How much time has Google Maps saved for us, so we can waste it instead on the Internet? Millions of hours? Billions? A lot of us rely on Google Maps, and it just got a massive overhaul for Android. And it’s a great improvement, too… with a few exceptions.
First of all, it looks great on the Nexus 7 and Samsung Galaxy S4. The tablet screen in particular is gorgeous for the new satellite imaging upgrades. The interface is elegant and well-thought-out. Essentially Maps is easier to use in every way possible, in terms of poking at a screen.
Probably the best feature, at least if you’re an obsessive nerd like me, is the fact that if you spot an inaccuracy on Google Maps, you can just shake your phone and it pops up a report screen. Considering how difficult it was before to do this, it’s really handy, and Google might finally get the bus stop near my house right.
Other new features are more cool than useful. For example, Street View now allows you to actually go inside some businesses, look around, maybe check out the cashier, on the go. It’s not in every business, obviously, and the first time you use it, it’s going to weird you out a little bit. The feature teeters right on that line between neat and intrusive, and it’s questionable how handy it’ll actually be in the long run, but it’s certainly attention-getting.
Traffic data is more up to date than ever, and now rerouting away from an accident is as simple as tapping the screen. It’s not as effective or dynamic as Waze, however: Despite Google buying Waze, they haven’t had time to incorporate its technology into Maps yet. Still, it’s an improvement and it’ll probably save you some aggravation.
Just as interesting is what’s missing. Google has dumped Latitude and check-ins from Maps, and in fact will be cutting them out of older versions as well. They’re being shifted over to Google+, where you won’t use them there, either.
There are some flaws, here. First of all, you can still store maps offline, but it’s a pain in the ass: You have to type “OK Maps” into the search box, and wait for it to download. This seems like the kind of thing a button on a touchscreen would have been a useful solution for, Google. At least the downloaded map is big enough to be useful, although you still can’t search it without an Internet connection.
Secondly, it doesn’t support My Maps, and that’s apparently going to wait for the next version of the app. This isn’t a dealbreaker but if you’re a pedestrian looking for shortcuts like me, it can get on your nerves.
Finally, enough with the cruft like Zagat scores, Google. We get it, you’ve got all this data about the restaurant, but we’re perfectly capable of searching for it if we want to know what people think about it. Nobody cares about your star ratings. It’s not that the cards aren’t interesting, and they are at least smartly placed and easy to get rid of. It’s just the one place the app falls over itself to try and stuff information you don’t care about in your eye-holes.
Overall, the Android version of Maps is exactly what you want: A detailed, feature-rich mapping application that rarely gets in its own way and gives you what you want. It’s not perfect, but it’s better.
Now, get on top of My Maps, Google. I need my shortcuts.