Offline Maps Review – Save Money by Using Less Data Internationally
A review of 4 iphone Offline Map apps
I need offline maps. I get lost pretty easily. I don’t like getting lost. It raises my blood pressure and I yell at signs and maps. Unfortunately I have been cursed with internal compass issues. Rarely do I magically feel where true north is and I have problems asking for directions in other languages (or ever). This is a problem if you travel for a year in foreign countries where street signs are not only in another language but also non-existent. My wife on the other hand seems to have a magic magnet somewhere in her head that tells her which direction to go. She also cheats and studies maps of places we are visiting before we get there. I suppose if I looked at a map, a real one on a piece of paper, I might get a fix on a location. Unfortunately, technology has made me inherently lazy and I would prefer not to as a famous scrivener once said.
To overcome my unfortunate lack of navigating ability, I like to use maps on my phone, GPS in the car, or generally have someone (my wife) tell me where to turn. My wife seems to simply look at the stars, the sun or the moon and calculate a course. She remembers, or pulls from the air as I would like to think, names and locations of places we should see.
My wife has made the choice not to listen to the woman on our in-car GPS (they actually argue about the best route) and would rather study maps prior to traveling to foreign places. I have made the choice to use off-line maps on my iPhone. The issue I have while we are traveling around the world is that I use an Australian Post Prepaid TravelSIM which is great for providing me with cheap international call and texting rates. Unfortunately it also provides me with data rates ranging from US$0.25 to US$0.85 per 1Mb used. Not cheap. So how would I use my maps on my phone without data assuming I don’t want to buy a data plan in every country that we visit.
Here are some IOS apps that I have used over the past year along with a brief review of how they worked out for us. They are all related to maps and travel, however I do recommend finding offline news sources as well for those times when you want to read depressing things happening in the world as you drink mojitos on the beach and there is no Internet nearby.
Summary of IOS Apps with Offline Maps and Info – all price and size data as of 8 Feb, 2015, full reviews below this list:
- TripAdvisor City Guides
- 48 MB + Guides (For example, New York is 211MB)
- Maps.Me (Map With Me Pro)
- 37.8 MB + Maps (For example, UK Map is 360MB or 545MB with routing)
- Google Maps – Save Maps for Offline Use
- 25.5 MB for the app + maps (Completely depends on city and map size but usually reasonably sized downloads)
- TomTom U.S.A – bonus review
- US $24.99 + in app purchases for extra voices, Traffic data- trial version for US $0.99 (worth trying)
- 1.54 GB
Tips prior to using offline Map apps:
- Preferably have a strong internet connection when downloading maps to your phone
- Don’t wait until you are in a campsite in Albania that uses a satellite connection to download your 1 GB of mapping data
- Try to walk with your face upright when you are navigating so you don’t get run over by moving people, vehicles, horses
- Seriously, this happens (the vehicles I meant. Not too sure about horses but probably happens too)
- Have a full charge on your phone, especially for offline maps
- Don’t rely completely on the apps. Bring along your magic navigation wife/partner
City Guide has an incredible amount of helpful information such as a detailed things to do, see, eat and drink selection along with offline maps of the city, offline maps of subways and trains
- Will tell you where the closest Metro line is in relation to your current location
- It has a Learn About section built into it that provides an overview, history, culture, neighborhoods, when to go and more
- You can save locations and places, create reviews, and create a trip journal
- You can use the Point Me There! feature to give you a reasonably accurate distance from your destination and as the name suggests, point you to it (would not recommend using this whilst driving
The app ate up my battery life while in use pretty quickly. I haven’t used it for the last few months (in cities that aren’t supported yet) so it they may have fixed this issue by now.
- Limited number of cities. It has an amazing amount of detail for the cities it does support but if you go off the beaten track you will not find it very useful.
- The app crashed on me occasionally but it was a minor issue considering how much research it saved us. Once again, it may have been fixed in the last few months.
- The Directions feature uses Google Maps which will not provide directions offline.
This is an app that both Eeva and I like and use to find restaurants and read up on sights and reviews, as well as metro and transport maps. I like it because it offers an offline map that not only shows the locations of the sights and wonders of a city but also provides a simple pointer that actually points you in the right direction with an arrow and tells you how close you are. It is a version of the childhood game “Hotter or Colder” or “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” or the always fun “Get Hit by a Car in a Foreign Country” if you look down at your app whilst walking.
