Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Free offline navigation: Nokia Maps is Here

Nokia Maps is Here

Does anyone still remember Symbian? One of its great features was Nokia Maps, a great free offline navigation app that Android never managed to copy. It's also the reason this blog exists, because it all started as a collection of links to offline Nokia Maps files for those without Nokia Map Loader.

Android didn't have a good free offline navigation app yet. Sure, there are expensive navigation apps like Navigon, Google Maps that only lets you store tiny little offline map snippets that won't hold a city, and apps like OsmAnd that run on the often inadequate maps from OpenStreetMap.

Enter Nokia Maps, renamed to Ovi Maps, renamed again to Nokia Here. Oh wait, now it's just called Here, sans Nokia. But for now it's called Here Beta.

Here is not officially available yet. Planned release: end of the year. Real release: right here, right now. Because the beta test version is out here there for everyone and it's already better than the competition.

What's in Here?

The maps are really good, but some countries are missing from the list of downloadable maps. No Mongolia, no Sierra Leone, no Haiti, to name a few. Tibet and Palestine are missing from the list of countries because Nokia believes they're part of China and Israel. On the bright side, Here lists Taiwan as a separate country. On the politically correct but rather stupid side: Vatican City and San Marino are separate downloads instead of enclaves within Italy.

You'll want a phone or tablet with an external memory card to do all of Route 66 or navigate your band's entire european tour. A 32 GB memory card will fit the entire planet, but you're gonna have to store your music elsewhere if you really want to carry the whole world with you. A more efficient map compression format would be welcome.

Here Beta lets you drive, walk, and ride the subway. It doesn't have a bike mode and it doesn't show bike lanes, so your bike still needs Google Maps. The public transport info in Here is outdated: extended lines are still short, zapped lines are still running, and rerouted lines still run along their old tracks.

Offline maps or not, even if you set the app to offline mode and switch off all data collection options Here still phones home to spy on you. If you're roaming abroad, make sure to tell your firewall not to let Here use any roaming data, or your next phone bill will bring a nasty surprise. Taming Here with an app like XPrivacy is a good idea too.

On the bright side, setting up a route to navigate is really easy. Here lets you choose many alternative routes if you don't like its first choice. The app insists on using its own voices instead of your Android's built-in TTS voices, but voice navigation works pretty well and covers many languages.

Get it Here

Here is not in the Google Play Store yet, but the beta test version is ready for grabs if you want to take it for a test drive. You need to make a Here account (yes, they want your email or Facebook) before you can download any maps.

Nokia Here on MediaFire
Update: This version now pops up a message "this version has expired." Here's how to un-expire it.

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  1. Strange. I try to login using my Nokia account which works on Here Drive for Windows Phone, but apparently not on this Android app. Any clues?

  2. Dunno what's wrong. I made an account from within the Android app and everything works OK.

  3. If you get a "this version is expired" message, here's how to fix it: http://androidunderground.blogspot.com/2014/10/nokia-here-maps-beta-expired-heres-how.html