Google Maps 5.0 adds 3D mode, offline features

Just in time for the Nexus S release, Google's free map application continues to improve with the addition of 3D mode and offline reliability.

Offline caching and 3D mode make Google Maps 5.0 a must-have app.

Timed to coincide with today's release of the Nexus S, Google made good on its promise to launch an update to its Google Maps app. Now available in the Android Market, Maps 5.0 offers a few major improvements over its predecessors.

First up is the 3D capability, which lets users see a simulated skyline for more than 100 cities around the world. And thanks to the use of vectors, you can get a different perspective by tilting the map forward for an angled view. To get there, just drag two fingers downward across the display. The same multitouch feature allows pinch-to-zoom and the ability to rotate maps by turning two fingers.

Along similar lines, you can enter compass mode by tapping the compass icon in the top right corner. The map will enter 3D mode and continually rotate to point in the direction the user is headed.

The other enhancement to Google Maps 5.0 is the ability to cache maps locally to the handset. Maps load quickly and take up very little space, which allows for a seamless experience even if you move into an area where cellular coverage is not available. What's more, should you travel into a dead spot, the app will still dynamically render parts of the map, keeping travelers on the right path.

Maps are autocached whenever the phone is connected to Wi-Fi. The same feature is expected to roll out to the Maps Navigation Beta portion of the app over the next couple of weeks, along with offline rerouting.

As with all versions of Google Maps, 5.0 is free to download from the Android Market. Although it works on any handset running 1.6 or higher, the 3D features will only function on 2.0 and above.