Google Maps for iOS review: The king of maps keeps getting better

Google got it right. Screenshot by Kent German/CNET

We'll include a couple of examples here, and we're sure that you have your own, but there are many to choose from (remember when we tried to search for Union Square? ). On a local level, both apps were able to locate a restaurant in San Francisco's Hayes Valley neighborhood, but only Google got it on the street corner. As another example, CNET's Dong Ngo had his own problem when he searched for a business on Front Street. Here again, Google Maps got it right, but Apple misdirected him a few blocks away. Outside of the Bay Area, Apple Maps somehow put the Oregon Capitol building in Madison, Wis., and wasn't able to find the not-so-small community of San Bernardino, Calif. Perhaps it confused the city with San Bernardino County, but there's no excuse for placing it in a very uninhabited region of the Mojave Desert.

No, Oregon isn't in Wisconsin. Screenshot by Kent German/CNET

Salem, where Oregon's Capitol is. Screenshot by Kent German/CNET

After finding a location, an expanded info sheet at the bottom of your iPhone screen (just under the name on iPad) gives you the hours for restaurants, and a phone number if you need to make a reservation. And though it's not immediately obvious, you can swipe horizontally among results on your iPhone without going back to the map. If you sign in with your Google account, you can save searches so you have them handy for later. You also can see Google reviews or Zagat reviews if it's a restaurant. Unlike on Apple Maps, we're perfectly comfortable not having to interact with Yelp.

Where San Bernardino isn't. Screenshot by Kent German/CNET

Thanks, Google, that's better. Screenshot by Kent German/CNET

One of the biggest features in the Google Maps for iOS is turn-by-turn directions with voice. When you search for an address, the app displays several routes in a list before you set off. But it also has a route options button near the top that lets you choose to avoid highways or avoid roads and bridges that require a toll. Once you select your route, Google Maps shows it on the map with the estimated time it will take to get there.

To start turn-by-turn directions with voice, simply hit the Start arrow in the lower right to get a 3D view of your route. As you drive or walk, you will be given audio directions for when you should make every turn. In our early testing, the app didn't miss a turn, and was capable of rerouting if I went off course. In other words, the experience is the same as you'd get from Google Maps on a computer. In a previous CNET comparison between the Apple Maps and the Web version of Google Maps, Apple did a decent job with turn-by-turn directions mostly, but Google was better.

Urban dwellers will appreciate the integrated transit and walking directions in Google's mapping app. Apple's decision to skip that feature remains inexplicable; users should never lose a feature with nothing to really replace it. The experience is the same as what you had before, which is to say, accurate and easy to use. See our previous evaluation of the feature for the full story. We wrote it based on the Web version of Google Maps, but the idea is the same.

The app still doesn't integrate with your handset's contacts list as Apple Maps does, but it does let you access contacts saved in Google. Simply sign in to your account and you'll be able to search for a friend's name. Google Maps will recognize the contact information (if you've entered it), and give you directions to that person's house.

Google Maps
New Explore features in version 2.0 let you browse categories to help you find restaurants and shops nearby. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

New features in version 2.0
The latest version of Google Maps released in July, 2013 added several new and useful features. A new Zagat experience with enhanced restaurant cards gives you star ratings, restaurant reviews, and more information about locations than the previous version. You also can look at related features by Zagat, to find the best restaurants in a particular neighborhood or the best burger joints in the whole city, when available.

The new app also gives you better directions to your destination. Google Maps will now find live traffic data notifying you of accidents on your route and offer new route options as traffic conditions change. You'll get incident reports as you travel and an automatic reroute option to keep you out of a congested area.

Google Maps
An enhanced Zagat experience in version 2.0 adds star ratings and reviews from other users and your friends. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Possibly the best new addition to Google Maps is the new Explore experience. Whether you're on an iPhone or iPad, touching the empty search field brings up an Explore button. Touch it to see categories such as Eat, Drink, Shop, Play, and Sleep. Depending on what you're looking for, you can use Explore to see suggestions for food, activities, hotels, and interesting locations in your current area. Each of the categories is smartly divided to help you get exactly what you want. In the Eat section, for example, you can look at lists of local favorites, fast-food options, bakeries, ice cream, and more, all with starred reviews if you want to read what people are saying. The app had a couple of buttons for looking at recommendations in the previous version, but the new layout is fun to browse and the subcategories really help you find exactly what you're looking for.

If you haven't downloaded the Google Maps app yet (and, seriously, why haven't you?), do so now. Even if you don't think you'll use it that much, download it and let it sit on your iOS device. It's free, after all, and you never know when you might need it. All the new features in the latest version only add to the experience, with smarter rerouting based on traffic, expanded Zagat info, and the Explore feature that comes in handy whether you're traveling or just want to find a quality establishment in your hometown.

We think this is mapping done correctly. It's accurate, chock-full of information, and easy to use. At this point, it beats any competing offerings by a mile (pun intended) and it's our go-to choice for navigation on iOS. So, have you downloaded it yet?

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    About The Author

    Jason Parker has been at CNET for more than 13 years. He is the Senior Editor in charge iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.

    About The Author

    Senior Managing Editor Kent German leads the CNET Reviews and Download editors in San Francisco. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he still writes about the wireless industry and occasionally his passion for commercial aviation.