This nav app may be smart, but it's no genius

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CNET Editors' Rating
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Review Date: Apr. 2, 2014
Updated on: Apr. 2, 2014

The Good Genius Maps by Mireo offers full map access and turn-by-turn navigation, even without access to the internet. Available traffic data allows automatic rerouting around jams. The main interface is well designed and makes efficient use of limited screen space.

The Bad Destination input and search interface wastes a lot of screen space. Search, previous destination, and favorite destination screens should be combined under one icon. Automatic traffic rerouting can be a bit too sensitive and indecisive.

The Bottom Line Genius Maps by Mireo shows promise as a sharply designed offline navigation app, but destination input and search could use streamlining.
Editors' Top Picks

The appeal of Genius Maps by Mireo over the default Google Maps on Android or Apple Maps on iOS, is its downloadable, locally stored maps for almost every populated region of the world. Map data is provided by Navteq, separated into manageable chunks such as USA Western or South East. Most interestingly, the map data is all to download. So you could theoretically install Genius and download maps for the entire world without spending a penny. There is, however, a catch.

Though the maps may be free, the Pro Guidance routing software that you'll need to actually get anywhere isn't. In order to unlock turn-by-turn navigation, automatic rerouting, speed alerts, lane assistance, and "POI Along the Route" functionalities, you'll need open you digital wallet and pull out up to $49.99 per continent. The North American license that I used during testing is valued at $39.99. This is a one-time purchase and a lifetime license, so you'll only need to pay that once. After installation, you'll have access to a seven-day trial period before you're asked to buy.

Mireo Genius Maps shows promise, needs polish (pictures)

The Genius Maps app for Android weighs in at 33.12 MB and the USA West Map that I used during testing is a 307 MB additional download. The total installed size on my Google Nexus 5 came to 370 MB, the difference being filled with voice guidance and other data stored by the app. It was nice to not have to fill up the entire internal memory with maps, but you could probably get enough maps for a coast-to-coast U.S. road trip in about 1 GB.

Though the entire app can be operated offline and without a data connection, you'll need to connect to the web to take advantage of the optional traffic data and incident reporting. The traffic service also costs extra (between $12.99 and $29.99 depending on the continent you're licensing). The North American service that I tested is valued at $12.99. Again, this is a one-time purchase with a lifetime license to access the service.

The last decision that you'll have to make during setup is what voice to use for the spoken turn-by-turn directions. Mireo offers a selection of free TTS voices in a variety of languages, each weighing in at about 1-2 MB per voice and each a free download. There are a few celebrity voices available at additional cost, also additional size since they don't use TTS. For example, comedian Doug Benson was available (11 MB) for $4.99, but an error with my Google Play account prevented me from purchasing and trying this feature.
Good looking interface

It bears repeating that the appeal of Genius Maps is its downloadable, locally stored maps for almost every populated region of the world. The user retains access to these maps and the turn-by-turn routing software, even when the phone is outside of wireless coverage or offline in "Airplane Mode."

This guaranteed functionality is great for long road trips through spotty coverage zones, for users with extremely limited data plans or hard data caps, and drivers who like to stay off the grid. It's also useful for world travellers, who may find themselves in a foreign country with limited data connectivity and without access to cloud-based maps. The user can just download maps and pay for a license in whatever country they plan on visiting to have access to unlimited driving and walking directions.

Totally offline operation also makes this app a good candidate for increasing the usefulness and functionality of Wi-Fi-only devices, like the Nexus 7, when out and about.

geniusmapsmireo08.jpgThe driving screen is sharply and efficiently rendered, dedicating maximum real estate to the map display. Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

I also enjoyed Genius Maps' great looking interface. The main map screen offers minimal distraction and packs a lot of information into small space along the bottom edge of the screen. The bulk of the screen real estate is devoted to the map, which animates smoothly and is rendered with crisp graphics. Automatic Day and a dark Night mode schemes keep the app visible whenever you're driving.

The Navteq map data is pretty accurate in my San Francisco Bay Area testing and the routes chosen by Mireo's software were logical and easy to follow.
Destination search needs work

Unfortunately, I found Genius Maps' destination and address search to be its Achilles' heel. For starters, the functionality is lacking and limited. Locally stored POIs can be out of date, since they're not refreshed from a live Web database. I know that the point is offline navigation, but I'd like to have access to some sort of online search (Google Local? Facebook Places? Foursquare? Bing?!) for the times that I actually do have a data connection.

