Offline maps have so many benefits, ranging from avoiding roaming charges to faster, more reliable operation. So it’s interesting to see that, finally, Google Maps offers some of the offline features we’ve been advocating and delivering for years.
We took Google Maps’ latest update for a spin and we created an easy comparative chart to help you assess the good, the bad and the ugly of the new offering.
There are many reasons why offline navigation is important. According to Google, and we agree, “roughly 60 percent of the world is without Internet today, and even where online access is available, it can still be spotty,” plus there’s the fact that, in many countries, 500MB of data costs a week’s wages.
With offline support, your favorite maps app also works faster and more reliably because it doesn’t have to load a huge amount of data over cellular before working. So you won’t notice if you lose connection in the subway, because the maps continue working.
Last but not least, you don’t want to pay huge roaming bills when you visit another country and want to find your way around.
To make this happen, Google introduced a nice way to download maps to your smartphone: you zoom into the area you want to make available offline and press a button to save it – although most cities aren’t the shape of a box. With HERE Maps you have a list of countries and regions available for download.
The bad, and the ugly…
Because we were the first to bring offline maps to Android, we’ve been finding ways to make it better than ever. These are some of the elements you might not be happy about if you use Google Maps in offline mode.
1. Online first
Google Maps remains an ‘online first’ app: as soon as it detects a connection, it will go online, no matter what. It’s almost like a gimmick and clearly intended for when you’re planning ahead on a special trip. Considering that Google’s business is perceived by many to be all about capturing your data, we’re not surprised they chose this implementation.
Sure, being online means you’re receiving traffic info, satellite images, transit real time data and more. But sometimes you just want to use the app completely offline, for instance when you might incur expensive roaming costs. With HERE Maps, you have the choice between offline and online.
2. Storage hungry
Downloading maps for offline use impacts your smartphone’s storage. With HERE Maps, you can download the entire state of California for less than 540MB. Google Maps needs about the same amount of space for just part of Northern California.
3. Limited coverage
Are you in Spain or planning a vacation there? If you’re planning to use Google’s offline features, you’re out of luck. HERE Maps has offline maps for 132 countries. Google’s international coverage, or lack of it, is unclear at this point. According to our tests, offline maps are also not available in countries that include Argentina, Chile, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Indonesia, Morocco, Russia, Estonia and Cyprus.
4. Limited capabilities
When you’re using HERE Maps or Google Maps in offline mode, you can search for places and plan routes there by car.
But with HERE Maps you can also select up to three different routes and your preferences (i.e. fastest, shortest, optimized).
Additionally, you get walk navigation and transit directions even when you’re offline. Pretty useful, especially if you’re travelling.
With Google, you can’t.
5. Limited availability
Do you have an iPhone and you want to use offline navigation? You can wait for Google Maps or you can use HERE Maps now.
6. 3D maps
This is a comparison of the respective 3D maps functionality. You be the judge.
Vote for your favourite in our Twitter poll.