Nokia killed Symbian. Many links to Symbian apps on this site have expired. Check out Android Underground.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Free mobile maps and navigation: Metro adds and updates cities, Mobile GMaps easier to touch, We-Travel crawls forward, Locify navigates the roads

Métro public transport navigation for Symbian, Locify with online and offline maps and road navigation

Public transport navigator Métro (subways, trains, trams, buses, and ferry lines of over 400 cities) added three new cities (Verona, Ajaccio, Montluçon), and comes with updated public transport info for London, New York, Lisbon, Chicago, Budapest, Seattle, Berlin, Hong Kong, Rome, San Francisco, Madrid, Washington, Prague, Moscow, Manchester, Manila, Rotterdam, Seoul, and other cities.

The program itself is tweaked a bit as well, but there's still plenty of room for improvement. The competition doesn't sleep, and now that Google Maps is experimenting with public transport info on top of its maps it's a good idea to give Métro a few new features. The user interface could use a facelift as well.

Launching Métro for the first time takes forever, because it will search your phone for stored public transport info. Once you've selected a transit network Métro will launch faster.

When you change network, the search (and wait) repeats. To change the public transport network you'll need to select "network" in the options submenu of the options menu. This is rather counterintuitive, since most people think of connectivity like Wi-Fi, GSM, or UMTS when they see "network" on their phone. Métro would be a little easier to use if "network" would be called "cities" instead, and if the option to change it wouldn't be buried so deep down in a submenu.

The search screen could be better as well. Changing days and hours with the left and right side of the central navigation button makes it all too easy to change them by accident if you try to move to the next entry box. Selecting a station or bus stop shouldn't require a trip to the options menu, and the option should not be called "select," because this uninformative word doesn't tell you what you can select when you select it.

The "places of interest" list isn't searchable, so it requires endless scrolling to find a place of interest. It would be nice if Métro would display maps as well, with lines and stops indicated and clickable. If Métro could be made to talk to your GPS, it could tell you where your nearest public transport options are.

But even in its current state Métro is a very useful program. It stores all public transport info right on your phone so you can navigate the routes and times without a live mobile internet connection. That's a great way to avoid expensive data roaming bills, and it ensures that you have public transport info at your fingertips in places without network coverage, such as deep down in subway stations or remote bus stops in the middle of nowhere. Giving you a choice between the fastest route or the trip with the minimum number of connections is a nice touch too.

Métro from

Mobile GMaps
Mobile GMaps

Mobile Java map application Mobile GMaps shows online maps from Yahoo, Windows Live,, and OpenStreetMap. You can make your own maps, and you can download maps (including maps from Google Maps) on your computer and store them on your phone to avoid paying for mobile data traffic to view maps on the road. Mobile GMaps can overlay maps with satellite, aerial, and subway maps.

Mobile GMaps used to display online Google Maps too, but Google threw some legal threats at them. You can still download maps from Google Maps and use them in Mobile GMaps offline.

Mobile GMaps works with internal and external GPSs, but you can't use the program for turn-by-turn (voice) navigation.

The latest update fixes some bugs, and Mobile GMaps is now much easier to use on touchscreen phones.

Mobile GMaps homepage
MGMaps Map Downloader
MGaps forum

We-Travel maps and voice navigation

We-Travel is one of the few (only?) navigation programs that has free maps and free voice navigation. It stores its maps on your phone, so you can navigate without keeping an expensive, battery-draining active mobile internet connection running. You can use We-Travel to navigate by car, bike, or foot.

Building a working version of We-Travel on your phone is a complicated job: you have to install the program, maps, voice, and icon set separately. There's a new help file in pdf format, the We-Travel website has a wiki which explains how to to install We-Travel on your phone, and you can use a batch file to collect all the files you need to install We-Travel on your phone (you'll need to use a computer for that), but setting up We-Travel requires quite a bit of technical literacy.

And then you need maps. We-Travel's map generator is not for human consumption, so better get some maps from the We-Travel maps download page. Maps come from OpenStreetMap, and there are some maps from Garmin available that were extracted by We-Travel users. You can download and store as many maps as you like, but unfortunately We-Travel can only load one map at the time, which makes navigation across different countries somewhat difficult. You can work around this limitation by changing maps at every border, but you need to figure out where to cross the border by yourself and make We-Travel calculate a route for every country you drive through.

We-Travel is a mobile Java program, so make sure to open your phone's application manager to give We-Travel read/write permissions, otherwise your phone will drive you crazt with security warnings when you use We-Travel. For voice navigation with We-Travel you'll need to switch warning tones on. The warning tones of your phone are usually a nuisance, so it's a good idea to make a profile with warning tones enabled. This way you can easily toggle warning tones on and off with the power button of your phone, which is a lot easier than navigating down to the profile settings screen everytime you want to toggle the warning tones.

Locify maps

Locify shows maps, aerial photos and satellite images from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and OpenStreetMaps. Locify also reads locally stored maps (GoogleMaps 2 Trekbuddy is the easiest way to preload maps to your phone), and it sports location based Wikipedia search, events, weather info, and pictures from Panoramio work OK.

Locify used to have compass navigation only (which was useless for most purposes), but now it comes with road navigation too. It's nowhere near as good as navigating with expensive programs like Route 66, Garmin, or Nokia Maps, but navigation with Locify is free. You don't need to update the program to add road navigation. Just hit Options->Add->Service From List->Road Navigation.

If you're downloading Locify for the first time and the download page says it won't work on your phone model, just try it anyway. Locify will probably work if your phone is not too old.

GoogleMaps 2 Trekbuddy (the easiest way to preload maps to your memory card)

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