Jul 29, 2011 6:10 PM
When I say that Google Maps for Android is one of the most useful programs ever offered on any platform, you might think I'm exaggerating. But I'm completely serious, and what's more, I'm confident that once you begin to unlock its potential you will agree with me.
The first thing you see when you open this app is a blinking arrow corresponding to your location on a map of your immediate area. For basic controls you can drag the map, pinch-and-zoom, or double-tap to center it. You can also use the "+" and "-" buttons to zoom. As you zoom in, more details emerge such as street names and "Places." If the Place is a business, government agency, or the like, you can click on it to get a Place Page for more information and options such as Navigate (turn-by-turn, voice-enabled directions), Directions (your choice of car, public transit, bike, or walking routes), Call, Street View , Buzz (Google's social networking and messaging tool), Share (via e-mail, Facebook, and so on), Add as a contact, or Report a Problem (to correct inaccurate information).
You can Star (top-right) a Place for later reference. More Info sends you to a Google page with links to the Place's Website or other relevant results. That's cool, but still only the beginning. Type or speak your search term to find Places (clickable red pushpins) in your neighborhood. You can toggle between a list and a map view.
Directions is particularly useful when you are trying to find your way in a new area. It estimates the trip distance and duration, and gives turn-by-turn directions. The public transit option will even show you the available buses or trains and let you select your preferred departure or arrival times.
Navigate is a voice-enabled feature that is particularly handy when driving in unfamiliar areas. The app gives plenty of advance notice for turns, and directions are generally very clear and concise. Don't worry if you miss a turn; the app will automatically reroute you. Of course, you still need to watch where you are going!
If you lose track of your current location while exploring the app's features, just press the My Location icon (top right) to snap back.
Layers (top right) allows you to view different kinds of information such as Traffic conditions, a Satellite view, a topographic Terrain view, Transit Lines, previous searches and Directions, Wikipedia entries, previously-saved My Maps, Buzz, and Latitude.
Latitude is an opt-in, location-tracking social networking app that employs your Google account. It shows you where your friends are in relation to you, and lets you share status updates.
Street View is another amazing and useful feature that allows you to preview a location from a ground-level viewpoint. It's very handy for complicated intersections or for finding the proper entry into a building.
My only significant criticism of Maps is that it relies heavily on a strong data connection. If you can't get a signal, the map will stay blank. Since most Android phones now come with a multigigabyte microSD card, it would be nice to be able to at least cache a basic map so that you could still use some basic Maps functionality in areas with poor data coverage. This could be a life-saver if you got lost in a remote area.
In areas with good data coverage, Google Maps can help you to experience your surroundings in a whole new way. Even in a familiar neighborhood, you can discover new things you never knew about. Once you learn to unlock its potential, this amazing app will change your life for the better.