updated 11:14 pm EDT, Mon October 8, 2012
Faced off against Samsung Galaxy Note, GMC Terrain car nav
While Apple's new Maps application has taken a public drubbing over early inaccuracies, graphic anomalies, mislabelled places and the loss of essential features such as transit directions and a street view, there are areas in which the app has been an improvement over the old version since day one: maps are vector based and thus cleaner and more scalable, the maps use dramatically less 3G or LTE data than before, and Apple added turn-by-turn navigation (with voice and Siri integration on the iPhone 5) for drivers.
The combination means that if the user is primarily using Maps to drive from one place to another in urban locations, the program works as advertised most of the time. Writer David Thomas from Cars.com decided to pit Apple's Maps on an iPhone 5 head-on against both Google's Maps (as seen through a Samsung Galaxy Note using Android 4.0) and his vehicle's built-in optional navigation system, the GMC Terrain. In what might be a surprise to many, the iPhone 5 held its own -- perhaps due to rapid improvements being seen on Apple's end over the last week.
The tests were primarily done in and around the greater Chicagoland area, and the results were similar to tests done in New York City by Consumer Reports. Both found that the graphics quality of the signage and maps, in particular the range displayed offline and the scalability of the maps, was best on the iPhone. Thomas said that even the seven-inch display of the Terrain was no match for the iPhone 5's four-inch screen in terms of clarity, and noted that the iPhone 5 handled sun reflection better than the Galaxy Note (which has a 5.3-inch display).
Routing was generally a non-issue on all three devices. The iPhone 5 offers multiple route choices each time, whereas the Note needed a change in settings to allow that. Car navigation systems generally ask about whether the driver is okay with toll roads, or offering routes that are the fastest. Thomas tested the routing by using an alternate route he was unfamiliar with and did have some problems, largely due to a hidden left fork that also offered a way to keep driving straight (the start of a different road). Both the iPhone and the Note were able to re-route and get him back on track within seconds, while the GMC Terrain took longer.
Thomas noted that in landscape mode, the Apple Maps' tendency for large green turn-by-turn signs would sometimes obscure the part of the map that the vehicle's "tracker" was actually in, making it hard to judge an upcoming turn if there are several street turn-offs in the same general area. Portrait mode largely alleviated this problem but was judged inferior to both the Samsung and the GMC system. Both the iPhone and Note offered accurate, readable street names, while the GMC Terrain didn't offer as many names and wasn't as clear on the ones it did show.
Accuracy was not generally a problem either, with Thomas driving hundreds of miles to dozens of different destinations. The iPhone 5 missed one location, but the location was described as "a cow pasture in the far suburbs." Apple's Maps placed it about 50 feet away from where it actually was, while the Terrain system had it a full half-mile away. The Samsung got the cow pasture right, but was consistently wrong on the author's office location in downtown Chicago, off by several blocks. The iPhone 5 and the Terrain both had it exactly right.
Thomas related that after finishing the first draft of the article, he did experience an issue of severe inaccuracy with the iPhone 5, with it pointing to a Verizon store which was not where the app said it was. The Maps app said the store (which had initially been searched for by asking where the nearest Verizon store was) was three miles further east than it turned out to be. A later search on the exact street address was still inaccurate, putting it two miles in the opposite direction of where he had started his journey. Neither was correct.
Despite this issue, Thomas concluded that Apple's Maps turn-by-turn navigation overall was "as good as any I've seen," and noted that both the built-in car system and the Samsung Note also had errors in their maps. He preferred the voice navigation of the iPhone to that of the Samsung, saying the latter sounded "more robotic." The integration of the iPhone with his vehicle's USB port and car stereo system was also rated the best of the three systems. [via Cars.com]