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We were pretty thrilled with Google Maps and Google Local for Mobile when we first reviewed it, calling it a big, interactive ball of fun. Now, the folks at Google have added even more functionality to this mobile app by integrating traffic information. The new features are currently limited to 30 U.S. major metropolitan cities, and some other restrictions still apply (only Java-enabled handsets are supported), but we can't deny the coolness and utility of getting driving directions and interactive maps on a cell phone. Google Maps for Mobile is free to download, but you will need a data plan from your service provider (see below).
Google Maps for Mobile can be downloaded to most Java-enabled cell phones, but there's a catch and it's a major one. It works only with mobiles offered by Cingular and Sprint and color BlackBerry devices; if you're a T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless (or BREW-enabled handsets), or Nextel customer, too bad--no Google Maps for you. And Palm Treo owners? Sorry, you're out of luck, too. The encouraging news is that Google says it's working to make the service available to more handsets, so don't give up hope. You can check for your phone's compatibility here. Also, while Google Maps for Mobile is free to download, be aware that you'll need a data plan from your service provider for the airtime used to retrieve maps, traffic information, and so forth. You can purchase plans wherein you pay by the kilobyte, but we recommend you get an unlimited data plan as the charges can add up fast.
For our tests, we downloaded the app to the RIM BlackBerry 8700c by visiting www.google.com/gmm on the mobile's Web browser, and setup was fast and painless. We entered our location, and Google Maps returned with a rendering of the area. It's important to note that Google Maps is not based on GPS technology. You can zoom in and out as well as pan around the map using the phone's keypad. For the most part, the redraw rate was acceptable in our tests, although there were occasions where it took several minutes for the maps to reload. You can also bring up a satellite view, which is always cool.