MapQuest (for iPhone) review

MapQuest is now a real alternative for free, voice-enabled GPS navigation on the iPhone, but Google Maps is still better.

Few people may remember this, but MapQuest was actually the first application on the iPhone to offer free voice-enabled GPS navigation. Back in early 2010, it was called MapQuest 4 Mobile, and it was pretty dismal. MapQuest is now much improved, as we just found over three years later. It’s still not nearly as good as our Editors’ Choice free iPhone mapping app, Google Maps, and its lack of a true 3D view is a big downer, at least for when driving. But if you’re a loyal MapQuest user from way back, you’ll probably find something to like here. And it’s free.

User Interface and POI Search
For this review, I tested MapQuest 3.1 on an Verizon Wireless Apple iPhone 5 running iOS 6.0.2. The main interface shows you a 2D map with your current location. Across the top is a large address and POI search bar. The bottom of the screen shows icons which light up different POI categories on the map; you can swipe the icon bar to the left or right for more options. Above the icon bar are four large buttons, with two on either side; one brings up search results and an on-screen menu, while the other zooms the map view in and out. You can also toggle the display of real-time traffic information.

One big problem is the ads. Banner ads appear at the top of the map window and during POI search. Each time an ad appears, it moves the screen, and when it goes away, the screen shifts back. It’s very distracting. I also saw a Comfort Hotels icon to the left of POI categories, as if it were somehow different than other hotels; more product placement, essentially.

Otherwise, entering street addresses and searching for POIs is mostly drama-free. I ran a hotel search, tapped an entry, and saw a landing page with the address, phone number, and a Go Here button, although there was a lot of wasted white space and no links to reviews. One glitch: I searched for an address on East 24th street, but it picked up Brooklyn instead of Manhattan as the default city, even though I was in Manhattan at the time. (Apple Maps has the same problem.)

Performance and Conclusions
Thankfully, voice navigation is largely improvemed over the last time I tested MapQuest. The app displays the upcoming turn clearly, complete with a large arrow, and follows you on the 2D map while en route. The Menu and Zoom buttons remain. Unfortunately, there’s no display of the speed limit, your current speed, or any 3D lane assistance views for when exiting or entering highways.

As you pinch and zoom in and out, sometimes the maps look a bit blurry, while other times they’re sharp. As I mentioned earlier, the lack of 3D maps is a big minus, as every other GPS navigation app I’ve tested to date offers them—at least the ones with a focus on driving directions. For pedestrian navigation, perhaps it doesn’t matter quite as much.

In my tests, voice prompts were reasonably loud and clear, and offered full text-to-speech capability like MapQuest’s competitors, although the prompts still weren’t as loud as what you get with Apple Maps. I didn’t hear any mispronunciations.

Overall, it’s tough to recommend MapQuest over Google Maps, thanks to the latter app’s far-superior graphics and real-time POI search. The free Waze offers a crowd-sourced GPS navigation alternative that’s great for the more involved driver looking for speed traps, incident alerts, and other real-time event reporting. Finally, Scout by Telenav is another worthy free alternative, with its focus on daily commuting and POI discovery.

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Verdict
MapQuest is now a real alternative for free, voice-enabled GPS navigation on the iPhone, but Google Maps is still better.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc