There are a number of reasons why offline maps are a good addition to your smartphone arsenal. For starters, you can't always rely on network access or Wi-Fi. Usually when you want maps, you've found yourself in an area you're not so familiar with which may also have poor reception or none at all.
Then, there's cost. Why pay data fees to repeatedly load the same map information every few days? Offline maps let you download once and visit again and again. And half the time they're free.
Poor reception also wreaks havoc on my map searches, as my building creates a bit of a dead spot for my network, meaning I have to go down to the street before I can plan my route. In other poor reception areas of the city, the response time from online maps can be so slow I'd be better off buying a folding map.
The last thing you need when in dire straits is to see your battery disappearing as you try to figure out how to get home from wherever you've managed to find yourself. Offline maps mean this battery drain happens much slower than with online maps sucking up data.
Even if your smartphone or tablet battery can handle having network or Wi-Fi access on all the time, the convenience of offline maps is hard to beat, especially when they can offer almost all the same features as online maps.
So, the only question left is: to pay or not to pay? Of course if you want to drop some cash, you can get some seriously good map apps, but there are also a few really good quality free downloads out there too. Here are my picks.
I've been using this offline map app for ages and I love it. Google Maps hardly gets a look in with me these days since I discovered this little beauty, especially considering I don't always keep my data connection turned on. So having a detailed map on hand without needing to connect, load, search and so on is great.
Maps With Me Lite utilizes data from OpenStreetMap which is of course not as detailed as Google Maps, but for a free service it's plenty good enough for everyday users. The open source maps are also updated quite regularly so the detail is constantly improving.
Maps With Me Lite is a free version of a paid app, but you get almost the same functionality as the paid version for free. The only major things you can't do with the lite version is search for addresses and bookmark specific locations. It's a pared-back basic map, but it works.
It's important to note that the free version of Maps With Me does not support navigation. If navigation is your thing, then you will have to look elsewhere. There's also no distance measurement available, although location coordinates exist for all map locations and the GPS locator is very fast.
It must also be noted that offline maps take up space. Maps With Me Lite, once you've downloaded the app and the basic world map, has already eaten up 50 MB of space, with the specific area maps (getting you right down to street level) taking up even more. With today's smartphone memory capacities though, that's not such a big deal.
Another worthy freebie, RMaps has even more offline features. It does almost everything the previous app does but includes in the free download the features for which you have to pay extra with Maps With Me: distance calculation, auto-follow, auto-rotate, and POI functionality.
This app has quite a different look and feel to it with really nice map detail at certain resolutions. Personally I've had issues with the auto-rotate feature responding strangely and at some key zoom levels, which I used a lot, the detail is a bit crowded and not easily readable on a smartphone screen.
But the sheer magnitude of free features more than makes up for these minor issues and don't take long to get used to either. Not to mention RMaps is both an offline and online map, so when you're online you have even more added functionality.
Against this though: you only have limited cached offline map storage unless you download. Of course this also means that you have the opportunity to make it a tiny app if space is a concern. But if you want the same level detail as Maps With Me, it takes up a huge amount of space.
The features menu is where RMaps really comes into its own though, with a mind-boggling array of options to let you set it up exactly how you like. This includes tracking, search, distance and time interval settings, onscreen coordinates, pre-defined map overlays, and more.
Finally, offline maps with navigation, OsmAnd Maps also has turn-by-turn voice guidance and search functions, and includes GPS-assistance features like lane guidance, ETA and re-routing. As the name implies, it also uses OpenStreetMap data.
Like the other apps, you must first download base maps, up to ten free ones, before you are asked to pay. Keep in mind that downloading voice prompts (recorded or text-to-speech) also come out of your ten free download limit!
Now I really like the look of this app, and it doesn't have the weird compass and auto-rotate issues that I had with RMaps. But it's another pimped-out app with options galore. Check out the screen shots if you don't believe me!
I found that navigation, turn-by-turn and search all worked great while offline, and the voice guidance was spot on. Basic map usage was as you'd expect but voice navigation and route-finding are where this app blows the others away. Pretty amazing for a free download!
If you want offline navigation and turn-by-turn GPS, this is the app for you. If you want a basic offline map for kicking around the city, get Maps With Me Lite, and if you need lots of features and both on and offline functionality, then you want RMaps.
Now, there's absolutely tons of free offline maps, of varying quality and size, and of course, Google Maps both online and offline. Plus all the paid apps and dedicated devices you can handle. These are just three of the numerous free offline maps that have stood out to me for various reasons. Let me know what your favorites are!