Google maps in test: free navigation with precise traffic situation information

The free google maps makes paid navigation solutions look old. Especially the traffic jam forecasts are impressively accurate. A detailed test of this navi-app for android and iphone. A soon to be released update will also bring valuable improvements.

Google Maps in test: free navigation with accurate traffic location information

Purpose and target group: free navigation for everyone

Google maps (full name: "google maps transit& essen") for iphone and ipad (and apple watch as well as imessage) as well as for android smartphones and android tablets and for desktop pc is an ingenious navigation app for car drivers (also for carplay and android car users ), cyclists and pedestrians, but also for public transport users. The map material is available for over 220 countries and territories according to google. small details of the appearance and possibly the arrangement of some menu items may differ between the ios and the android version, but the scope of services is identical.

improvements from may 2021

A google maps update should ensure that google maps reduces the risk of accidents. in addition, for selected cities, the maps will be more accurate and google maps will display more relevant information depending on the day and time of day.

In this article we will focus on google maps on iphones and android smartphones, i.e. in the classic use as a navigation device during the journey. How to work with google maps on your computer, read this article.

conclusion: accurate, powerful free navigation with many extras

Google maps is one of the best navigation solutions. The accuracy of the traffic situation forecasts is top notch, the map material is almost always up to date. If you install google maps on your smartphone, you no longer need a separate navigation device and can also save on a high-priced fixed navigation solution.

In addition, you can use google maps to immediately find shopping, overnight accommodation, places to eat and places of interest at any location. The app is intuitive to use and self-explanatory.

online navigation with always up-to-date maps

Detailed maps, also as satellite view

automatic software and map updates

offline use also possible

Very accurate real time traffic situation data

Many search categories away from traffic

Intuitive usability and extremely simple destination entry

Thanks to google search, google maps recognizes almost any desired destination

Voice output supports many languages

Your movement data and your search queries end up at google

limited use in areas with poor mobile network coverage if no offline maps have been downloaded

Small smartphone screen compared to a PNA or a fixed navigation device in the car

Smartphone battery is running low, smartphone is getting hot

Cable clutter on the dashboard

table of contents

Search and destination entry: it couldn’t be easier

The use is very simple. Start the google maps app and enter a specific address, the name of the place of interest (for example "botanical garden or "zoo or "bismarkturm"), the name of a business or any description of a function (VW workshop, saddlery, etc.).) in the search field at the top of the screen. Alternatively, enter your destination by voice command. If the car is already in motion, you should enter destinations only by voice command. With "ok google, take me home" start navigation to your home address immediately, if it is stored in the system.

So stellt sich die App bei der Suche dar

Google maps uses the full power of the google search engine to suggest suitable search terms in a drop-down list after the first few letters entered. Even a 3000 euro infotainment system from the factory does not find more hits than google maps for 0 euro.

Select the appropriate suggestion or enter your search term completely. you don’t have to pre-select a rubric or category for your search, just type it in. It couldn’t be simpler and this destination input differs pleasantly from the outdated and cumbersome destination input of some modern stand-alone navigation devices (PNA "personal navigation assistant"), where you usually use rigidly predefined selection categories such as "gas station" or "car rental", "restaurant" or "workshop" have to preselect and then enter the name first.

Tip: you can create a route in google maps in your browser on your PC and then send it conveniently to your smartphone. requires you to be logged in with your google account.

Send the route from the PC to the smartphone

choice of means of transport: car, public transport, on foot, by bike and by plane

Once the destination is set, tap on "route" and then select the mode of transport you are using from the list of buttons above (car, local transport, pedestrian, cyclist, plane). The app shows the route on the map and the travel time for each mode of transport. There is also specific information for each mode of transport. For example, you can find the traffic situation for cars, the transfer points for public transport and a practical height profile for pedestrians and cyclists by swiping upwards from the bottom of the screen. by the way, the default setting is car – if you want to use this means of transport, tap on "start" in the bottom right-hand corner. Otherwise, change the mode of transport and then tap on "start". at your fingertip, navigation starts with map display and spoken instructions.

Selection of the means of transport

You can also set a commute route and then let google maps inform you in advance if there are any delays there. Tap on "commute" at the bottom of the screen to set up your commute route or to view the current data for an already set commute route.

