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!