Once you've input a search term, the software doesn't organize the returned POI results with any real rhyme or reason that I could discern. The first returned result in a search for fast food restaurant "Wendy's" was for a franchise 1.5 hours away in Sacramento. The nearest franchise was nearly at the bottom of the page. A search for "Five Guys Burgers" produced top results as far away as 5 hours, despite my being just 10 minutes away from a location.

geniusmapsmireo10.jpgThe destination search screen is poorly designed and the returned results aren't organized in any way that makes sense to me. Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The destination input screen wastes a lot of screen space. The input field and search button could be larger and less crammed into the top edge of screen. Additionally, the Previous and Saved destination screens, and the Navigate Home shortcut are hidden under a completely different sub-menu, when they probably should be grouped under one destination input icon.

Voice input is available, but only if your chosen keyboard (such as the stock Android keyboard or Swiftkey) supports it. That makes sense from an ease of implementation perspective, but it would be helpful to the user to have a nice, large one-button access to Android's built-in voice input engine for quick destination input on the go.

Finally, I found that Genius Maps doesn't integrate well with Android's "Share" or "Open with..." functionalities. For example, clicking an address in an email or calendar reminder can takes the user directly to the app, but it doesn't automatically populate the POI/address search function with the address that you clicked to get there. This seems like a missed opportunity to streamline the business of just getting on the road.

geniusmapsmireo09.jpgClicking on an address in a calendar event or Web site will launch Genius Maps, but won't automatically fill the search bar with the destination. Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Make up your mind, Genius

I experienced a bit of weirdness during my testing that I'm not sure whether to attribute to the Genius Maps app or my Nexus 5 phone. For example, the routing system would sometimes get confused about which direction the vehicle was pointed when stopped, and would start asking me to make a U-turn to get back on track. Once I started moving again, the confusion cleared up, but the unnecessary interruptions were mildly annoying. As I said, this could be an issue with my Nexus 5's GPS antenna/compass or an issue with the software.

Weirdness with the automatic traffic rerouting option can definitely be traced back to the software. I found that the system could be a bit indecisive about what way it wanted me to go, bouncing back and forth between routes every few minutes as traffic conditions changed. That's not what I'd call a dealbreaker, but it didn't inspire much confidence in the turn-by-turn direction when I knew that the software could change its mind any moment. The automatic rerouting is defeatable via a menu option, but on the other hand, I do want to be routed around traffic jams. I'd just like the algorithm to be a bit less wishy-washy, or at least ask my permission.

Generally, the Genius Maps' interface seems better suited for handheld use, not in-car use. Though elegantly designed and attractive, it's not so easy to use at arm's length. The interface really could use bigger buttons, at least for the menu and destination input screens, and a bit of streamlining.
The verdict

Free to download but not to use, full Genius Maps by Mireo's Pro Guidance and Traffic in North America costs up to $52.98. Compared to Google Maps' free price tag, that's a hard pill to swallow, but for users who need to operate outside of the land of plentiful and strong wireless connectivity, the $50 price tag is probably better compared with a $100-200 standalone GPS device, and in line with other offline GPS apps I've tested.

geniusmapsmireo02.jpgIt's nice to look at, but Mireo needs to streamline Genius Maps' destination search interface before I can recommend this app. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Genius Maps shows promise, but it's far from perfect. If Mireo can work out the kinks with the the destination search (specifically, give me larger buttons, and combine the search, recents, and favorite destinations pages) in a future update, I'd be more inclined to recommend this app. Until then, I'll be keeping an eye on the changelog.

Not Really Free

Given the following two comments in the article, I don't know why anyone would choose this app over TomTom's or Garmin's.

"Free to download but not to use, full Genius Maps by Mireo's Pro Guidance and Traffic in North America costs up to $52.98."

"The Bottom Line Genius Maps by Mireo shows promise as a sharply designed offline navigation app, but destination input and search could use streamlining."

Shooter N32 39 W97 25 VIA 1535TM, Lexus built-in, TomTom Go