PROS / The directions feature allows you to choose different modes of transport, and you can search the maps by keyword.
CONS / There are no features available for transferring your online maps to a mobile device (although you can access the site directly from a smart phone).
VERDICT / This site is the best on our list for mapping and getting directions to or from area businesses.
Google Maps uses the power of the Google search engine to enhance the standard online maps application. Google Maps is the only site surveyed that readily allows users to search by keyword for points of interest, and its mapping service allows users to refine searches interactively. As a bonus, the site uses images from the popular Google Earth application to provide optional satellite views of locations around the globe. This is also the best site for viewing international online maps because it does not require complete address information. Google Maps is the easiest site to search for well-known locations like the Eiffel Tower by name.
Google Maps’ user-friendly interface and comprehensive map options earned our TopTenREVIEWS Silver Award on our list of the best websites for online maps.
Appeal and Flexibility
Google Maps has a streamlined design with easy-to-use search functions, allowing even first-time users to begin searching for a map within seconds. The site’s flexibility is unparalleled, making it possible to conduct searches by keyword and returning web results to help the user identify the exact desired area for a map. This is one of very few sites we surveyed that could understand a request for a map of “Great Pyramids of Egypt” or “Grand Canyon.” As an added bonus, the Google results that pop up when you perform a search are integrated with Google’s business listings, making it easy get more information about area businesses including user reviews and website links.
Google Maps is one of the leading sources for driving directions, and its coverage area extends around the world. Like other sites with driving directions, Google Maps provides both a map of the route and turn-by-turn directions. While Google Maps does not provide draggable routes, it does have an integrated 360° view at each turn in the directions. By clicking on the camera icon next to each step, the map will center and zoom to that step, and a split screen will pop up with the street-level view of that location, allowing the user to pick up landmarks and other visual cues to help with navigation in unfamiliar areas. To explore the area within the street-level view, use the arrows to turn and scan. A white arrow will also appear indicating the mapped route, and by clicking on this arrow you can follow the route at street level.
Google Maps makes use of the many user-generated features available on Google, like the aforementioned business listings with reviews. The “Explore this Area” link leads to user-generated photographs and videos of points of interest in your map area. Anyone with a Google account can upload images and other multimedia files to enhance an area’s map offerings. There is also a section of user-generated themed maps where, for example, users can upload a custom hiking trail or a tour of the area’s best Lebanese restaurants.
The “Search Nearby” link allows the user to search the surrounding area of a mapped point by keyword, making it easy to find, for example, the nearest tattoo parlor or Chinese restaurant. To boot, when you pick a nearby business you can view its Google profile, user reviews and a link to its website, if available. All of the map browsing features are run by a Flash application, so your computer must be Flash-enabled to view maps and street views.
Ease of Use
Google Maps got full marks for its ease of use; the site makes it is so easy to search for online maps that virtually any level of user can figure out what to do. The simple search form is much more user-friendly than the other sites’ search fields that require exact address information. If you have an address in the improper format, you can simply paste it into the search field and Google will be able to decipher it. Not only is it easy to find the online maps you want, but Google’s integrated search engine and business profiles make it possible to find a wealth of information about different businesses and sites around the world. Several buttons appear around the map with view options, making it easy to display things like traffic conditions, photos/videos of an area and even real estate for sale.
Help and Support
Google Maps has the most help/support options of any online map site we surveyed, but the resources are tricky to find. Go to the main Google page and click “About Google.” From there, click “Help” and then “Map Help,” which displays all the resources available for Google Maps users. Here you will find tutorials, tips and places to submit suggestions, report problems and contact an administrator. The Google blog contains information about Google Maps services and features, but all blog entries are grouped together and there is no separate blog just for maps.
Google Maps is one of the smartest pieces of software for online maps, using the power of the Google search engine and the Google Earth application to provide comprehensive information about virtually every place on earth. With its integrated 360° street view capabilities in many areas, satellite imagery of the entire planet and standard street map views, Google Maps caters to many different navigational styles at once.
Most mapping sites require exact address information to begin searching, but Google Maps uses its smart search engine technology to allow users to find places with only partial information and then refine their searches through the web results if needed. With various options for directions (including walking and public transit), the directions function on Google Maps is superior to that of other sites. Google Maps truly deserves to be named one of the best sources for online maps.