Garmin's New 'Viago' App Lets You Build Your Own GPS

Garmin's latest Android and iOS navigation apps let you choose the features you want "à la carte". CIO.com blogger James A. Martin explains why it can make sense to pay for GPS directions when you can get them for free.

Garmin is trying to differeniate its latest navigation/GPS app, Viago, by offering a "premium" navigation experience at a low-entry price: $1 until July 13, when the price will increase to $2. Additional features in the Android and iOS app, including downloadable maps that can be used without incurring cellular data charges, live traffic reports, 3D views of buildings and spoken street names, are all available as optional in-app upgrades.

So you can literally build your own GPS app. But should you?

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I say yes, if you’re a Garmin fan. A lot of people (myself included) have fond feelings for Garmin’s dedicated, portable GPS devices — despite the slightly judgmental “Recalculating” audio notification you get when you ignore the gadget’s directions or miss a turn.

Garmin’s smartphone apps tend to be pricey. For example, the Garmin U.S.A. app for iOS costs $50. That’s certainly less than what you’d pay for a dedicated Garmin GPS device, but $50 feels like $500 in the mobile app economy.

Among the GPS devices and apps I’ve used, and I’ve used plenty, Garmin’s are some of the best options. They’re not perfect, mind you — I’ve yet to find a GPS app or device that always gives me perfect directions. For most people, in most situations, Garmin gets you where you’re going with minimal stress.

The à la carte offerings of Garmin Viago may be off-putting for some. As you pimp out the app with features, its ultimate price tag grows. (The following prices are sale prices through July 13th.) For example, let’s say you spend $2 for the app. Now you want to download an offline map of Europe, so you can get on-the-go directions without eating into an expensive international data-roaming plan. That’ll be another $10. (For more on this topic, read “How to Get GPS Directions on the Go Without Using Your Data Plan.”)

Of course you’ll want live traffic reports and alternative routing — that’s $10 for each region or continent supported. For example, it costs $10 for North America, $10 for Australia and $10 more for Europe. The "active lane assistant," (which visually displays the correct lane you should be in when, say, exiting a highway), speed limit alerts, and route preference features cost another $10. Garmin’s cool "Real Directions" feature, which mentions landmarks in your directions, such as "Turn right after the bridge," is another $10.

Before you know it, you could spent $40 to $50 — the price of the full Garmin U.S.A. app. But with Viago, at least you’ve spent it only on the features you want.

Another relevant question: Why pay for GPS navigation when you can get it for free from Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze and others?

That’s harder to answer, but each option has its annoyances along with some solid features. For example, Google Maps tends to give me some circuitous directions, while Apple Maps — initially a disaster — has shown definite signs of improvement.

My suggestion: Before venturing out on your next trip, ask the basic Garmin Viago app to give you directions in your area. Compare those directions to, say, Google Maps, and for just a $2 you’ll get a sense of which one you like better.

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