A free GPS app for the iPhone and iPad is a novelty, since all the others require either payment upfront or after a trial period, but Navfree Canada is offered free of charge for life - albeit with paid upgrades to come later on.
Navmii is able to offer all this for nothing because it uses OpenStreetMap, an open-source mapping system created by more than 250,000 users who collaborated to piece it all together. The onus for updating the maps also rests with this sort of crowd-sourcing, but you can help by pointing out any discrepancies or mistakes using the Map Feedback tool.
The look and feel of Navfree Canada is nice and user-friendly. The menus are laid out well, the maps look nice and navigating isn't hard to manage, except when it becomes puzzling later on. British developer Geolife is behind all this, as well as the other free Navfree apps for the U.S., U.K. and Ireland, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
On paper, Navfree offers many of the bells and whistles you would expect from other providers, including voiced turn-by-turn directions (but no street names), auto-rerouting, points of interest (POI), favourite routes and sending locations through Facebook, Twitter, e-mail or text message. The more interesting feature it offers is integrated Google search (you can switch this to Microsoft Bing in the preferences, if you're so inclined), which proves to be one of the backbones of this app.
Before driving, everything started out well enough until I typed in an address. I knew there was trouble when Navfree didn't recognize mine initially (it did later on). There are plenty of POIs, but the list isn't quite as extensive as what you would get from a paid app. Still, when you find what you're looking for it's easy to just tap your way to a route to get there.
The map and navigation is simplified enough for anyone to understand. There is a 2D and 3D view, as well as day and night views, though the latter has to be toggled manually. The voice guide is needlessly repetitive sometimes, while silence dominates at times when directions would be appreciated. Directing me to pull a U-turn on a busy road in rush hour when approaching an intersection in the right lane isn't likely to help me.
Thankfully, this doesn't happen often, but the way Navfree pinpoints addresses needs work. I had much more luck at finding the addresses I needed - including my own - through the Google search and moving on to a route that way. Rerouting isn't bad, but the choices the app makes can be puzzling. If it really is the "fastest route" then why have me take side streets when the highway is only one kilometre away?
A data connection isn't necessarily needed to run Navfree, so you can technically use this on an iPod touch or an iPad without a data plan because Navfree copies the maps over to your device, except that data is needed to search Google or Bing. This wouldn't matter so much if Navfree was better at finding addresses, but unfortunately that's not the case.
The so-called "paid upgrades" for the Canada maps have yet to materialize, whatever they may be. As of this review, only a $3.99 charge to remove ads from the app is on offer. Having barely seen any ads, I'm not sure the $3.99 is even warranted, to be honest.
Another question mark is Navfree's maps for rural Canada. Having not been able to test this properly, I can't say for sure either way, but it's likely that it handles larger municipalities better than it does smaller settlements.
So, with that in mind, Navfree may prove useful if you're on a budget and need a map to navigate you with turn-by-turn directions, but it still has a way to go to compete with the big guys.