The Shocking Costs of “Free” Navigation, According to Garmin

Garmin went traveling in France with an O2 UK Android phone to test Google Maps Navigation and highlight the real cost of free navigation. According to the press release, to navigate from Calais to Paris (185 miles, 297 km) you will need 12-13 megabytes and it will cost you, depending on your type of contrat, £36 to £39 (Pre-paid) or £24 to £26 (with contract plan).

“We tested the route from Calais to Paris four times and each time it came up with the same results: between 12-13 megabytes of data per journey. On a pay as you go mobile phone this meant £36 to £39 to get from Calais to Paris – some 185 miles on a contract plan the cost is a little less, but still equates to £24 to £26 per single journey.” – Garmin’s Head of Communications, Anthony Chmarny

I can’t argue with Garmin.  It is true that if you take into account the cost of data while roaming, Google Navigation is not really free, especially if you start using Google Street View to check intersections or try to find hotels and restaurants along your way.

However, there is way to use to use Google Navigation for free that I recently experienced during a 4,000 km road trip in U.S and Canada using my Nexus One with an Irish Vodafone Pre-paid account. At each starting point (hotel, airport,…) using available WiFi connection, I calculated the route and tweaked it to avoid tolls. I took the time before starting each journey to display the various steps of the route, all the intersections, etc.  This can be done by tapping on the right side of the top bar where the street/road name is displayed . Doing this will force Google Navigation to download the map data in its cache so that you will have the details around each steps of your route. Once I was done, I was able to enjoy the road trips without the need for any kind of data connection. I had the voice guiding me  and the road layout around each intersections but, obviously,  I could not use Street View or recalculate my route when I was lost.

Missing Street View, by experience, is not a big deal, there are still many roads that haven’t been visited by Google’s cars and when they have you will realize that it always looks different today that few months back when the photos were taken.

Now, if you are lost or if, by mistake, you press the back button in Navigation this will close the app and you will lose the route.  Google does need to fix this.  If this happens, users could be forced to use some expensive data and download a new route. I had to do it few time and I can confirm that a 200 km trip with 10 or so steps will generally take around 1 MB if you download all the steps in the cache. You could also be lucky and find a coffee shop with WiFi for the cost of a coffee.

I understand Garmin’s point of view; They have to compete with “free” offers like Google Navigation or Nokia Ovi.  However, they should not discredit their competition.  Instead they should focus on what they have, promote it and improve it. I own a Garmin Zumo and I think that their navigation application is one of the best with many features missing from Google Navigation (Custom POIs, great screen layout, ecoRoute, XM Radio, etc). As you know they have an Android phone, made by Asus but though the GarminFone is a good device but has few flaws (Android 1.6, small screen, no headphones jack) but the navigation application is good so why not selling it like Garmin Mobile XT for Nokia or Garmin Mobile for Blackberry and Palm? Or why not extend the range of Android device, I would buy an Android Zumo and imagine how cool would be an Android nüvi 3790T in your car?

Would you like to see Garmin more involved on Android with more devices and an application in the Market? Please leave you comment and tell us what your opinion is on the subject!

  • despot5000

    As a long haul trucker, I have used many gps routing solutions. The best I have found, Delorme street atlas. Yes you need a pc, but it packs all the features of a garmin device without the 200 plus price tag. About 40 usd is what I pay per year, and 40 for the gps puck. I also use google on my blackberry, but was careful to hang on to my at&t unlimited data plan. No extra data costs for me.

    • mikeeeee

      @despot5000, i drive as well and i've been telling folks about delorme for years. a $250 refurb thinkpad with topoUSA costs 350 total and when you get done using the gps, you got a full blown laptop to run with.

      i schlepped my laptop around for 10 years 'til i retired.

      now i'm banging out replies to ANDROID message boards with it.

      did i mention it has a 14" screen?

  • Ravrahn

    12-13 MB? On my plan that's… 20 cents?
    Wow, how will I afford it?

    • masclatpete

      Just tried a 45 minute bicycle ride around my local village in France. It used 20€ worth of data in less than 5 minutes !!!!!!!! I’m using a pay as you go SIM card from L’Eclerc at 1€/Mb Its just frightening and has been permanently switched off until I can resolve this cost somehow.