Fine-tuning the route selection

Before you start navigation, you can specify conditions for the route under "settings" (the three-point menu in the top right corner of the ios app): for example, you can avoid freeways or toll roads, block ferries from selecting the route, or turn off voice output. Or insert intermediate stops. The subsequent insertion and deletion of intermediate destinations also works flawlessly.

All of this worked flawlessly on our several hundred kilometer test drive through upper bavaria. For example, google maps guided us far away from highways only over scenic country roads, state roads and federal highways. In this way, you can to some extent avoid the shortcoming that google maps does not offer a selection option for routes that are particularly worth seeing (see below).

Tip: if you want to get to your destination quickly afterwards, you have to select the option "avoid highways" disable again.

But if you want to search for a specific category: no problem!. With google maps, you can immediately find restaurants (including the use of delivery and pick-up services), gas stations, grocery stores, cafes, hotels, and imbisshops as well as pharmacies at the location you are looking for – with information about the current business hours. but also gyms, museums, cinemas and other recreational opportunities. you want to stretch your legs when visiting a foreign city? No problem: parks can also be found in no time with google maps. For all these categories, there are quick-access buttons at the top of the map in the app.

Send the route from the PC to the smartphone

Quickly get home or to work: if you have defined addresses for home and work, these will also be displayed as quick access buttons at the top of the map.

You can also browse and discover the entries under "news" or "news from the region" or "sightseeing" at the bottom of the map screen you can select a category. there you will find the same content as you would find using the headings above, such as "restaurants" and "cafes" would find. With ratings and distance information and illustrated throughout. If you are a stranger in a city, this is a helpful way to get started. for the moment you can find the "infos about covid-19" at the top of this page. this information comes from google local guide. we present google local guide here in detail.

at the very bottom of the screen there is another quick access bar for your commuting route and for favorites, among other things.

map type and map details

Using the selection icon at the top right of the map, you can choose between the map types select standard, satellite and terrain views.

Left the map view, right the satellite view

You can also select map details show additional information like the current traffic situation (with the real time traffic situation data, which is very accurate according to experience) or public transport or the covid-19 location. For a meaningful presentation of the covid 19 incidence figures, however, you will have to zoom out a little from the map in order to be able to recognize differences between the individual regions. A special bonus, although not without controversy for data protection reasons, is the street view, which you can also have displayed here. Street-view is also available for larger building complexes such as shopping malls or airports in at the disposal of these buildings.

Map type and Map details

Google maps shows map as a globe

Since august 2018, google maps shows the earth as a globe in the desktop browser once you have activated satellite view and turned on globe view. In the google maps smartphone app and in the mobile browser, however, google maps still shows the earth as a "disk" dar. The result is that land masses are distorted.

Help with changing public transport

Since google takes into account not only traffic congestion and obstructions on the roads, but also the departure times of public transport, you can display a route with exact transfer and arrival times for all means of transport. Google maps reminds the user to change when using google maps to navigate by public transport. Google has compiled a list of public transportation providers covered for google maps here.

hints for wheelchair-accessible mass transit

Google shows since 16. March 2018 for some local transport lines, whether they can be used by wheelchair users without any problems. in order for google maps to display these wheelchair-accessible routes, you must first select "public transportation" in google maps when determining a route and then select the "wheelchair-accessible" entry at the very bottom under "options.

Wheelchair accessible

Live view for pedestrian navigation

If you select pedestrian navigation, then the optional "live view" function will help you find your way with direction arrows and directions displayed directly in the camera image and the map at the bottom of the screen. google also displays landmarks in the camera image for easier orientation. To use live view, you need to tap on "live view" instead of the "start" button to start pedestrian navigation. Then navigate in the camera view. In the pedestrian view without live view, on the other hand, you are looking at the classic map display in the app.

Pedestrian navigation also works in large public buildings such as shopping malls, airports or museums. So for all buildings, for which google maps offers the indoorkarten.

Live view can also be started from the map via the button at the bottom right edge.

Indoor maps

indoor maps are available for certain museums, shopping malls or airports. To do this, you need to zoom into the building in question until you see the building map. In the browser view on the computer, you can select the floors at the bottom right for this purpose. usually you will also find information like opening hours or phone number and website for each business marked on the indoors map.

