Can you use your iOS or Android device for GPS directions without eating up your data plan? It’s an important question, especially for international travelers and people in areas with spotty cellular reception.
The answer: Yes, depending upon the app and the device.
One option worth considering is CoPilot Premium, a $10 app for iOS and Android. (The iPad-optimized version costs $15.) CoPilot lets you download area-specific maps to your device. When you’re out and about without a cellular or Wi-Fi connection, you can still look up points of interest and get turn-by-turn directions. Your device must have built-in GPS, of course. Apple’s iPod touch and Wi-Fi-only iPads lack GPS, for instance, so they won't work.
In my tests using CoPilot Premium on a Google Nexus 7 tablet, both driving and as a pedestrian, the app worked as advertised. Both CoPilot’s free and Premium apps for iOS and Android were recently updated with new features. You can now add a point of interest to a route without having to make it the final destination — a useful feature that's also available in Scout for iOS, another map app.
CoPilot doesn’t have the best-looking maps. And it occasionally gave me some strange directions. But that’s true of nearly every GPS app I’ve tested over the years. To date, only Scout hasn't led me astray.
Google Maps recently restored offline maps to its iOS version 3 and Android version 8 apps, so you can save an area displayed in Google Maps to your mobile device. However, you can’t search for points of interest or get turn-by-turn directions within the app while offline — which means the offline feature is not particularly helpful.
Dedicated GPS devices still exist, believe it or not, and are another option. I’ve had the best luck with Garmin’s Nuvi brand. But with a GPS device, you have another gadget to pack and recharge.
If you’re heading to Europe or another international destination, download CoPilot’s free app and use it before you leave the United States. If you like it, you can buy CoPilot Premium apps for Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and Europe. The app could save you a lot of money on international data roaming charges.