  • njbianco

    thats why i have unlimited data 🙂

    • Delbert


  • Ben

    How much storage space would be needed to download all the map data for the areas that you would be driving in (at the state or province or whatever level?). Say I was to drive from New York to Miami. Couldn't the software just optionally download those states and all the ones in between on demand instead of on the fly?

    • Complete US Map from Garmin fits on a 2GB card, same for Europe.

  • Mike

    I'd love it if Android has better navigation apps..
    something like TomTom.. that's wicked

    • The thing is Garmin has the software ready on the phone they made with Asus. It would take very little time for few engineers to make it available on the Market.

  • Jay

    In this day and age, who with a smartphone (or superphone like the Nexus one) doesn't have unlimited data? Kinda makes Garmin's claim a little foolish, no?

    • Their claim is based on people roaming… not on their home network so unlimited data does not apply in this case.

  • simon

    since they have already released an Android phone with their own navigation application on it, and since Android2.2 lets you install to SDcard, why don't they just publish their application on the Market?

    Data would not cost you much if travelled nationally, but think of they advantage they have with international travel! you could download their maps for a certain fee, then voila, you have offline navigation in a new country!

    • Some plot from Garmin Marketing… They are wrong to think that the solution is with this Asus phone. They would sell the app if it was available on the Market for all android phone users to install because it is better than Google Navigation (right now, it might not be true after few updates as Google will catch up).

  • Dorian

    What we're witnessing here is nothing but the death struggle of a giant who's clinging on to a dying business model. They've picked a worst case scenario that affects like one percent of the population annually to prove that their overpriced map subscriptions are better. Retarded.

    Ok, so traditional GPS wins in this very specific case. Next 99 wins goes to Google Navigation.

    • ToeJam

      Death struggle?? Dying business model?? Let's see, they have over a billion dollars in the bank (that B for Billion!) no debt, have industry leading technology in aerospace and fitness, doing well in marine and have reiterated their earnings of approximately $3 per share for 2010. Saying they are dying sounds retarded to me. Why shouldn't they attack the 'free' smartphone navigation – after all just havng a data plan is a cost that isn't needed for a pnd. Let me say this loud and clear – there are no monthly charges with a pnd – smartphone navigation is not free! Does your smartphone receive calls and continue navigation? Who is in the best position to utilize the new navigation satellite technology that will be launched soon? I don't understand how anyone who has done even a sliver of research can say this company is dying – except for the typical sheeple who just repeat whatever they hear.

  • BiGrO

    Isnt it good enuff that google offers its maps with navgation for free, yes FREE to begin with, while others cost monthly charges? What is google supposed to do next Garmin…pay them for those data usages ??? Ridiculous !!!!!!

  • Jamie

    Ahh.. If only Garmin or TomTom had an Android App, maybe people would use that instead.

    Personally I would. I travel internationally and get slammed with data charges. 29 bucks for 25mb… yeah, you read me right. Locally I have 1GB included in my normal plan (aussies don't get unlimited). Anywayz, so having loca maps on the phone would be a lot better.

  • m4rkus

    I think the data usage is one of the best things in Ovi Maps on Nokia. You can preload maps on a country level. For me the typical data usage for a 300 mile trip is in the range of 30kb, I think mainly consisting of A-GPS traffic. Nokia should bring the Ovi Maps to Android!

    • Dragos

      At least for Europe I find Nokia Ovi clearly a better solution than Google Maps. To be honest, I'm (unpleasantly) surprised by the low quality and low number of options when it comes to serious navigation on Android. Out of the box, a Nokia which comes with Ovi Maps and the maps for all Europe already installed on the SD card is a much better solution than Android with Google maps. And it is *free*, you don't need to be in a zone with 3G signal, you don't need unlimited data plans, you can use it while roaming etc. Actually you can take your SIM out of the phone and still use navigation. I recently went out of the country (data roaming would kill you in such a case) and I had to take my old E71 along with my HTC Desire just to use it as a GPS.

  • ….or you could download Brut.mod Google maps from XDA….
    you can enable it to cache tiles to the sdcard….so you can go through the route before hand and you dont need to worry about losing ur map cache – it is permanently available

  • nice information man 🙂

  • Hey…
    (assuming you're from ireland, like me)… you know that on Vodafone, you can roam, pretty much anywhere, and as long as you're on the Live APN, you only pay the same about for Data access abroad as you do at home!! This, to my knowledge, is a Vodafone Ireland only thing.
    For example, to get online in Ireland on Pre-Pay, it's 99cent a day for 50mb. So that's what it'll cost ya when you're not at home. If you're on a bill phone and have a data allowance (either by default, or an add-on), the data access comes out of your bundle, again, as long as you're using the LIVE APN.

