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Here Maps review: Great for maps and directions, but little else

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Nokia also created venue maps with shop names for outdoor shopping areas that aren't part of a mall, such as in San Francisco's Union Square or New York's SoHo shopping district.

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Outdoor venue maps show stores along city blocks. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

I appreciate the thought behind the venue maps, to help you get around a complicated indoor space, but they are poorly executed. The outdoor maps load much too slow, even over a fast WiFi connection, and you have to zoom all the way in to see most store names.

That said, the outdoor maps are much more helpful than the indoor venue maps. Not only do they suffer from the same slow loading problems, but they are also hard to read, and, in the case of shopping malls, often outdated. I can't see any reason to use the built-in venue maps over the signs and physical directories usually found inside an airport, stadium, or mall.

Directions and search
Getting directions in Here Maps is simple, just tap and hold a spot on the map or use search to search by address or keyword, or tap and hold a spot on the map. Once you find the right endpoint, touch the arrow icon on the location pin to get directions from your current location. You can also type in a different "from" location to change your starting point.

The app will give you travel options depending on the distance between the two places. Shorter routes will give you a walking route, while longer distances will automatically pull up public transportation or driving directions. You can automatically launch Nokia's turn-by-turn navigation app, Here Drive, from the driving directions by touching "start navigation."

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When the app loads directions, it will show the route on a map. Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

From my testing, the directions were accurate, but I was disappointed that I couldn't choose alternate routes.

Similar to getting directions, you can tap the magnifying glass icon to search by keyword, such as "Starbucks" or "drugstore," to find nearby places. The app will drop pins for the search results and you can tap on the name to get an address, phone number, and a Web site. On that info page, there are sections for photos and reviews of each place or business, but the sections were mostly or entirely empty for every place I looked at in the app.

I couldn't help but compare Here Maps' search capabilities with Google Maps' on Android. In both apps, I searched for "Starbucks." There's one right next to my office inside a hotel, and one about two blocks down the street, but Here Maps' top result was a Starbucks four blocks away, even though it showed pins for Starbucks outlets that are much closer.

Google Maps' top result for Starbucks was even farther away, so it looks like Here Maps is better at searching, though that will vary based on the search query and the amount of data Nokia has for your search location.

Extra features
Nokia added its augmented-reality technology, called LiveSight, to Here Maps in July 2013. The feature, which you can launch by tapping the eye on your current location pin, shows nearby points of interest over your camera's viewfinder.

As you move your phone, new listings pop up, and you can tap them to get more information. You can also pause LiveSight so you can explore the points of interest on the screen without holding your phone up and rotating it.

I've yet to find an augmented-reality overlay that was worth using instead of just looking at a map, but for fans of this kind of feature, LiveSight works well.

The last major feature of Here Maps is the ability to download entire maps of states or regions to use when you don't have a data signal or Wi-Fi connection. These are great for when you're traveling outside of your service area, or are in a subway without a signal.

The maps only download over Wi-Fi, but once you have one, you can search, get directions, and generally do everything you can do when you have a connection. Here Maps also uses your phone's GPS to find your location, even while offline. The only time that won't work is when the phone is in airplane mode.

Final thoughts
As a mapping app, Here Maps gets the job done. It will get you from point A to point B with little headache, since it easily finds reliable directions. Nokia's offline maps are well done, easy to use, and very helpful if you're trying to conserve data or don't have a signal.

On the other hand, the extra features that Nokia tucked into the app, specifically the satellite and venue maps, are unimpressive and not worth using.

Overall, Here Maps is a decent mapping app if you just need directions or want to browse a map. If you need search and discovery features, you're better off looking elsewhere or using the Yelp or Foursquare apps.

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