The Nokia Drive app, previously exclusive to Nokia’s Lumia line of phones, is now available as a Beta to all Windows Phone 8 devices.  As a HTC 8X user, which does not include a free navigation app, I was excited to test such a highly rated app.

User Experience

The app is noticeably faster to both start and acquire my position than the stock Verizon Navigator (paid, $2 to $4/mo.) app. Once summoned, you’ll be greeted in true Windows Phone style to a minimalist interface.  Almost too minimalist in this case, as there’s no obvious starting point.  One must venture into the Options to set a destination.

the Nokia Drive+Beta home screen
Where do I go?

Searching for a destination is straightforward, whether searching by place name or by address.  I’ve yet to have a search misinterpreted or yield no results, and while there is no voice recognition to allow for setting a waypoint without typing from within Drive directly, the same effect can be had by holding and using the system speech recognition to answer your call to, for example, find Starbucks.

Venturing into the Options reveals the Destination search
Venturing into the Options reveals the Destination search

On first use, the user is prompted to download a voice file.  Choose carefully.  I found that when hastily selecting the first “English” I saw, that driving navigation was only barely voice assisted. Rather than text-to-speech, this option uses a few pre-recorded messages: “enter highway”, or “in one mile, turn left,” which is about the most specific phrase you will hear.  Contrast this with the English, ‘announced street names’, which as you would expect announces specific exit numbers, street names, and more.  While it uses mobile data and is not required to use the app, text-to-speech provides a higher degree of confidence and allows the driver to eliminate the need to glance at the device for the upcoming street name.

Data limit friendly, or detailed descriptions?   The choice is yours.
Data limit friendly, or detailed descriptions? The choice is yours.

Speaking of mobile data, Nokia Drive is superb at sipping bandwidth. In addition to pre-recorded voice clips, maps for entire states can be downloaded to phone memory for fully offline navigation.  I was surprised to see that Nokia Drive also detected and used downloaded maps previously acquired via Verizon Navigator.  This sharing saves phone storage space, which is always a precious commodity.

They take up a bit of storage, but allow for totally-offline navigation later.
They take up a bit of storage, but allow for totally-offline navigation later.

One final nice feature is the Speed Limit Alert.  Initially, the default zero tolerance threshold drove me to seek to disable the annoying alert.  Once set to allow for more generous speed limit interpretations, I decided to leave the option enabled for those trips through unfamiliar territory.

Creating a little extra wiggle room allowed me to keep the annoyance down until I really am overdoing it.
Creating a little extra wiggle room allowed me to keep the annoyance down until I really am overdoing it.

Limitations

There are two features within the Verizon app that are not seen in the Drive+Beta.  En-route fuel prices, sometimes called “find along”, and traffic integration.  You will have to decide if this is worth $48 dollars per year.  To me, it’s not worth an on-going subscription.  Even with previous apps with traffic integration, such as my late Android phone, I never once took an alternate route due to traffic information (not always by choice, it was usually just provided too late to be of use).

Despite these two limitations, in all I found the Nokia Drive app to be an amicable utility, and one I’d recommend any Windows Phone user try before paying for similar apps.