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Google Maps Android update adds photos from your phone

The Google Maps Android app adds easier check-ins and new photo-taking features for Google Places, as well as handy public transport directions for visitors to London.

Google Maps has a snap-happy new look. Version 5.8 of the Google Maps Android app adds easier check-ins and new photo-taking features for Google Places, as well as handy public transport directions for visitors to London, which are also available on the desktop and iPhone versions.

Places lists places of interest near you, from bars and restaurants to museums and landmarks. When you arrive at a place, you can register your presence by checking in and rating and reviewing the spot. The update allows you to now add photos when you're there, so other users can see what the place is like.

If you're a wizard with the camera phone, your snap could become the profile picture for the place's page. Your photos can be managed through your Picasa account in an album called Photos for Google Maps.

It's also easier to search for Places with venues displaying keywords such as the food or drink they're known for. A new option lets you add a new Place, and there's a new My Places feature that shows the Places you've searched for, checked into, or bookmarked recently.

Latitude uses your phone to track your movements, so your friends can see where you are and you can see what they're up to. A dashboard shows you where you've been and for how long -- with pie charts!

Update 5.8 also renames the nifty map-caching feature introduced in the last update. You can save a map of the place you're going so you can find your way even without an Internet signal, which is now called Pre-cache Map Area rather than the original name Download Map Area. Yeah, that's much clearer.

It's not just the Android app that's getting a tune-up: the online version of Google Maps now gives public transport directions for London, which you can also access on your smart phone. The coolest part is that when you're following the directions, your phone will alert you when it's time to hop off the bus or train.

The Big Smoke recently went 3D with the addition of rendered buildings in Google Maps on phones and online.

Google Maps for Android is available now from the Android Market, and requires Android 2.1 or above.