Google Maps Vs. Waze
August 17, 2018
Author: Bianca Yang
I decided to rent a car for the duration of my summer internship, so I got all geared up with the latest gear for modern drivers:
- Waze (all the Lyft/Uber drivers use it)
- Phone mount (I got one for the dash/windshield)
I’ve gotten some questions about why to use Waze, as have quite a few of the Uber/Lyft drivers I’ve ridden with. Initially, my excuse was that they used it. Then, after I’d accumulated some miles with the app and before I knew my frequent routes well enough to not need the app (and before I got my phone mount), my excuse was that Waze offered a better user experience than Google Maps did. Since I didn’t have my phone mount at this time, I would have to partially memorize the route and then rely on the voice-instructions. For the most part, I found Waze gave me more reliable voice instructions than Google Maps. I almost never had to ask my passenger for help or pull over to look at the map with Waze. But those almost cases really were painful.
The almost cases were almost always driven by the application’s GPS getting confused. I would make a turn and it would think I had gone down a different road. Or sometimes it would just not map correctly and think I was a couple of miles away from my current location. In fact, this second issue once happened for many minutes. The road the GPS thought I was on was completely not tracking the road I was currently on, so it kept trying to relocate me within the wrong vicinity. It eventually figured it out, but that was quite frustrating. Luckily, I had my phone mount and knew how to get to my destination by that point. One last case of almost was when I missed turns due to not knowing which lane to be in. Waze rarely tells you which lane to get yourself in, expecting you to instead just know(?) how to position yourself. I frequently made wrong guesses and ended up doing some risky maneuvers to make a turn or just skipping the turn entirely.
One worry I had while using Waze on audio-only mode was that it would not give frequent updates when I was driving for long stretches on the freeway. This would freak me out because I didn’t know if the app was still running.
Those almost cases were exceedingly frustrating, especially because I was either carrying passengers or driving to pick up someone. The GPS would get lost, I would be lost, and I would waste everybody’s time trying to figure out just how to navigate the remaining .5 mi to the destination. By that point, I had commited myself to using Waze, so I just put up with the pain. The window mount helped a lot, because the visual mapping helped resolve any lack of information from the aural side.
Yesterday, by chance, I decided to try Google Maps again. Waze was being slow to load the directions to a building on MSFT campus, and I was rushing, so Google it was. I was quite blown away by the experience. The first major improvement to the app was that it now gave much more frequent directions. Google’s main advantage over Waze is that it gives you information about which lane(s) you should be in. I don’t know how Google performs on long-distance trips yet, but maybe I’ll try it on my next trip to Deception Pass or Rainier.
One function of Waze that I don’t think is particularly useful but some other people are fanatic about is the road condition reporting. I once had a Lyft driver log every incident of pothole or police activity or car on the side of the road during our trip. I got nervous each time, thinking that her split-second attention split would get us into a devastating accident (my fears were not played out). There was one time when this feature was semi-useful. I was driving on I-90 when Waze reported hidden police ahead. I looked around to see if there actually was someone and was very surprised to see a police sitting in an alcove, probably tracking everybody’s speed on the highway. I ignore Waze most other times it pops up a report like that. In fact, I once got so sick of listening to Waze that I muted the app.
I will continue to experiment with Google Maps and see which app reigns supreme. I think the solution for the people who prefer Google Maps but who also like hearing reports about police activity or potholes is to run Waze in the background but use Google for navigation. I believe Waze will continue to give those alerts.
The phone mount is absolutely worth it. There was some debate about whether to get a window, air vent, or cd mount. I chose the window mount that clamps onto my phone, rather than the magnetic one, because I didn’t want my air vent or dash to get damaged. I didn’t get the CD mount because I wasn’t sure if my car even had a CD slot. One disadvantage of the window mount is that the phone can overheat without the air conditioning system to cool it down. Another is that you may end up blocking your front view. But those problems are all relatively trivial compared to the gain you get from using such a gadget. It’s certainly made my navigational experiences much smoother and thus more enjoyable.