Looking to get from A to B with nothing but your smartphone? GPS apps are steadily increasing in functionality and accuracy—giving even Google a run for its money.
Best for City Driving: Google Maps
The all-around app to beat, Google is particularly good in urban environments. It allows you to toggle between maps, street views, and 3-D cityscapes, and provides an extraordinarily complete picture of your surroundings. It takes you from car to foot to public transportation seamlessly, and (for Android users) it even has indoor maps of stores, hotels, and other buildings. Points of interest and area businesses are well marked and up-to-date. Free; Android and iOS.
Best for Avoiding Traffic Jams: Waze
A crowdsourcing pioneer, Waze warns users of traffic ahead based on real-time GPS data and alerts from other drivers. Hands-free voice controls let you safely share tips on avoiding slowdowns, speed traps, and construction delays. Since maps are generated by users, urban hubs prove most reliable. Free; Android and iOS.
Best for Maps: TomTom
TomTom’s global apps are accurate, detailed, and current—with (free!) updates every few months. The proprietary, preloaded maps sometimes span entire continents. That means they come at a premium and hog memory (Europe takes up 3GB), but they give roaming-free peace of mind to travelers in exchange. From $49.99; Android and iOS.
Best for Driving Abroad: Navigon
Covering more than 80 countries, Navigon’s maps are preloaded, to avoid roaming charges, and available individually, to save memory. Extra perks include detailed lane guidance, multiple-stop itinerary planning, and even a service that locates your parked car (data-required). From $29.99; Android, iOS, and Windows.
Best for Design: Scout
Currently available only for the U.S., Scout’s friendly and intuitive dashboard customizes information based on proximity, from the cheapest local gas stations to current traffic. Free integration with the app’s website, scout.me, means you can plan your route from home and send the map (plus voice directions) to your phone—handy if you lose cell service en route. Premium users can also get alerts for speed traps and red-light cameras. Free, with premium features from $4.99 a month; Android and iOS.
One to Watch: Apple Maps
Apple’s iOS 6 software launched last September with a proprietary GPS app whose maps have thus far proved disappointing. Features like Flyover, which offers 3-D city views, are innovative. As Apple improves and adds better location-specific data, this will likely become an app to be reckoned with.
Tom Samiljan is Travel + Leisure’s Tech Correspondent.