    Here is a quote from the support forums:

    "Just to clarify,
    Whilst roaming, data over via LIVE.APN only is charged as if you were at home. So if you are on Perfect Choice Access (that has an inclusive 2GB add on,) live.apn roaming usage will be deducted from your bundle.
    If you do not have a bundle, data usage whilst roaming is charged exactly the same as in Ireland – 99c for the first 50MB and 2c per Kb there after.
    This is applicable worldwide with the Live! APN"

    Any specifics feel free to drop me a mail.


    • Yes, Vodafone Ireland on PrePaid. I didn't know about roaming onLive but I thought the Live APN would not give you a full web experience but something filtered by Vodafone proxies and that it would give you access only to web not to email or maps… Does it give you data for gmail, maps, tweets?

      When in Ireland I'm using the Vodafone ISP APN. Each month I will top-up 30euro, vodafone always give you 20% extra so I would have 36euro. I'll have then unlimited call and text to Vodafone (for 30 days). I would get 5GB for 20euro ( for my data and that will leave me 16 euro for non-vodafone texts and calls (more than enough). I would not find this on a contract with the freedom I have in PrePaid.

  • Gennadi

    Motonav (iGo), MyWay(iGo) is already available for Android. check torrents 🙂

  • Co-Pilot is on android and works great. Its Less than £30 for the UK version, a bit more for larger territories, but still good value if you have no data plan.

  • its sound great..
    really help when you driving a car..

  • the advantage in the US for a GPS company like Garmin is that while driving in rural areas with horrible data connections, you could still get good info. For example, while driving through Mississippi (WAYYYY rural), I had to wait forever for Google Maps to load each section. Of course the above method of enabling the cache would work, but it would also take the user quite a while to go through a 1200mile route…

  • Nokia wins.

  • You can also use MapDroyd, the maps are held on your SD card.
    And it's all free.
    Android win, AGAIN 😉

  • timmyjoe42

    Garmin…Trying to one more time to stay out of the grave.

  • I’m a Canadian doing some work in Amsterdam. I arrived at the start of the week with my AT&T-frequency Nexus One, popped into a T-Mobile shop, and found that while pay-as-you-go mobile data costs 0.30 euros / MB, it maxes out at 2.50 euros per day and after that you can download as much data as you want. So, I bought my T-Mobile SIM card, loaded up on 20 euros of credit, and I’m set for the duration of my stay. (Can I also thank Froyo for letting my phone give my laptop a nice 3G connection, too? Thanks, Froyo!)

    You might need to look around for a decent data plan if you’re on the move, but they’re out there. This story is just typical marketing from a scared GPS manufacturer.

    (BTW: long time reader, first time post; we met at lunch the first day of Google I/O – keep up the good work!)

  • juanjux

    I don't know how they got that data, but the 12-13 MB for 300kms is not what I've experience. In the last month I have done about 1000 kms (holidays) and I decided to test the data usage of Google Maps Navigation, using several programs on the market that control the data usage. My test showed that with the normal (non satellite) map and using only the traffic layer, it uses about 1.5MB/100 kms. Much, much less that what they're saying. I guess they enabled the satellite map and every single layer across the sun to get that rate.

    • I think that either they abused of the satellite and street view or they had other things downloading data in the background (gmail, tweet,…).

  • John Doe

    Unlimited data FTW. Now that said. GPS on my Sprint and T Mobile Phones from Minneapolis to Chicago gets really iffy in dairy land a.k.a Wisconsin in places and GPS outright drops. So yah there are some legit places to have a full on GPS unit that has all the maps on the thing. It would be better if GMaps would cache your route though on your flash card. That would rock.

  • George

    In my opinion Garmin needs new blood to its management. Or they will loose one part of their market. I am ready to buy Garmin application for Android, but they simply don’t offer any. Asus??? Sorry I am not going to buy a mobile phone from Asus – never. So good luck Garmin, but I will not wait forever.

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  • I bought a Garmin last year biggest pile of 5hit3 i have ever owned Tom Tom are far better…