously updated. No more paying for yearly map updates
  3. The routing screen displays Exit numbers (where relevant) of the next turn and a graphic that says whether the destination is on the right or the left.  Both of these things are AWESOME.
  4. When you arrive at your destination, Google Street view is displayed so you can figure out exactly where you are going.  I find this most helpful at night.
  5. There is a green/yellow/red traffic light continuously displayed on the route to let you know if the traffic ahead is moving fast.  It seems to be about 10-20 minutes ahead of where I currently am, which gives me enough time to consider possible alternative routes.  I’ve also found Google’s traffic descriptions to be quite accurate.
  6. Navigating the Droid’s touchscreen and zoom in/out is MUCH, MUCH better than the Magellan’s screen that I’d press and half the time it would either not recognize the press or think I pressed in the center of the screen.  The Droid is also extremely fast.
  7. The automatic zoom in and out around a turn is very fluid and feels right.  I kind of wish it would also adjust in general based on the speed of travel.
  8. Bluetooth integration with my car stereo/Pandora. Because it’s also got a 16GB SD card in it and 3G just about everywhere, I can listen to music/podcasts/pandora and still hear directions through the car stereo.  Whatever I’m listening to is automatically muted for the directions to be heard.
  9. GPS Lock is crazy fast. Occasionally, I’d go 5+ minutes without my Magellan getting a GPS fix on my position.  The iPhone 3G was much worse — there was one time that I was 25 minutes away from my destination, and by the time I arrived, I STILL had not gotten a GPS lock. With the Droid, I haven’t noticed anything longer than 3 seconds or so when outside.  That’s awesome.


  1. The routing is definitely not as good as Magellan’s.  Several times, Google nav has directed me to take a “detour” when staying on the road I’m on makes total sense.  I think it does this because it doesn’t consider stoplights when making routing decisions, not realizing that the loop road around a town will be much faster than going straight through the town.  I don’t feel like I can trust the default route to take me the way I want to go.
  2. It’s tricky getting back to the overall route in Google Maps so I can see it from a big picture viewpoint rather than my current location.  You can’t simply tap “Maps” because that will bring up Google Nav, not Maps.  Many times when I am working on this, I end up exiting navigation and have to search again and set up the navigation again.  Which leads us to…
  3. NO NAVIGATION HISTORY?!? How hard would it be to have a list of everything we’ve navigated to?  When navigating to an exact address, that is an option, but most of the time, I search for more general things like a business name or city name.  Whenever I exit Google Nav, I have to redo that search to set the navigation back up.  It can be frustrating when in a noisy car, it takes Google a few times to get the speech-to-text right.
  4. The text-to-speech voice. My dad asked me what language that was.  “Female robot English” was my answer.  She’s so hard to understand that I don’t even bother with the audio.  That means I end up staring at the screen more, which isn’t a good thing.
  5. No mph on main screen
  6. No free roam mode. This is crazy annoying as I love just turning my GPS on so I can see things around me but I already know the way to where I’m going so I don’t really need to set up the route, especially since I might disagree with the route.
  7. No “location” screen that would give you details about where you are and how fast you’re going.  It would be nice to be able to bring up a screen like Magellan’s Location Info screen.  You can get altitude, mph, and exact location and heading from the GPS Status app in the market.  It’s annoying to switch back and forth between the two apps, though.  I usually only do it to get altitude or to make sure I’m interpreting the Google Nav compass correctly.
  8. No night mode. Even on the Droid’s dimmest setting, it still throws more light than necessary into the car.
  9. Cell phone service required to reroute or change zoom. This bit me once in rural Texas when I was trying to figure out a route and couldn’t because I didn’t have cell service.
  10. Phone calls interrupt the GPS. Google Nav keeps running in the background, but you have to go home, slide down the notification bar, and press the Navigation entry to go back to your GPS.  While on a call and driving, this isn’t safe.  The fact that with Verizon, you also lose Net access isn’t generally a big deal, but if you do need to reroute, you’ll have to end the call first.
  11. High battery drain. When I’m using Google Navigation, my car charger barely charges the phone beyond what it is using at the time.  I might see 10% charge added on over the course of the drive, but there’s no way the phone will be fully charged after a 10 hour drive of Google Nav + podcasts/Pandora, and in some cases, the charger can’t quite keep up.  My Magellan can go 6+ hours on battery.
  12. It would be nice if the audio (especially turn sounds) could be made on the phone speaker anyway even if Bluetooth was enabled.  Unless I’m listening to audio from the phone, I might not be aware a turn was coming up and miss it.  This happened today, actually.
  13. No ‘ding’ on the turn.  Hey, I can hardly understand robot woman, but it would be hard to misunderstand a ‘ding.’
  14. Alternate routing doesn’t work as easily as on Magellan, where I can set up an alternate route 5/10/15 miles or a custom distance.  The one time I tried it on the Droid, I was fumbling with it and was in the traffic by the time I started getting somewhere.
  15. I haven’t gotten any of the POI layers to work.  Only the traffic view and Satellite view layers work for me.
  16. I cannot find any way to save a location other than creating a contact for it.  This is extremely annoying.  The icon next to the locations when creating a route makes one think a bookmark could be displayed there, but I can’t figure out how.  If you plan on switching Google nav on and off (if you want to use Google Maps, for one thing, or you want to find food, etc, on your route), then make sure a contact has the address you’re routing to, or you’re going to be entering that address a lot.


