In the world of online mapping services, Ask Maps and Directions 2.0 is unique for providing multipoint directions within any Web browser, but it's not a standout. Like its competitors, Ask Maps provides satellite imagery so that you can see landscapes and neighborhoods from the sky, but this sometimes sluggish tool lacks business directories and options for personalization.
Still, we like the uncluttered look and feel of Ask.com's mapping pages, which closely mimic those of Google Maps. The right-hand maps pane lets you choose views of road maps, aerial imagery, or topography, and it offers options for printing, e-mailing, bookmarking, and linking to chosen maps. The left-hand pane displays step-by-step driving and walking directions, but no business listings. We're pleased that many of Ask's aerial views, particularly in urban locations, brought us closer to the ground (as close as six square inches of land per pixel) than Yahoo Maps beta did.
Ask Maps' AJAX technology enables it to work in any Web browser, but we occasionally suffered page-loading delays as long as eight seconds--even slower than the delays within Yahoo's flash-enabled maps.
Luckily, Ask offers keyboard shortcuts that allow you to drag around a map with arrow buttons and zoom in or out with the plus and minus keys. Pressing a number button will take you to that numbered step in your driving directions. And you can right-click the mouse on a location to get driving directions to or from that point. Change your mind about where to go? Just click a route point with the left mouse button and drag it to a new spot. You can also rearrange directions by dragging location points up and down within the left-hand pane.
Like Google Maps, Ask Maps lets you search for a place within a single text field, which we prefer to the sometimes confusing two-field approach of Yahoo and Windows Live. Ask also recognizes three-digit airport codes and allows for some natural-language queries, so you can type Miami to Orlando to New Orleans to plan that road trip.
We appreciate that unlike Google Maps and the otherwise feature-rich Windows Live Local beta, Ask.com provides helpful multipoint driving directions--handy whether you're running errands around town or planning a long-distance road trip. Or if you're planning a scenic jog, you can switch to walking directions. You can add a new location either by typing it into a text field or right-clicking the desired map point. Ask's Directions can navigate among up to 10 different locations, which is impressive, although Yahoo Maps beta enables more than double the number of stops. Once you get directions, Ask.com can play and pause an animation to step you through the route.
Once you find a location, however, Ask Maps doesn't connect with business directories to help you find services in the area--odd, given that Ask offers local business searches. On the upside, Ask Maps is currently ad-free. But if you're in the market for, say, Italian restaurants in Boston, we suggest perusing the user-rated listings within Yahoo Maps beta. Nor does Ask Maps provide a sign-in option, so you can't save and share sets of locations as you can with Yahoo, Google Maps, and Windows Live Local.
Despite its relative lack of features, Ask Maps does offer a bonus novelty: you can buy a poster version of your favorite map to plaster a bird's-eye view of, say, your childhood neighborhood onto your wall.
Tech support is limited for Ask Maps and Directions 2.0, which has only a single help page with tips and shortcuts. While limited tech service is normal for a free online tool such as this one, we'd like an option to search for more information or to contact the service's staff with a query.
Ask Maps and Directions 2.0 is a no-frills tool for finding directions beyond points A and B while seeing a bird's-eye view of locations. However, Yahoo Maps beta offers the same in addition to copious sightseeing and personalization options.