Best Free GPS Turn-By-Turn Navigation Apps

With companies such as Google and Apple spending billions on their mapping and turn-by-turn directions resources and offering great apps such as Google Maps and Apple Maps for free, there is no need to pay for a top-quality GPS navigation app. But there are other free navigation apps available that you may not have heard of, including Waze and MapQuest, that have some unique features worth considering. Turn-by-turn navigation is a key strategic part of companies' plans for the domination of search, and you, the consumer benefit with these free apps.

Apple Maps, With Turn-By-Turn Directions and Real-Time Traffic

Apple Maps
What We Like
  • Clean, aesthetically pleasing screens.

  • New lane guidance gives a heads-up on upcoming turns.

  • Extra integrated features, such as automatic local weather and information cards for landmarks.

What We Don't Like
  • Not available for non-Apple devices.

  • Doesn’t warn about speed traps, obstructions, construction, and other problems.

Apple's Maps app got off to a difficult start a few years ago, with many inaccuracies and inconsistencies in its database. But Apple has since invested huge resources in Maps, as it also edged out Google as Apple iOS's main maps and directions provider. Apple Maps has emerged as a much more accurate and complete product, worthy of the software ecosystem it occupies. 

Maps ​works seamlessly across all Apple devices. Unlike Google Maps, it is not available for Android OS smartphones and other devices. The latest Maps for iOS 8 includes the basics such as search, spoken-street-name turn-by-turn directions, and accurate real-time traffic detection & avoidance.

Some of the cooler Apple Maps features include interactive 3D views and a flyover feature for major cities and landmarks.

Learn to use Siri to get directions for you as you drive. Voice control is much safer than trying to type in destinations. 

You may bookmark destinations and plan trips that you can send to other Apple devices when you are logged into iCloud.

Google Maps, Including Turn-By-Turn Directions and Real-Time Traffic

Google Maps examples
What We Like
  • Street-level view gives accurate picture of destinations and journeys.

  • Provides alerts to traffic problems.

  • Save maps for offline use.

What We Don't Like
  • Can be glitchy when integrating with iPhone contacts.

  • May consume lots of data and battery power.

Google pioneered the free navigation app category with Google Maps, and the company still sustains a massive and costly effort to keep Google Maps as an accurate and useful resource worldwide. Google keeps a large fleet of vehicles, not to mention backpacks and other specialized devices equipped with cameras and GPS to verify the "ground truth" of its map products. 

With Google Maps, you get it all, including access to Google's massive business and points-of-interest database, turn-by-turn spoken-street-name directions, street view images, real-time traffic detection & avoidance, and more. Google also sustains accurate and up to date walking, public transit, and bicycling directions (including bike lanes and bike-friendly roads) in its app.​

Google Maps comes free on most Android operating system phones and may be downloaded for free for Apple's iPhone via the App Store.

Tap the upper left corner of the screen to choose directions for car, public transportation, walking, and even bicycling-specific directions.

Waze GPS Navigation App Includes User-Provided, Real-Time Data

What We Like
  • Social aspect allows users to let each other know of obstructions and hazards.

  • Users can see where “friends” are.

What We Don't Like
  • Cluttered, confusing layout.

  • Suitable only for car trips.

Waze started as an independent app developer with the bright idea of letting users provide each other with real-time travel information, including traffic, obstacles, accidents, and more. Waze was purchased by Google in 2013 but still maintains a very well-done free GPS turn-by-turn navigation app. 

With most apps, for example, upcoming traffic information is represented by a yellow or red line, and perhaps an accident icon. With Waze, you will not only see the delay on the route but the reason for the problem, as described by other drivers, letting you make better-informed decisions about re-routing (or not).

Waze is also well-suited for drivers who are socially-minded and like to hear the thoughts and observations of others as they travel. Waze also has a nice feature that lets you automatically send real-time updates of your estimated time of arrival to friends via social media.

MapQuest Free GPS Navigation App Is Highly Customizable

What We Like
  • Easy to use.

  • Shows speed limits.

  • "Vibe" social algorithm shows local info and tips.

What We Don't Like
  • Free version is ad-supported.

  • No offline capability.

If you are a Major League Baseball fan, and you want to customize your navigation app with your favorite team's logo and colors, this is the app for you. MapQuest partners with MLB to make it possible. But beyond that window dressing, MapQuest is a very solid and accurate turn-by-turn navigation app with a long history of thorough and accurate data.

The app is free, but you can improve it (remove all ads, for example), with a $3.99 in-app purchase. Everything you expect in a good nav app is here, including real-time traffic detection & avoidance, plus the ability to automatically send a real-time estimated time of arrival updates to friends and family if you wish.