Google maps shows parking situation at destination

Google maps shows since the 30. August 2017 for selected german cities, the expected parking situation at the destination of the navigation is displayed. Google determines the parking situation based on historical data (i.e. experience values), which are also evaluated using machine learning.

Parking situation at destination

Enter a navigation destination in the google maps app and select car as your mode of transportation. If the navigation destination is located in one of the cities mentioned above, a colored P-icon in the center below the map shows you the expected parking situation. In addition, there is a short description next to the icon. a red P-icon and "difficult" means that the parking situation is tight. A blue icon indicates an "average" parking situation and a green icon indicates a relaxed situation.

if you are looking for concrete parking possibilities at your destination, enter "parking" together with your destination. google maps will then show you parking options, but without taking into account the occupancy rate.

Incognito mode, location sharing and location history

If you do not want google to store your search history data or update your shared location with google maps, you should enable incognito mode. turn this on by tapping on your image icon to the right of the search screen and then selecting "enable incognito mode.

You can also change the settings under "settings" disable location sharing so your friends can’t follow you on google maps. under "my data" you can also prevent google maps from saving your location history.

Important: check from time to time in the "settings" under "google maps history, what data google maps has stored about you. delete entries if necessary. you can also specify here that google maps does not save the course. This works reliably.

During navigation: focus on what is important

Google maps always shows you the route on the map during navigation. Additionally google maps gives you voice instructions. Important: turn up the volume of your smartphone to full power. Google maps only shows the most necessary information, so that the small smartphone screen is not overloaded and the driver can see everything important immediately without having to search for a long time. unlike many navigation devices, Google maps does not display distracting messages such as "lane narrowing" (due to a car on the hard shoulder) or "dangerous weather" (due to heavy rain) while you are driving.

Various search möglichkeiten wähend der Fahrt

The name of the current road and the direction of travel are shown at the top, the next turnoff is shown below it on the left, and the current location including the traffic situation is shown in the middle of the map (red: traffic jam, orange: slow-moving, green/blue – depending on the display: free flow). As soon as you have to turn, corresponding turn arrows appear at the top edge and, for example, on the freeway a simply designed lane indicator appears.

Über das Menü am unteren Bildschirmrand stellt Google Maps unterschiedliche Möglichkeiten zur Verfugungügung

on the top right there is the search input field for gas stations, restaurants, supermarkets, cafes and the general web search (which finds almost everything), the volume control (the volume can be quickly adjusted via an icon) and the northing arrow.

Route description show and search along the route

Below google maps gives the estimated time of arrival, the distance to the destination and the remaining driving time. In this lower field google maps also signals congestion warnings and alternative routes. you can also start a search along the route and see the directions. here you will also find the settings menu, where you should definitely activate the traffic situation information.

Measure distance with google maps

measure distance with Google Maps

You can use the google maps app for android and ios to measure the distance between two or more points in no time at all. press on any point on the map to set the start marker. then tap on the "set marker" menu that appears at the bottom and then tap on "measure distance. now scroll with the map to your desired destination point. The distance traveled between the starting point and the destination is constantly updated by google maps at the bottom of the screen. via "add point" you can add further waypoints. If you want to measure larger distances, then simply zoom out from the map.

"measure distance" is of course also available in the desktop version in the browser. But the procedure is different, we explain it here.

If there is a disruption on the originally planned route, google maps automatically calculates an alternative route and offers it to the user for adoption. a message will appear on the screen and a spoken hint will be displayed.

Theoretically, you can switch from the simple map view to the satellite view here at any time. The latter may help you to orientate yourself by means of conspicuous waymarkers, but overall the map view is clearer and, above all, much less data goes through the line for it. In addition to the map and satellite view, there is also a terrain map, which may be helpful in winter to avoid higher and therefore snowy areas in the mountains.

you can stop navigation at any time by tapping on the cross in the bottom right corner or adjust the settings later while navigation is running.

Route progress share

In a running navigation, you can share your current location ("share route progress") at any time with a desired contact or search specifically along the route. You can find the necessary menu by swiping up from the bottom of your smartphone.

Quality of navigation: convincing

Google maps is one of the best navigation solutions around. During our long-term test, the pnas of well-known manufacturers repeatedly guided us in the wrong direction – google map brought us back on the right track again. Real-time traffic information is extremely accurate and arrives close to the time of the incidents on the road ahead.