You don’t need an internet connection to use the app although you will need to download the cities and maps prior to going offline.
Detailed crowd sourced map (Open Street Map) that provides locations of nearby restaurants, banks and ATMs, sights, and other standard info like airports, terminals. More importantly it shows where public toilets are located. Yeah, maybe not important to you now, but wait until you walk around drinking 5 bottles of water. Then it’s the best app ever.
- Shows current location on the map in directional (pointer) or compass view
- You can easily bookmark locations or import a list of places with Open KML/KMZ files from an email, Dropbox or from the web – I haven’t done this so can’t say how well it works
- You can do a general search or search by category like food, hotel, transport, etc
- You can, as of more recently, get offline driving instructions that tell you how far, how long it will take to get there, and turn by turn instructions
- You can send someone your location via SMS (or email if you can get back online). Really useful if you get lost shopping in the mall
- Like the TripAdvisor app, it also has a pointer that not only provides direction and distance, but also lets you send it to others via email or SMS
Maps aren’t always pretty. Sometimes it may look like you are walking on water. If you believe that you really are then congratulations or get over yourself
- The step by step driving instructions are not near as nice to use as Apple Maps, Google Maps, Tom Tom – but then it is an offline map and the app is cheap. So quit whingeing
I use this app more than Eeva does. I like it because I can download a whole country without taking up too much room on my phone. It does a good job of giving me my current location and I can zoom in an out easily to get an overview or to see details like the nearest restaurant. The search function is also nice to have and tells me the distance from the desired
pub family restaurant. I have used this app for most of the trip and it even has info on some of the lesser known locations.
- Google Maps saved to your phone for offline use can be handy, especially with all of the data they contain
- Provides a nice map view along with current location
- Not all locations are available for download
- Whole areas like countries, states or regions are not available for download
- Map must be zoomed in to save a specific city or area
- No search or navigation functions while offline
- Google suggests saving multiple maps at neighborhood level and saving them as the search prior to going offline
- Saving a map is not intuitive (at least for me)
Eeva used the offline version of Google Maps more than I did. I was easily frustrated with the zoom function, couldn’t search for anything or get directions. If you want a general map of an area that you plan on visiting, Google Maps can be helpful offline. You will need to download these before you go offline like the other apps I reviewed above and also know specifically where you are going. I generally like Google Maps when I have an internet connection but I don’t find it particularly useful offline. From what I can tell, it is not an important feature for the map developers at Google because they are working on intelligent robots who will in the near future just drive you to where you want to go or pick you up with cruel drone claws like an eagle stealing a puppy and drop you in your desired location.
BONUS REVIEW! TomTom U.S.A
This may not really be a bonus per se, but I just had a few extra minutes to continue to ramble on about apps. I have added this one to the collection since we used it to drive across the US. There are now also walking and bicycle routes although we didn’t get a chance to use them.
- Very slick look and feel
- It is like using a true GPS system in the car
- Turn by turn features are excellent with zoom in screens that show you when to take a turn off or which turn off to take
- Voice selection was fun – you can download quite a few humorous characters to tell you what to do and to keep your wife from arguing with them
- Several route types that actually work like fastest, shortest, curviest (careful with this one) and eco routes
- Traffic avoidance features
- Cost more than the others (but really, $24.99 is pretty good)
- Takes up a bit of room, 1.54 GB on the phone
- The size was not an issue for me but there are probably a few people out there with not so many GB to spare
Overall I was very pleased with the app. We used it during our two month drive across the United States from Boston to San Diego and the only time it took us in a strange direction is when I asked it to avoid pretty much all civilization. It did. We found the feature really useful and I was honestly surprised that it worked so well for the price. Good value for money
Overall I think Maps.me has been the most useful offline app that we have used, followed by the TripAdvisor CityGuide. The TomTom was for our driving trip and US only otherwise it would have ranked at the top. I don’t recommend offline Google Maps right now just because it doesn’t really do much.
Other than those apps, I suggest BBC, NPR as news apps that allow downloads for offline use later. I found them useful when we were on long bus trips or didn’t have access for some time. All of the apps above will require some downloading of a map or two before you go so it will be helpful if you have a strong connection prior to going off untethered into the wild world. Good luck!