.340x_google-maps-navigationHaving been a BlackBerry fanboy for several years, I had long been accustomed to using my BlackBerry Maps to get me where I needed to go. I was proud of being the caretaker of such brute-force, location-based power and functionality. You see, with a mere dozen or so clicks and trackball scrolls, my BlackBerry could provide step-by-step directions to any destination I requested. How 'bout that!

Well, it turns out I was swimming in a very small pond, metaphorically speaking. All Android phones running 2.0 and above come with an explosive native navigation app that will knock your socks off. In fact, it's so good you would think you were using a dedicated GPS unit were it not your own phone.

For a trial run, I tapped the "Navigation App" on my Droid X, typed in my destination, and my phone instantly morphed into a full-blown, balls to the wall, GPS navigation system, complete with comprehensive voice prompts, a full-screen visual representation of the road I was traveling (in real-time with my route clearly color-coded), and a host of additional informational ammenities generally reserved for dedicated GPS units.

It was exciting, amazing, crazy useful and completely free. It's embarassing to think that Verizon offers a for-profit product called VZ Nav which is, at best, a mere shadow of this fantastic and multi-layered application.

As I drove, the screen displayed every turn I took, every stop sign I approached, all rendered in crisp text, tight colors and a thoughtful layout that provided extensive informaton without any sense of clutter. I had never experienced such a powerful and complete GPS phone application...ever! The best my BlackBerry could do was switch between written instructions and a dated, pre-made topographical map displaying my event (All on a screen half the size).

I must stress that this native Android application was news to me. This navigation app simply came with my phone and as such, I overlooked it for a week. How dumb am I? I used it for the first time just the other day when I went to vote, and discovered a beautiful, street-level representation of precisely where my car was at, and a friendly voice informing me of the next important turn.

Here are some of the wonderful features offered by Google Map's Android app known simply as "Navigation":

1. Traffic View: An on-screen indicator shows green, yellow or red in relation to the current traffic conditions on your route.

2. Search by Voice: You can simply say aloud your destination and the application does the rest.

3. Search in Plain English: Even if you don't know the precise address, you can say, "Navigate to the nearest gas station."

4. Search along Route: This feature allows you to search for any kind of business along the route your are traveling, or you can activate additional layers of functionality which will search for restaurants, parking, and gas stations.

5. Satellite View: Perhaps just for fun, you can view your route as an overlay of 3D satellite views that use Google's high resolution aerial imagery.Google-Maps-Navigation

While Google's "Navigation" app for Android has been out there for some time, an important update was added on September 12, 2010, allowing turn-by-turn walking directions. That's right. Google Maps 4.5 Beta provids a solution for folks walking in unfamiliar cities, towns, etc. Google has seemlessly integrated these Beta updates into the Navigation app, and all one needs to do when entering directions is select the "Walking" option.

While I have always equated navigation with driving, I can see how useful walking directions can be, especially when you are in an unfamiliar town or city and have to be somewhere in a hurry!

Google has stated that it is important to remember that the Walking Navigation is still in Beta, and that it is important to pay attention to road signs, follow signals and use good judgement.

While Android's navigation app is truly remarkable and puts many paid navigation apps to shame, it is also cloud-based (the internet cloud, not the puffy white things). That means that if you lose carrier service you lose your GPS capability. Without the ability to download maps to your phone for those times when you are in a remote location, the app is ultimately at the mercy of your carrier.

Overall, Google's Navigation app for Android is a powerful, feature-rich, multi-layered, easy-to-use GPS system that really delivers! And as much as I want to encourage you to buy it, I can't. It's free. Great job Google!