Comparison with tomtom, garmin and here

To test the quality of google maps navigation, we ran the google maps app in parallel with navigation devices from tomtom, garmin and the here app. It became apparent that no solution is perfect. even with the top model among the pnds of a well-known manufacturer, we suddenly found ourselves in tuscany in front of a railroad embankment not marked on its current map, which interrupted our side road. A further journey was not possible, we had to turn back. google maps also shows occasional weaknesses, but in the mass and in the long run the app is just as good as the pnds of well-known manufacturers. The traffic information from google maps is sometimes even better than that of the paid competition.

In the one-week test on sicily, google maps proved its efficiency by and large. The app usually provided reliable directions even on remote, small roads in the interior of the island, and usually showed the flow of traffic correctly in large cities. in direct comparison with here wego google maps usually delivered the better results.

No reporting function for germany

No reporting function für Germany

In the USA, users of google maps can "radar trap" accidents or report objects on the road and other events to google. About a button on the right edge of the map. However, this reporting function is not available in germany, the corresponding button is missing. Apple is testing a similar feature in ios 14.5 beta in the USA.

In urban areas, however, google maps got confused a few times in dense traffic and gave us wrong directions. On an extensive and long highway construction site google maps once completely lost the thread. Here, google maps obviously lacked the latest map material.

The restaurant search was also a bit of a problem: google maps twice showed restaurants as open, even though they were actually closed. Obviously outdated information was available here.

Important for using google maps on vacation: be sure to download the map sections you need in advance to your smartphone via WLAN.

The voice instructions are sufficiently detailed and not too garrulous. These voice instructions can give google maps in numerous languages, of course also in German. The number of supported languages google expands every now and then.

Good mobile connection is important

the map material is downloaded from the google servers to the smartphone only while the navigation is running via the mobile radio connection. This has the big advantage that the maps are (almost) always up to date and the user does not have to worry about map updates in contrast to classic navigation devices or other navigation apps or navigation systems permanently installed in the car and therefore does not incur any costs – the car manufacturers pay a lot for map updates.

But this also means that if you have a poor mobile connection, the maps are often slow to arrive. Above all, the monthly data volume of the mobile phone contract is soon exhausted with intensive use. In the non-EU foreign countries, the roaming costs are also added. Except for Iceland, Liechtenstein and norway, where roaming charges are also waived for german users.

Real-time traffic situation with automatic determination of alternative routes

google maps predicts arrival times very accurately, there are no hectic time jumps like with some other solutions with constant changes in arrival time: sometimes 30 min ahead and then 30 min back again (see below). Google maps also doesn’t give any pointless pseudo detour suggestions that only lead via hectic side streets with many turns.

Google Maps signals us congestion

In addition to the high hit rate for the navigation destinations entered, it is above all the impressively accurate traffic situation data that makes google maps an excellent navigation solution. Because the hundreds of millions of android smartphones, android tablets and even some fixed android-based navigation devices constantly send anonymized location data to the android servers while they are in operation – provided the owners of the android devices agree to this, which should be the case as a rule.

On the alternative route we have a äsimilar arrival time

With this database, most competitors can’t compete. And the old tmcpro doesn’t anyway. Google maps not only provides more accurate directions, and drivers know from the outset what time they should expect to arrive, but they also drive in a much more relaxed manner because Google maps doesn’t constantly annoy them with new detour suggestions. As a result, the risk of distraction with google maps is much lower than with many other navigation solutions.

Fünf minutes of congestion ahead

If google maps can’t receive traffic information because the mobile connection is interrupted, it displays a message at the bottom of the screen and also gives a voice message. Likewise, the user gets a notice when traffic situation data is received again.

At the nächst intersection turn left  no congestion ahead

If there are delays due to traffic jams during the journey, google maps displays a message at the bottom of the screen and predicts the new estimated time of arrival. If the google server determines a faster alternative route in the background, google maps also displays this in the lower message box and at the same time by voice message. the driver can then accept or reject the new alternative route. google maps displays accidents and other important events at the top of the screen. If you click on an accident warning on the display, then detailed information about it appears.

