There's a GPS app for every conceivable task, from giving you a heads up about traffic while you're driving to counting calories when you're running. And some GPS apps are great for helping you and your kids enjoy walking and hiking on a family outing--whether you're vactioning in a European city or exploring a hiking trail at the edge of town.
Some of these adventure-oriented apps let you share walking routes and experiences with an online community. Some let you download maps for when there's no Internet. And one offers AR (augmented reality) for a cool-looking display. Here are four of the best.
We know what you're thinking: What can we tell you about Google Maps that you don't already know? Obviously, Google Maps gives you satellite and street maps of the entire world, but it's especially useful in urban areas. Easily overlooked, though: Google Maps offers both walking and cycling routes in addiiton to driving directions.
And the app makes it easy to find nearby restaurants and entertainment while you're on the go. Are the kids getting hungry? Tap "Explore Nearby" to see the eateries around with the highest user ratings and how long it will take to get there.
If you know where you want to go, you can tap on "Navigate" to view several routes from your present location to your destination. Google Maps will give you turn-by-turn directions.
On the downside, Google Maps is tooled mainly for online use. However, if you expect that your cellular connection might be iffy, you can cache one route with maps and voice directions on your phone.
CoPilot, on the other hand, is not free. It's main selling point? It can come in very handy for conserving your phone's battery life whe you're walking, cycling, or driving. It's also a great choice if you're traveling overseas and want to avoid costly cellular roaming charges.
Why? CoPilot stores its maps on your phone, so you don't need to access the Internet to navigate. It's best to download your route in advance via WiFi, because the maps can be rather hefty. Also while you're online, you can plan routes, get turn-by-turn directions, and use a built-in search feature for finding places and addresses. And then you can save this all of this for later.
CoPilot also delivers a navigational interface which neatly displays your route, next turn, and estimated time of arrival.
Like competing apps such as Waze, CoPilot contains cool features for driving. These include traffic reports, speed camera locations, and warnings that you're approaching the speed limit. And of course, it provides both walking and cycling routes, making it a great option for that hike through Yellowstone you've been planning.
Priced at $8, it's available for Android and iOS.
Whether you're in Paris or Yellowstone, ViewRanger lets you view custom walking, hiking and cycling routes for fun trips in the local area. These routes are designed by human beings--not just the shortest path as laid out by an algorithm--in an online ViewRanger community, as well as from respected publishers such as BackPacker and Elevation Outdoors. You can also pitch in with new routes that you and your family discover, complete with photos of cool things you see along the way.
ViewRanger excels at tracking your steps, too, helping you to find your way back if you get lost. You can view your track live on a map. There's also a PIN-protected feature called BuddyBeacon that lets users share their location and tracking info with family and friends. So if your teens wish to go off on their own a bit during a family campout, say, you can see exactly where they are.
You can download an abundant variety of maps for North America, New Zealand, and many countries in Europe for storage on your phone. These include US topographical maps, OpenStreetMap, OpenCycleMap, Bing Aerial Imagery, transport maps, and more. Some of these maps are free, whereas you must pay fees for others. But just like CoPilot, being able to download maps means you don't need active Internet access to navigate.
ViewRanger recently added an Augmented Reality (AR) feature dubbed Skyline, which uses the camera on your phone to identify and display features such as lakes and mountain peaks. Also with the app, you can navigate using way points.
The app is free for the web, Android, and iOS, Symbian, and Kindle Fire.
First launched in Europe and only recently introduced to the US, Komoot is another marvelous app for discovering community- and expert-generated routes and trails.
Doing double duty as a fitness app, Komoot provides topographic maps for hiking, road biking, and mountain biking in the US, Canada, most European countries, and parts of Asia. Trip suggestions include recommendations as to which ones are best for various fitness levels. All maps contain turn-by-turn directions and can be stored on your phone.
Komoot can tell you your pace, distance traveled, and distance remaining, in addition to the difficulty and elevation levels for each trip.
A newly redesigned user interface focuses more on the contributions and experiences of community members. So who knows? If you contribute, maybe you and your kids can start to play leading roles in this GPS app's online communty.
Komoot is available for Android and iOS. The first map, covering one "region" (essentially, a city or county), is free. Maps for additional regions cost $8.99 each. Alternatively, you can buy an All-Regions package for $19.99.