Waze Traffic vs Garmin Comparison - Head To Head
Waze Traffic App vs Garmin SatNav
Want to see which GPS device or Smartphone app is best to get you through the traffic to work and back?
For the last month, I have been running a side by side comparison of the iPhone app Waze, and my Garmin Sat Nav (a Nuvi 2595 LMT, if you must know).
I've been a Sat Nav user for a couple of years now and on the whole, have been pretty pleased with my purchase.
The Garmin has been a reasonably steady performer, with the occasional wobble.
These wobbles have usually consisted of:
- resetting itself at random moments (occasional, irritating, but press the 'On' button and it soon starts up again)
- creating a very strange route to where I was going (mostly laughable, due to me asking it for a detour, but then ignoring it anyway)
- speaking street names with a strange accent/pronunciation (forgiveable with all the possibilities of the English language, but still amusing)
The full review comes out positive, but accepts the fact that while it is great for navigation, it doesn't always get the traffic right.
Garmin 2595 LMT - Good Navigation But Poor Traffic
When I say that the Garmin is 'poor', it's probably too strong a word.
"Hit and miss" is probably a better term.
You see, it gets its traffic data from the standard FM radio broadcasts and it is only as accurate as the information it receives.
This means it will warn you of queues and accidents further ahead in your route, but despite being updated every few minutes, won't necessarily tell you if that queue/accident has now been cleared.
What it also won't do too well, is check what the traffic is like on, and around, your route and let you know which way will get you to your destination quickest.
To be fair, it does try to do that dynamically as you progress, but there are 2 things that kind of get in the way:
1. Garmin has an "Intelligent routing" feature (I forget the exact name they give for it).
This feature is designed to look at the routes you drive and work out how fast/slow it goes at different times of the day, and days of the week.
It supposedly uses this information to predict what it will be like for example, next Tuesday morning, near your home or workplace.
The trouble is, that it only works on past traffic patterns, not what's actually out there today, at this moment.
It's also relying on you to stick to the route it gives you, so it knows how long it would have taken if you'd sat in that jam - instead of going home the other way, last Tuesday.
2. Traffic reporting on this model only applies to major roads (that means motorways, and A/trunk roads, in Britain).
That's fine when I'm on a major route, but how do I know that when I take its advice to turn off the motorway 1 junction early, that the local roads are not completely choked up too?
- Oh well, I suppose it's back to using my own brain!
These two issues, factored together, mean that I have found:
- It's pretty reliable on longer journeys of say, 1.5 hours or more (where the greater distance means there is more time for traffic announcements to "catch up")
- It's not so good on my daily commute, where journey times are usually less than an hour
Waze "Hidden" Costs
While Waze itself is free to use, do bear in mind that there are other costs associated with using it, in the form of data (from your mobile provider) and battery life.
In use, I have found a typical journey of around 50 minutes, will drain the iPhone battery from 80-90% charge, down to 20-30%.
However, this is not particularly unusual for a graphically intensive iPhone app, nothing an in-car charger can't mitigate.
The good news is that in my tests, Waze used very little data, with each journey taking up no more than 2-3 MB at a time.
As a PAYG customer on GiffGaff in the UK, this makes Waze very affordable for me, with about 20p a day data charge, or easily included on a monthly tariff.
This is highly dependent on your phone network, so make sure you check your data tariff, before you try it out.
Since I wrote this article, I have spent another 3-4 months using the Waze app.
During that time, I have found the battery usage much improved, with drops of only 20-30% charge in one journey to work.
I don't know exactly why it has improved, but I am guessing it is a combination of:
- My iPhone's battery working up to its normal levels (it was new when I started with Waze)*
- Caching in Waze (the process whereby data for previous journeys is kept on the device, so it doesn't have to download every time)
- Improvements and fixes in the app (developers can improve battery usage by fixing bugs
*See my article on batteries for more on why phone batteries take time to "get up to speed".
Enter Waze Traffic App
Can Waze beat Garmin at their own game?
Waze is a completely free smartphone app that works on a "crowd sourced" model.
It is supposed to be really good for traffic troubles.
I had read about it before on various internet forums and found that some people swear by it.
So, when I got a new iPhone, I decided to give it a try (Waze is available on Android too), for the whole of the last month, to be precise.
To be even more precise, I ran Waze and my Garmin, side by side on the dashboard, for every journey, to see how they compared.
Waze are owned by Google now, but the app hasn't been changed, as far as I know.
The idea is that they take the latest traffic info for all routes from pretty much every source you can imagine.
On top of that they add on a "social" layer, where drivers using the app can contribute to everyone else's journey.
I felt a little bit cautious about this at first, but I needn't have worried.
While they encourage you to join up with friends through the service, it is completely optional.
The majority of the time, all it does is use your location and speed to feed into their traffic data.
How Waze Works
The app starts off pretty much the same way that other navigation apps work.
It displays a map with your current location and you can set up a route, with the usual search functions.
Buttons are few and the menu options are nice and large, as befits a smartphone resident that will be used on the move.