Google Maps warns us of an accident

Google maps’ congestion warnings are impressively accurate: even a brief delay caused by a truck slowing down following traffic in the fast lane on the freeway was shown by Google maps in orange as a delay. Although the truck drove at most three minutes ahead of us! There were about five cars between the truck and us – there must have been enough android devices in them for the google servers to be able to validly display the traffic situation. After the truck had moved back to the right lane and the cars accelerated, google maps immediately showed us a free lane.

Google Maps points us to a faster route  This suggestion canöwe accept or reject

Always well informed: google maps warns you by voice output while driving that traffic is getting tighter, but you are still on the fastest route. You can tap on another alternative route on the map during a routing and then you will be shown how long you would be on the road there. Google also shows you how much longer or if you have been on an alternative route for the same amount of time.

Tip: you can install a widget on your iphone and android smartphone that always shows you the current traffic situation around your current location.

iOS widget

offline maps: save data volume and surf with a bad mobile connection

as already mentioned, Google maps continuously downloads the latest map and data material while you are using it. of course, this will cost you the monthly data volume of your mobile phone contract. in areas with poor mobile reception, navigation may even be disrupted. You can avoid these two problems by downloading the entire map material to your smartphone via WLAN before you start your journey. The feature is called offline maps.

Data consumption from google maps

How to use offline maps: enter your navigation destination. then scroll the buttons below the map all the way to the right to "download" and tap on it. you can resize the map section now displayed until your route is completely included in the section. then tap on "download. The map material is now completely stored on your smartphone.

You can find all maps saved offline under the menu item "offline maps" – in google maps, tap on your profile picture in the top right-hand corner and then on "offline maps" in the selection menu that then appears. There you will see all offline maps stored on your smartphone and you can choose "select your own map" to create and save the map material for a new route at any time. You should give the saved maps meaningful names. You can change these names again at any time.

from time to time google reminds you to have these maps updated. a few days before expiration, google maps sends a message that the stored offline maps are expiring and therefore need to be updated. So you always have the latest map material when you start navigation. Then, when you’re on the road, you only need the cellular connection to receive real-time traffic information. But this causes hardly any data traffic.

Especially in the test abroad, the offline maps of google maps proved excellent.

Power consumption

Google maps drains the battery considerably during navigation. You will also notice that the smartphone is getting hot. so charge your smartphone fully before you start your journey and/or take a car charger with you.

What we miss

As powerful and easy to use as google maps is, there are some features we miss. Google maps, for example, does not indicate existing speed limits. Also missing is a lane- and turn-assistant. Google maps also does not display freeway exit signs for exits that are based on the original ones, which make it easier to find your way quickly. But you can get over that. A day and night switching is however available.

When selecting the route, you cannot specify that you are traveling in a car with a trailer, a camper, another oversized vehicle or even a truck and therefore need especially spacious roads without tight curves and narrow passages or low underpasses. Google maps cannot determine a specific route that is also suitable for particularly large and long vehicles. for this purpose it is advisable to buy a special navigation device like the tomtom go camper.

There is also no choice for the type of route: fastest, shortest, most beautiful, most environmentally friendly. For car or motorcycle riders, there is no option to select routes that are particularly curvy and/or worth seeing (for example, alley road o.a.).

Competition and alternatives

Apple maps: google maps competes directly with apple maps. apple maps is also a free online navigation with accurate real-time traffic information from tomtom. Unlike google maps, however, apple maps does not offer the option to download maps in advance. a real disadvantage, especially for mobile phone contracts with tight monthly data volumes or for trips to non-EU countries (roaming costs)!

Here we go: another competitor of google maps is here we go from audi, BMW and daimler. here is also free and offers real time traffic information as well. Unlike google maps, however, here installs the map material on the smartphone. This saves the mobile phone contract and facilitates navigation even in the absence of a mobile phone connection. A point for here.

But google maps counters with its impressively accurate traffic situation information, which in our experience is more accurate than that from here. In this respect, google maps and here complement each other perfectly – if you have enough memory on your smartphone, install both navigation apps and use here as a replacement for google maps as soon as you no longer have a mobile connection or are traveling to non-EU countries.

Tomtom and sygic: google maps, here we go and apple maps are, in our experience, perfectly sufficient for even demanding(!) master driving situations. You no longer need a (at least partially) paid navigation app like tomtom or sygic.

