Harry here. Navigation is one of the biggest reasons for a low rating, and today we’ve got RSG contributor Jon Knope to talk about two of the most popular options and see how they stack up against each other. Let us know which one you prefer in the comments section below.
For thousands of years, philosophers have pondered this age-old question: what’s the best smartphone navigation app? 😉
As rideshare drivers, the question is especially important since we rely on GPS to help us make money every time we log on. Much like the rideshare business itself, there are two main players in this game: Google Maps and Waze. We’re going to ignore Uber’s in-app mapping system since, as any savvy driver can tell you, it’s severely lacking when compared to these two third party options.
Google actually purchased Waze in 2013 for $1.1 billion, but the apps themselves are very different. Today we’ve got a video summary and a head to head comparison so you can take your pick.
Waze: The Social Butterfly
As with any navigation system, you can search for destinations by name, receive turn-by-turn directions, enable and disable the robot voice that yells at you when you miss a turn, and so forth. But Waze offers a unique approach to turn-by-turn directions. You can view reports, or pins, about road conditions along your route. Traffic jam? Someone’s pinned it. Disabled vehicle? Pinned. Speed trap? It’s on there. Pothole? You betcha.
In cities with lots of active Waze users, the map will be positively glittering with jaw-droppingly accurate data. If you stumble across an unreported traffic condition, you can even add pins of your own. When other users confirm the accuracy of your report, you’ll get Waze karma points. (Frustratingly, these cannot be exchanged for prizes.)
Needless to say, this is a pretty neat system. But all those pins can seem a little overwhelming if you’re looking at them for the first time. Fortunately, you don’t need to do anything extra to make use of the data – Waze will automatically choose the fastest route for you, and update the directions accordingly if traffic conditions change on the way there.
Google Maps: The Quiet Overachiever
Google Maps gets its traffic data from a variety of sources – including real-time speed data from people using the app, as well as third-party sources like DOT road sensors. There are no user reports in Google Maps – instead, data comes in three easy-to-read flavors: green (for fast), yellow (for slow), and red (for LOL good luck with that).
In general, Google will try to keep you on main roads, rather than taking you on a lengthy detour around a traffic jam. Plus, before you hit the Start button, Google will show you an overhead view of the whole route, and present you with a couple slower alternatives (outlined in grey) that you can switch to if you choose.
During your drive, Google may come up with a faster route. If this happens, you’ll see a notification pop up at the bottom, with the option to accept the new route – you’ll have a few moments to accept the change, otherwise the app will assume you want to stay the course.
In addition, Google Maps also maintains a business directory, complete with hours of operation and phone numbers. Need a bathroom break? Just type in “fast food” or “gas stations,” and you’ll be presented with a map and a list of locations, in order of proximity. If you’re headed to a specific destination, searching for a quick stop along the way (and adding that stop to your turn-by-turn directions) is super simple.
One of the main differences between the two apps is advertising. Google Maps doesn’t have any – and that’s a huge plus in my book. By contrast, Waze has quite a bit – both subtle and not-so-subtle. As you’re driving, you’ll notice that some businesses are pinned with logos – those are ads. When you search for destinations, “sponsored” ones will float to the top. And when you’re at a stoplight, sometimes Waze will toss a banner ad at you, just in case you were looking for something to click on.
Google Maps also sports an offline mode which allows you to download a map of a large area ahead of time. This allows you to get directions even when you don’t have service. I found this feature especially useful on a recent trip to Canada, where I lacked cell service for the duration. It’s also handy if your cell carrier (ahem, Sprint) doesn’t reach into more rural areas. I learned the hard way that here in Atlanta, Amazon Flex offers an enormous delivery radius – one that far exceeds the reaches of Sprint’s towers. Now that I’ve downloaded an offline copy of almost the whole state, I can keep delivering seamlessly, without having to dig my aging paper map out of the glove compartment.
Mileage Tracking Available?
Neither apps offer mileage tracking. This actually surprises me since both apps are used heavily by contractor-drivers (like us) who need to deduct all of their miles at the end of the year to avoid getting wrecked by the IRS. If you want to do this, you are going to need a separate app like QuickBooks Self-Employed (free-trial) that you can set to automatically record your trips and expenses.
As far as the directions themselves – there’s honestly not much difference. I’d estimate that in ten trips, you’d get identical routes from either app on nine of them. Waze tends to be better at finding side streets that go around traffic jams – but sometimes that philosophy will get you just as stuck later on when you’re trying to make a left turn onto a busy artery. Nonetheless, the conventional wisdom is that Waze is the superior choice if you’re in a big hurry.
Waze also allows you more route customization options. For instance, you have the option of choosing whether you prefer the shortest route or the fastest route – often two very different things during rush hour. There’s also settings for avoiding highways, and even for avoiding dirt roads, if those are common in your area.
It’s worth noting that Waze works best in big cities. In more rural areas, you may find there aren’t too many Waze users, and thus, not many pins – so Google Maps may be a better choice if you drive in a smaller, less-congested area.
Last but not least, here’s a quick summary of the finer points of the two apps:
|Ability to mute the robot voice||x||x|
|Business info (hours, etc)||x|
|Real-time MPH and speed limit info||x|
|Search for destinations by name||x||x|
|Speed trap info||x|
Are you a die-hard Wazer, or a Google Maps traditionalist? Tell us why in the comments!
– Jon @RSG