  1. If you use Bluetooth audio in your car, then use the Droid for all your media.  That way, you’ll get to hear robot woman and your music.
  2. Plug in the car charger before putting the Droid in the dock.  It is both easier, and you’ll be glad you did when you find your battery is low and now you can’t charge it back up without disabling Google Nav.
  3. Enable “Leave screen on all the time when plugged in” in Droid settings.  Then it won’t go dark after a short time.
  4. YELL LOUDLY and lean toward the Droid when doing a Google voice search while driving.  You’ll feel stupid but you’ll be heard.
  5. Be careful using Google Voice search to route to or call a proper name of a person.  It’s too easy for it to screw up “Sonya.”  If it’s not getting it, either type it into the search or use the Contacts button.
  6. Be prepared to take the Droid out of the car dock to use it rather than reaching up to the dash.
  7. Disable any custom lock screen widget and maybe your custom home software to use the Droid quickly in the car dock.  When I had a custom lock screen, it competed with the Car dock Home and slowed the Droid down by several seconds.  I have Home++ installed, and it can take several seconds to load after I’ve placed it in or removed it from the car dock.
  8. INSTALL QUICK SETTINGS.  In full daylight, I have to use full brightness, and at night, I use full dim.  This is so much more easily controlled through Quick Settings.
  9. I often find myself using portrait mode in the car.  I suggest planning for this if building your own dock.  With portrait mode, calls display properly, and more can be fit on the screen.  You can also see further down the road at the same zoom level.
  10. Long press a point on Google Maps to bring up a bubble for that spot, then long press that bubble to bring up Google street view.
  11. You do get Google maps history by going into Google maps and then doing a search there.  So if you do your searching that way instead of via voice, you can have your history.  But that’s really annoying.
  12. The way to view your route is to click the Menu button then “Route info”
  13. On the Route Info page, you can click the weird icon with a dashed line and solid line to a bubble to choose an alternate route.
  14. To save an address for future routing, Longpress on home screen>Shortcuts>Directions.  You might want to create a folder for the addresses first so you don’t clutter your desktop.  This is a perfect way to set up all the destinations of a multi-destination trip.  Thanks to DPilot on for pointing that out.

Final thoughts

I think Google Nav is good enough to use as a primary means of navigation, but not by a lot.  Locating points of interest is fantastically sweet and easy and is light years ahead of any other GPS I’ve used.  It has a few extras that are also nice addons that my other GPS didn’t have.

But there are also a number of downsides to Google Navigation that nearly every other GPS doesn’t have a problem with.  I’ve even thought about running the Magellan in addition to the Droid, but that just seems wasteful.  You just have to be willing to accept the current limitations and keep your eyes on the route and know when to tell it you are not going by Jared no matter how bad it wants you to.  At least for those of us not named Dave.

Vote for these Google Nav-related Android Issues

Night Navigation Mode needed
Running Navigation without a destination (free roam mode)
Navigate directly to contact address, removing 2 extra steps
Find along route (would be like Magellan’s Exit POIs)
Have Google Maps orientation changed based on the compass (would be like a birds eye view Free Roam mode)
It might not hurt to have a few new issues added to the tracker for a couple things brought up here (like navigation History)


3 thoughts on “Google Navigation version 1 real life review

  1. Good review. I myself, am admittedly a terrible driver when it comes to directions and I’ve found the droid to be a big help. It still has it’s little pitfalls, some of which you have pointed out, but everyone does have to remember that it is a beta and very new.

    Overall I’ve extremely pleased with gnav. Sure it’s put destinations in the wrong spot a couple of times, but it does something more important at least for me, it shows me where I am relative to everything else and can help me get unlost…. For someone like me that panics when I get all turned around and lost, the sense of control back is wonderful.

    Hope they continue to improve it, your review shows it already compares quite favorably to pretty solid dedicated gps devices and it only has room to move up.

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