Top 10: Smartphone apps for drivers 2020
Nobody could have predicted the way smartphones have changed our lives. They go everywhere with us, even in the car – and they can make a serious difference to driver’s lives. Obviously you can’t directly use your phone at the wheel, but these apps will help to make your life easier, save you money or get you where you’re going on time.
Waze - free (Apple, Android, Windows)
Branded as ‘social GPS and maps’, Waze is in its most basic form a turn-by-turn sat nav app, but it does a lot more than that. Other Waze users appear on the map and can report incidents and speed camera times, plus Waze can analyse information like journey times to advise drivers of alternatives. Users can also place points of interest for others to pick up – marking events, shortcuts, scenic routes or whatever else they want.
The mapping is constantly updated simply by users driving with Waze turned on – and drivers are encouraged to use the app with game-like features, such as collectable icons marked on your route. It’s a novel and often extremely useful application, made better by its price – free.
Spotify – free (Apple, Android, Windows)
Most modern cars can connect to a smartphone via USB or Bluetooth, giving audio playback capability. That means you can listen to Spotify, which gives you access to a colossal library of more than 30 million songs, with 20,000 added every day. Free users can listen to playlists or albums on shuffle and get a limited number of song skips each day.
Unless you’re miles from civilisation then you should be able to stream music more or less anywhere in the UK reliably, though there are very occasional drop outs. The fix for this is to become a premium member for £9.99 a month. This gives you the ability to download your favourite songs to play offline, plus it gives you more options including custom playlists.
Media U (Android)/ DAB Radio (Apple) - free
Both of these apps are free and give you access to more music when on the go in the form of radio. Both apps use your mobile data plan rather than radio waves, which means you’ll occasionally lose reception. But it gives you more options than a built-in DAB receiver, since you can stream international radio stations, or stations from outside your current area.
Coverage is generally quite good, though with Media U Lite we experienced a few crashes. It’s nothing a reset can’t fix, but that’s not ideal when you’re driving. Even so, it’s a great way of adding DAB radio capability to a car with AUX, USB or Bluetooth connectivity but no DAB receiver.
Google Maps - free (Apple, Android)
Your phone probably already has Google Maps – and it can be indispensible at times. Unlike a built-in or purpose-built sat nav it is always up-to-date, plus it has detailed aerial views. If you get lost and need to figure out a route it’s a great tool – plus it offers turn-by-turn navigation which works really well most of the time.
There are limitations though. You need a data connection to access all the functions and plan a route, so if you find yourself lost in the wilds there’s a good chance it won’t work at all. On the plus side you can save a map for offline use – you simply type ‘OK Maps’, then you can choose an area to save for later.
RingGo – Free plus parking charges (Apple, Android, Blackberry, Windows)
How many times have you been unable to park because you have no change? This app solves the problem, allowing you to pay via your mobile phone. If the car park accepts RingGo payments it will say on the ticket machine and there will be a code that identifies that particular car park or area to the app, allowing you to pay more quickly.
More and more car parks are offering payment via RingGo and it’s very user-friendly, although there are a few other systems out there which offer the same kind of functionality. RingGo is the best of the lot, though – so fingers crossed it’s the system your car park has adopted.
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Tile - £19.99 (Apple, Android)
Ever lost your keys? Of course you have. The solution is Tile, a keyring that connects to a phone app via Bluetooth. If you lose your keys you activate the app and it tells you how far away it thinks they are and will even make them play a noise to help you hunt them out. This isn’t just an app, of course – you do have to buy a Tile keyring.
Thankfully you can buy several and set them up with names. They’re adhesive, so you can attach one to your car keys, one to the TV remote, another to your favourite bag… It’s a really clever solution to a problem almost everyone has.
Car Locator- £2.99 (Android)
Everyone loses their keys – but worse still is losing your car. This app will help you find it. You can either manually set your parking location or set your phone to automatically mark it when it untethers from the car’s Bluetooth. Once you’re ready to return to your car the app will guide you.
It’s fairly accurate, but you do need GPS to be activated in order to use the app properly. That means it isn’t much use in an underground or multi-storey car park – though in fairness it is designed more for sprawling outdoor car parks or unfamiliar towns.
AA App - free, but requires AA membership for advanced features (Apple, Android)
This app has a few useful free features – it will let you accurately report a breakdown location, for example, plus it shows local traffic alerts. You need to be an AA member to make the most of it, though – and if you are then you can access local petrol pricing information and information on parking nearby.
The parking function is especially useful in congested cities. It shows the location of nearby car parks, the number of spaces and the cost to park, so you can choose the best option. Sadly it doesn’t show you how many of the spaces are unoccupied, so you might navigate to a full car park – but it’s a lot better than driving around blindly.
WhatGas – free, or 79p for Pro (Apple, Android, Windows, Blackberry)
This app shows the petrol prices at nearby petrol stations, along with the dates that they were last updated. It’s a handy way of finding cheap fuel nearby, particularly in a built-up area or near a busy major road like a motorway. Sadly the prices for smaller, rural filling stations aren’t updated regularly enough to make the app all that useful.
That’s because the app is updated manually by its users – and there are fewer users in rural areas. Still, it is a handy tool for drivers who live in or near a town. Upgrading to pro adds extra functions including routes to a chosen filling station, plus it turns off adverts.
Aviva Drive – free
Insurance providers are increasingly turning to telematics, or ‘black box’ policies to lower premiums. These monitor driving and relay the data on speed, acceleration, braking and cornering to the insurer, who can then lower or raise your premium based on how safely it deems you to be. Sounds daunting, right?
Well Aviva’s app lets you experience the world of telematics for free, with no penalty for ‘poor’ driving. Simply download the app and drive. Over time it gives you a score and, if it is a low score, you simply uninstall the app. If it’s a high score then it’ll qualify you for a discount from Aviva insurance of up to 20 per cent – so there’s no harm in giving it a go.