Waze: waze is also owned by google and, just like google maps, is a popular free online navigation solution. Waze therefore requires a continuous internet connection. Waze offers traffic jam warnings, accident alerts and speed camera alerts.

PNA/stand-alone navigation devices and fixed navigation devices ex factory: the google search integrated in google maps finds significantly more navigation destinations than the often inflexible searches of many standard navigation devices. on a trip to the altmuhl valley, for example, our expensive navigation device failed miserably, while google maps found the small pension we were looking for immediately. When searching for navigation destinations or points-of-interest, google beats all competitors from all price classes – be it stand-alone navigation devices such as those from tomtom or garmin or factory-installed navigation solutions from car manufacturers.

google maps is usually faster on a modern smartphone than pnas, because the latter are usually equipped with comparatively cheap and less powerful hardware (slow reacting touchscreen, weaker gps chip, weaker chip).

However, both pnas and the factory-installed navigation devices offer significantly larger screens and thus more clarity. In addition, using them saves your smartphone (which gets hot while using google maps) and its battery capacity.

Tip: you can avoid the disadvantage of the small smartphone screen with carplay for apple iphone and android auto for android smartphones. Both systems use the large monitor installed in the car.

Google maps under android auto

Google Maps delivers under Android Auto the usual exact traffic situation information

Google maps is the default navigation of android auto. we have tested android auto on numerous vehicles, google maps worked everywhere in the usual way.

with a long press on the voice control button in the steering wheel, you start google assistant and you can get started with voice commands: "where can i go for a coffee in parkstadt schwabing now??", we wanted at 8.30 o’clock know, while we were moving on the A9 in the slow-moving traffic towards munich. Within seconds android auto showed us a list of cafes and hotels where we can get a hot drink in parkstadt schwabing. to each of these hits we could be navigated immediately by google maps.

After that we asked google where VW garages are nearby. Again, google immediately showed us a list of nearby VW garages on the screen.

During the above activities, google maps guided us all the time to our destination: the IDG editorial building in parkstadt schwabing. The navigation worked with the usual precision of google maps: voice instructions in sufficient number, timely turn-by-turn directions and above all the accurate traffic situation data with quite precise prediction of the arrival time. the map also showed a small lane assistant when we had to leave the highway. And the traffic situation was also signaled to us by google maps in the usual colors.

by the way: as soon as the navigation of android auto runs with google maps, a navigation that is already running on the car’s permanently installed navigation device is aborted.

Google maps with apple carplay

Google Maps in Carplay on the 15-inch touchscreen of VW Touareg

since the release of ios 12, iphone owners can finally use google maps together with apple carplay. This makes the powerful and very accurate google maps navigation available to drivers on large, in-car touchscreens. the purchase of the often several thousand euro expensive navigation system of the car manufacturer is thus superfluous.

Instead, when they order a new car, they only buy carplay or the equipment package with carplay. This usually costs between 300 and almost 500 euros. that’s all it takes to get a powerful navigation system in your car with google maps. In addition, carplay also plays music and reads out whatsapp messages and also writes them on your voice command, just to name a few examples.

We have tested google in carplay on the 15 inch touchscreen in the VW touareg. The navigation map is easy to read, the turn-by-turn directions read aloud are perfectly adequate. The most convenient way to enter destinations is by voice: to do this, press the microphone icon on the google maps screen and then speak out your destination. you can save frequently used destinations like your home or your workplace.

hints on delays like traffic jams on the route are displayed by google maps as a small message window in the lower left corner, additionally a short voice hint is displayed. the traffic situation is also displayed in color on the map. As usual, the traffic situation information from google maps is very precise. We especially like the brevity of the voice announcements – while stand-alone navigation devices often babble on for minutes, the voice output of google maps is limited to what is absolutely necessary.

Tip: download the required map material locally to your iphone before you start your journey. After that, you can navigate offline with google maps and only need a mobile connection to receive traffic situation information.

Conclusion: google maps with carplay convinces all around. The only disadvantage: you provide the data octopus with precise position data.

Continue reading on the next pages

Google maps has been around for many, many years. originally started under the name google maps navigation, google has developed its navigation solution further and further. If you want to know what google maps looked like in 2011 and what this navigation system was already capable of then, then continue reading on the second page of this test.

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Christina Cherry
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