With the Nokia smartphones less inspiring than the current darlings of the mobile industry HTC, Apple and BlackBerry as well as the irresistible forces that are Samsung and LG, it's easy to dismiss what the Finnish company has to offer at the top end.

However, back at the beginning of 2010, Nokia made the move to offer its Ovi Maps and route guidance system up for all to use - all who use the right bunch of Nokia phones, that is. Here's a quick guide as to why that's a more interesting proposition than some might have realised - both those happy to pay for TomTom, Mio Navman and Garmin and those who're singing the praises of Google Maps. 

One of the major complaints with a lot of the satnavs on mobile phone systems is that as soon as you go into the countryside and start losing reception, the whole thing comes crashing down. Ovi Maps doesn't suffer from that problem. The reason is that the application downloads the full map information to your handset rather than constantly having to refer and access the map data in the cloud. So, not only does it require no internet connection to get you from A to B, but it also won't cost you a penny in data as well. If you do choose to run the app in online mode, you get access to a few more features and it might be a smidge quicker with assisted GPS, but otherwise it's the same kettle of fish.

Like TomTom on the iPhone or Google Maps for Navigation, one of the good things about Ovi Maps is that it runs on your mobile phone. When you add that in with the fact that it gives route guidance for both pedestrians and motorists, then it means you only have to bother with one device on you at any one time. Certainly beats bulking out an extra pocket with a big-screened dedicated satnav as well as your handset.

For those still convinced that their dedicated PND (Personal Navigation Device) has superior performance than mobile routing, it's worth pointing out that what you get on an Ovi Maps enabled handset is fully featured. There's lane guidance at big junctions, 3D and 2D mapping, 3D landmarks and even speed limit warnings as well. On its own, there's not the same level of POIs but, that's where the cavalry comes in.

One of the benefits of being online is the access to some of the third-party application content that Nokia was so keen to call in when Ovi Maps was first announced. The two main companies offering their metadata to the Nokia experience are Via Michelin and Lonely Planet. Between the two, there are as many places to sleep, eat, fill up your car and stop and take pictures as you'd expect.

Everyone loves being told what to do by the voice of their satnav even if it's only to ignore it and prove that your local knowledge is best. Ovi maps has all the voice navigation that you'd expect from all PNDs these days. What's more, you can also download all sorts of different people to give you directions as well as your own voice too. Oh, and just in case you want to show off to your passengers, there are 46 different languages to choose from as well.

While there's voice guidance for 74 different countries, there are maps for over 180. You're free to download any of them you like from the Nokia website and, of course, you can use them in offline mode while abroad to avoid roaming charges. Sadly, that means no access to all the POIs from the third parties which is a bit of an oversight, meaning that you lose out on all the rich travel information that both Via Michelin and Lonely Planet would be perfect for when on your hols.

As well as just the talking, you can get Ovi maps to buzz you when a junction that you need to pay attention to is coming up. Why is this important? Well, it's not such a big deal for the motorist but if you're walking about, it means you can keep your expensive smartphone in your pocket and only take it out when you need to rather than holding it out in front of you like a robbery target in some part of town you don't know.

Live traffic information is a service that most satnav providers make you pay extra for in the PND world, but that ain't so with Ovi Maps. Naturally, there's a data usage associated with it but there's no added subscription. If your handset calls back to find congestion issues on your designated route, it'll ask you if you want to try going another way. You'd probably be wise to say yes.

Nokia's rise into satnavs has been rapid, if not unexpected. The writing was always on the wall with the inclusion and pushing of the Nokia maps software on almost every phone the company sold in the face of the ubiquitous Google Maps. It was the acquisition of the German route planning software company Gate5 in 2006 and then later the mapping giant NAVTEQ that suddenly gave Nokia all the tools it needed. With NAVTEQ's great rival Tele Atlas now owned by TomTom and Google making waves in the mapping space, it's looking like an interesting battleground for the future.

The most important thing to know about Ovi Maps is that it's completely free. You can download it onto a good clutch of medium and high-end Nokia devices anywhere you like and pick up as many different maps as your handset can hold. Whereas TomTom and Co. will cost you cash and Google Maps for Navigation will only work in the US and UK, Ovi Maps is the only one that's both universal and completely without charge. Now, if only Nokia could make some smartphones we wanted to buy...