Disclosure: I used my own paid-for Nokia phone for this review. No freebies were involved.
Nokia may not be the first brand that comes to mind when you think of sat navs, but it has actually been producing mapping and navigation apps for phones for many years.
Nokia Drive’s predecessor was the oddly named but well regarded Ovi Maps.
The reason this is important is that if you buy any of the current Nokia Lumia phones, you will get Nokia Drive included — completely free.
Unlike the sat nav option on Android phones, which requires a data connection to connect to Google Maps while you use it, Nokia Drive works offline and does not require a data connection, except when it looks up your destination.
Maps are available for most countries worldwide and you simply download the ones you need to your phone (preferably over wifi) and then use them when you need to.
In other words, it’s just like a basic standalone sat nav — except that for the same price as a mid-range sat nav, you get a modern smartphone, too.
If you want a sat nav with all the latest bells and whistles, then Nokia Drive isn’t for you.
It provides spoken and on-screen directions, travel speed, distance or time to destination and the current speed limit. And that’s it. It doesn’t provide speed camera alerts, traffic information or spoken street names.
This lack of frills means that it’s really simple to use and in my experience, the routing and directions are almost as good as on a TomTom, such as the Via 135 I tested recently.
Like most drivers, I only travel on unfamiliar routes occasionally, so most of the time I really don’t need a sat nav. Having a decent, free sat nav built into my phone is the perfect solution — I always have it with me and don’t need to carry anything extra.
Mapping & Directions
Entering a destination is pretty simple and Nokia Drive combines its postcode, address and POI databases into one search facility — just enter your destination. It’s at this point that Drive needs to use a data connection briefly, to look up your destination.
Driving directions are clear and timing is very good. The maps used by Nokia are from Navteq — one of the top mapping providers — and are as good as those on any other sat nav. Having free access to all of them is a real bonus, although if you’re abroad you will still need to pay for a small amount of data roaming when entering your destinations. Still, it’s a big improvement on the cost of European mapping for a standard sat nav or the cost of data roaming for Google Navigation.
As with a normal sat nav, battery life isn’t that great and you will need to plug it in for journeys of more than an hour or so (based on my Lumia 710). The easiest way to do this is with the phone’s USB charging cable and a USB adapter for your car’s cigarette lighter socket.
Most drivers don’t need a sat nav very often and Nokia Drive is the perfect solution. It’s free, simple to use and effective. And if you go on holiday, you can download the maps for your destination before you go, minimising any data costs while you’re away.
Pros: Free, effective, no need to carry a sat nav as well as a phone
Cons: Hardcore sat nav fans will say it isn’t as good as a proper sat nav and lacks features.