Is Google Maps on Android a Better GPS Than a GPS Unit?

We're so glad there are inquisitive minds out there willing to test experiments and solve the tough questions. For instance, while we've always wondered (silently, in our heads) whether the highly-touted Android Google Maps GPS driving directions are good enough to beat a dedicated stand-alone GPS like Garmin, Eric Taub of the New York Times actually went out on the streets of L.A. to test them both out. And yes, one of the devices came out way ahead.

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Want to know if Android's native GPS app can trump a stand-alone GPS unit? Us too. On the list of Questions We're Dying to Know the Answer To, this one falls just under "What's the meaning of life?" and right above "The chicken or the egg?"

Thankfully, Taub set out to definitively answer the question once and for all (the GPS one, not the one about the eggs). He tested Garmin's Nuvi against Motorola's Droid X2 on a family trip "onto Los Angeles’s traffic-choked Ventura Freeway and down to Disneyland."

What did he find? Well, neither one was perfect. Both the Droid and the Garmin were sometimes less than accurate at finding the exact location of an address or the shortest route from one place to another.

But in almost every other area, the Android coupled with Google Maps' app beat out the Garmin:

"Google Maps was generally quicker; at times, its voice commands arrived as much as three seconds sooner, which could make all the difference if your reflexes are not that snappy. Google Maps also took first place when it came to searching for a destination. A search for the nearest Peet’s coffee stores on the Garmin took 27 seconds — and it never found the one closest to my home. The Garmin did not find it even when I was parked in front of the store. Perhaps Garmin’s maps supplier is a Starbucks fan."

Anybody wondering where iPhones fall? Most tech'sperts agree that GPS navigation is one feature where Android-powered mobiles trump the iOS. Apple's iPhone doesn't offer voice directions and turn-by-turn navigation without paying a premium for apps, whereas Android sets include those features for free.

If you're rocking an Android phone, be proud and forget about investing in a GPS unit. If you're not—and you also generally suck at navigating and frequently find yourself lost—than a stand-alone GPS is still a great buy for getting around town. Just not as good as a Droid.


(Images: Flickr member pamocampo licensed for use under Creative Commons, Flickr member caribb licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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Taryn is a writer, maker, designer, and editor of lifestyle blog Formal Fringe. She lives in an apartment in Atlanta with her fiancé, their Boston Terrier and lots of serving dishes.

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