Google Maps for Symbian vs. Garmin XT

When one goes to an entirely unknown place one tends to take stuff that gives him some security and might help in case of emergency. That’s why I loaded my GPS with offline map of the US using the Garmin XT software.

The GPS device is a Nokia E71 mobile phone (there are some other articles in the blog about it I think, but can’t link to them – I’m in offline mode). It has a 1500 miliamperhour-battery, which is the most I’ve ever seen on a phone and a pretty small screen, so lot’s of time being online.

I had to buy a data plan (I chose T-Mobile, $77 sim with unlimited data) so naturally I decided to try Google Maps for Symbian S60. First of all it’s free as opposed to Garmin XT (even the software is not free, not to mention the maps).

Navigation

Google Maps has an outstanding navigation (by navigation I mean going up/down/left/right and zooming in/out), it’s always fast no matter if the map is loaded or not (shrinks/enlarges the image it has, then replaces that with the newly downloaded one). Garmin’s navigation is plain stupid – the cursor accelerates as one presses up/down/left/right, so one would never know where the cursor would end up.

Searching

Searching in Garmin is like this: Where to go? –> Address/City/POI –> Choose Country –> Choose City –> Choose number –> Choose street. And this takes a while. And it doesn’t always return a result or at least not what one would expect. Google Maps would give you a result if you type “Grand Central, NY”. With Garmin XT if it works it would be hard and time-consuming to do.

Speed

Garmin wasn’t very fast with a 20 mb map of Bulgaria. But it’s definitely slow with a 1.2 gb map of the US, even on “very low detail” setting. Google Maps is always responsive no matter how much it takes for it to load.

Routing

Currently I use trains or metro or just walk. Routing with with Google Maps is fast – three tabs (Public transport, Car, Walk) and then I have to give only start and end locations – that’s it. It gives me amazingly correct results. In Garmin one has to go to the settings and change the Routing to Pedestrian/Car. I don’t even think it has the public transport option.

No GPS option

Google Maps can work without a GPS – it uses the network cells and wi-fi routers to know where it stands. It’s not very accurate but it doesn’t drain the battery with the GPS. It’s very easy to start the GPS – a few clicks away.

The Nokia E71’s GPS is always very quick to find it’s location. I’m guessing the phone starts the GPS for short period once and a while to keep it’s internal clock synchronized. So this option of Google Maps is extremely useful.

Start time

Google Maps is faster and it doesn’t have the annoying warning in the beginning that one has to click on to continue using the Garmin XT.

Satellite view

Very useful in Google Maps. I think Garmin has something similar, but can’t remember how was it.

Maps

Google Maps works so good only in the States. The last time I tested it in Sofia the map was pretty low detail. And Google Maps obviously needs a data connection. The traffic is not that much though, the data flowing is pretty size-optimized it would seem.

Overall

Google Maps is fast, user-friendly and easy to use, but needs internet. It can do more in less time, but sometimes it’s maps are not as good as Garmin ones. Garmin XT is pretty unusable and slow but can work offline and the maps most of the times are the best one can find.

Garmin is a nice-to-have second option in case Google Maps fails somewhere or there’s no network coverage.

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