At its onset, Android had an obvious advantage over other mobile operating systems as far as its navigation capabilities are concerned. It helps to be able to draw from the innovation and bundled features found in Google Maps. Today, Android’s navigation features, which include a wealth of independently developed applications, are making standalone GPS units relics of the past.

Time to put the TomTom to bed?

I have a standalone GPS unit which I still use in the car. It’s an old model. It’s big, cumbersome, the battery doesn’t last long, the maps are out of date and it doesn’t even speak the name of the streets like more modern ones do. It still cost me a few hundred bucks back then, and at the time was one of the best you could get. Sure, it still gets me from A to B reasonably well, but there are no MP3 capabilities, no Bluetooth, and the darn suction cup never sticks to the windshield properly.

But enough about my problems. When I got my first Android smartphone, I was impressed by Google’s navigation ability and the handy “car mode.” But it had a few issues like losing signal or battery drain with the GPS on. It’s notable however, that Verizon have continued to offer their own navigation app. Verizon’s VZ Navigator is free, but costs a whopping $4.99 per month. However, it is pretty feature-filled and gives you traffic alerts, roadside assistance and more. Or maybe I should use the TomTom app for Android. The app is free for limited miles then needs subscription. The integrated, reliable traffic information and the latest, accurate maps from more than 100 countries makes TomTom app one of the best on the market.

Local Search

Google Maps is one of the best free navigation tools for Android. The app gives turn-by-turn directions for walking, transit or driving, with an option for spoken navigation, as well. Search for nearby venues, track traffic, and access Google Maps Street View from this app. You can also view friends’ locations, and add custom layers.

Navigate your surroundings with the popular iPhone and Android app, AroundMe. Free, AroundMe will navigate you to businesses in your vicinity. Broken down by category, you can filter results based on distance to your current GPS location.

Custom tools

Waze is a free mobile app available for iPhone and Android users. With several layer options for your immediate location, you can find nearby venues, avoid police traps, keep track of friends, and receive traffic updates. The crowd-sourced contributions for Waze add context to your mobile navigation, orienting the tool for your purposes.

WisePilot‘s free Android app adds a custom touch by tracking your history and letting you add favorites to your navigation locations. Similar to Waze, WisePilot aggregates speed alerts, weather updates and venue details along with its navigation tool. Though based in the U.K., WisePilot works for U.S. users, even with local search.

Activity specific

BackCountry Navigator is an add-on for accessing the full version of the Android app. For $9.99, you get offline topography maps, aerial photography and road maps, which you can use to navigate unmarked terrain. Designed for the adventuresome, hikers and hunters will make the best use of this outdoor recreation tool.

Other alternatives

There are still a lot of good navigation apps in the Android Market, and it’s encouraging for Android users everywhere that there’s so much choice.

TeleNav’s Scout GPS Navigation, while free for its limited feature set, offers its premium services for $2.99 per month (quite a substantial saving on Verizon). MobileNavigator USA from Navigon might set you back close to $60, but once you’ve paid, that’s it — no more pesky subscription fees. CoPilot GPS is full voice-guided satellite navigation on your phone. Mapfactor GPS Navigation is one of the most popular app in Play Store, the app is free, maps are free and monthly map upgrades are free – do I need to explain why is it downloaded more than 10 million times?

INRIX Traffic Maps & GPS comes with real time traffic reports anytime day or night, it’ll be hard to not know the quickest way to your destination. Glob – Traffic Info and Radars does many a thing but my favorite is that it will warn you from calculating your current speed, if you are approaching speed cams or accidents. Sygic gives you a free seven-day trial for its comprehensive navigation services.

Future direction

Whichever app you choose, whether you stick with free offerings or pony-up for something a little more sophisticated, we’re sure the state of Android navigation is pretty good right now with plenty of choice and some great technology. It might not be time to chuck out the dedicated GPS unit just yet (unless it sucks like mine), but that day may well be approaching soon.