The map is detailed, with local road names shown, although at a different scale to the Garmin - it's more "zoomed in", by comparison.
This threw me a little at first, but that was purely because I am so used to the Garmin.
Once you set up your home and work locations, next time you start the app, it automatically asks if you're on the way to work/home (depending on the time of day and current location).
You will also see roads with different coloured bands around them indicating that there is moderate, heavy or standstill traffic.
These areas often contain arrows indicating the direction of the traffic jam, as well as small numbers telling you the average speed in the queue.
Most of the time, this is fine, but my middle-aged eyes do sometimes struggle to see the finer details on my iPhone 5s.
This is perhaps more a function of the display size than the app itself, so those of you with younger eyes, or with a large iPhone 6, may not have an issue.
Waze Helps Others Help You
As you drive along your route, you can see the location of other "Wazers" nearby.
You will also receive notifications of traffic and other problems on your route.
These notifications come via voice if they originate from radio broadcasts (I think), or by a small overlay that appears, if it's from another Wazer.
The overlay has a clear icon and useful text, such as "Heavy traffic A3(N), on your route, near Oxshott", so it is easy to understand.
There are also buttons there to leave a comment, or just give it a thumbs up.
Or you can just ignore it, and it will disappear after a few seconds.
Other notifications pop up in the same way, such as police activity, the presence of broken down vehicles, and so on.
If you pass the location of one of these hazards and find conditions have changed, you can quickly tap the "Not there" button.
I have found these notifications to be unobtrusive and a good psychological confirmation of what can be seen on the map.
- With one exception.
Waze uses a little game, giving you "points" as you drive and participate in the community.
Apparently, it uses these points to help determine how reliable reports are from different people on the network.
Every now and again, it gives a little chime to say that you've got bonus points for hitting a milestone.
The first time this happened, I wondered what on earth was happening.
I'm used to it now, but it would be nice if there was an option to turn it off.
Waze Helps You To Help Others
In a novel twist, yet in a similar vein, you can inform others what is happening on your journey.
If you're stuck in a jam, you simply tap the right hand button, choose the traffic option then choose between Moderate, Heavy and Standstill (moderate is selected by default), then tap Send.
This works well if you're already in traffic, as you won't be moving, but I would think twice before using the same buttons on passing an accident on the motorway.
(In the Waze game, you'll also get points most times you report something)
Waze allows you to set up voice control, so you can report trouble spots that way.
These voice commands seem to work ok, but I have a problem with them not being recognised when I have a bluetooth device connected.
Usually, Siri gets in the way, or the app doesn't respond and then stops giving me voice directions, which is a bit of a shame.
However, I have found with practice, that I'm fine with the buttons.
The only thing I would ask of the developers, is to reduce the number of button presses required to make a report.
While the ability to report issues doesn't help you directly (you are stuck in the jam, after all), it does give you a good feeling that other drivers might be able to avoid your troubles as a result.
Garmin Versus Waze - Head To Head Results
Here are the results after 1 month using both devices:
is great for basic navigation, with a nice, clear, easy to read screen.
I would use it for long journeys, where its battery will probably last longer, and for unfamiliar places, where I need all the direction I can get (pun intended).
This is especially true when there are complex junction layouts to contend with, where it will tell me the exact lane I need to be in, something Waze doesn't do nearly so well.
It still has its strengths, therefore - see the handy comparison chart below, for more.
Conclusion: I will definitely still keep and use the Nuvi, particularly for those longer journeys where I need to find my way.
does an amazing job of redirecting automatically around the traffic, as long as it is on the phone network.
With one exception, where I was outside my phone network coverage, and Waze was therefore unable to get updates, it has been like a sixth sense.
I have been amazed, time and again, as to how good a job it does of getting me through, and around, the worst jams.
Bear in mind that this has been a period where the main road I would normally travel through, has been closed for major roadworks.
As a result, my journey times have been longer, as other drivers have tried to find alternative routes.
However, I have regularly been getting to work before my colleagues, who come into the office from the same area (I'm talking anywhere between 10 - 30 minutes difference, here).
On a couple of occasions, I have checked the traffic beforehand and wondered how I was going to get home at all.
- Waze then effortlessly sent me off down some road I had never been down before, and brought me back out at the head of the queue, just where I wanted to be.
In short, I would use Waze for my day to day commute, on roads I am (generally) familiar with.
Conclusion: Waze is hands down, the best traffic avoider I have come across, and easily beats the dedicated Garmin device at its own game.
Garmin Comparison Chart
Works well around traffic, some issues reading map (phone screen dependent)
Clear and concise directions by voice and map
Usually nice and clear but can be on small side (depends on phone size)
Large screen with excellent junction view
Amazing, like a sixth sense
Hit and miss, Good when it works
Junction view clearly shows which lane you should be in
Available, but spotty responses - issues when used with bluetooth devices
Works well, but best to use with favourite addresses - superb "detour" option
When driving, what do you use to get to where you want to go?
What do you think?
Have you used Waze or a Sat Nav?
How good or bad was it for navigation and getting you through the traffic?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments, below.
© 2014 Tim Bader