About 2 1/2 months ago Nokia announced that they will be making its turn by turn voice navigation service on Ovi Maps for free and sure enough version 3.3 (3.03) soon turn up and allowed just that. I've been using the version for a couple of weeks now, chiefly on my E55, and have been very pleased with the experience. It is available for a number of modern Nokia Symbian devices with built-in GPS receiver.
Firstly, this service is available in 76 countries and will tie in nicely with their already available offline feature. The offline feature is brilliant as it allows the user to freely download maps from 180 countries through a desktop terminal thus saving on over the air data costs. If you wish you can also download maps as you go. Map tiles will be saved to the memory card so you would not have to redownload the area again. It also includes free traffic updates and premium content from Lonely Planet and Michelin.
The user interface has changed somewhat from previous versions. I initially had my doubts on new interface, which was clearly designed for touchscreen users, but soon got used to it. I still prefer the previous version as the UI then was designed for hardware soft key phones like the E55, and work faster than this new grid based UI. Still it works fine, but I do still wish that it would boot straight to the map rather than the menu.
Numerous keypad-based shortcuts exists that will make your life easier especially now that they've removed many of the functions from the menu. Pressing '5' for example will disable/enable the digital compass if your device supports it. '*' and '#' respectively controls the zooming.
With Ovi Maps 3.3 and above, Nokia has integrated their 'Here and Now' service, so far consisting of only two widget-like apps: Weather and Events. Both are rather good, though seems to be rather slow (they are web-based after all). The service is still patchy - for example Events suggested the Cineworld Luton, a good 9.5 miles away from here (St. Albans), when there is a Vue much nearer in Watford. Similarly there is no such listings from events hosted at the local Maltings Art theatre and Abbey Theatre.
The Lonely Planet and ViaMichelin premium guides fared much better, though the suggestions of places to eat within St. Albans is rather limited. It is understandable for a small village, but with a population of 65k, St. Albans is hardly a small village. I mean we have two railway stations serving this town for goodness sake.
In any case the listings are accurate and more importantly, seems to be based on quality. You won't find any crappy chain stuff here (not even the good ones like Pizza Express).
The search engine has been simplified dramatically. A search field exists for both addresses (including support for full seven characters UK postcodes) and POIs (where you will find the chain stuff like Pizza Express), with no seperate fields for annoying stuff like house numbers and counties.
Using it is easy - just type in and a second or two later the screen will be populated with suggestions, sorted by distance. Scroll to the desired entry and press the left soft key will bring up the map showing the entry or use the centre d-pad key to bring up a list of handy options allowing the user to use the entry for navigational purpose or even to call any phone numbers associated with that entry.
The rest of Ovi Maps 3.3 works pretty much the same as previous version. You can adjust the route calculating algorithm with options like avoiding the motorway, tunnel, ferry, toll road, unpaved road and trains. Similarly it can also suggest route optimised for pedestrians. Route suggestions seems to be fairly good, though this is merely based on my personal experience and opinion. I can't test the quality for the whole UK now can I?
Like other popular SatNav products (such as TomTom), you can change the screen to 'night' mode which works better on the eyes. GPS lock is almost instantaneous if A-GPS is activated. It takes about 5 seconds for a cold lock and less than a second for a warm lock. Impressive, but this has got to do more with the device hardware and firmware than the application itself.
Nokia is under no obligation make its navigation service for free, period - especially to older models for which this feature was never promised upon. But for those with compatible Symbian phones (those with built-in GPS receiver), this update is not something to be missed. All in all, this is easily the best smartphone routing application I have used - even without the free navigation. It is even capable of replacing dedicated satnav particularly if pair it with a touchscreen device with larger screen. Best of all, minus the cost of the device, it won't even cost you a penny.
Ovi Maps with free navigation is available for Nokia N97, N97 mini, N86 8MP, 5800 XM, 5800 Navigation, X6 16GB, X6 32GB, E52, E55, E66, E71, E72, 5230, 6710 Navigator and 6730 classic.
For those without compatible devices, Ovi Maps navigation license is available for less than 10 euros a year, still much better value than the majority of mobile routing applications.