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Waze vs. Google Maps: Which one is right for you?

When you need to go somewhere, you naturally seek out the best route with the lightest traffic possible and fewest obstructions. Today’s mapping and navigation apps are there for you. The two most popular apps for iOS and Android — Google Maps and Waze — deliver on that brief, presenting up-to-the-minute information, real-time turn-by-turn directions, and much more.

Google Maps and Waze are amongst the most popular navigation apps — even among iPhone users — because both are easy to use and consistently deliver accurate directions. So which one of these two Google-owned apps should you choose as your day-to-day driving navigation aid? Let’s figure it out by looking at the two side-by-side, so you can see why of the two apps you prefer.

What is Waze?

Google purchased Waze in 2013 and developed it as a separate community-based GPS navigation app with several real-time, crowd-sourced social networking features. “Wazers” can alert fellow drivers to accidents, hazards, road closures, speed traps, police activity, and other issues that may call for route changes, and that information comes with an ETA based on current traffic conditions. The app also helps you find the cheapest gas stations along your route, and in conjunction with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, you can use Waze on your car’s display, if it has one.

Waze doesn’t just focus on driving though. Updates have added support for Google Assistant (on Android) and Siri (on iOS). You can also choose from a variety of app audio voices to guide you while you drive and even use the app’s carpool feature to arrange carpools to offer rides or find companions. Waze is free and ad-supported. It has a motorcycle mode, and you can also listen to your favorite music from apps like Spotify and podcasts by linking those services up with Waze and playing them through the app.

What is Google Maps?

Google Maps is a standard navigation app that provides navigation for anyone, whether they are walking, biking, or using public transit, in addition to driving with detailed turn-by-turn directions and helpful lane designations. If you’re using an Android phone, then it’s the navigation app that comes preinstalled with your phone. Google Maps isn’t just a navigational aid though, as it also shows the location of various businesses, local landmarks, and points of interest, making the app useful for getting a broad overview of a region or part of town, seeing what else is near your destination, and other traditional static map functions. The directions are fairly flexible even while you’re navigating, and you’re able to search along your route for services and add additional stops.

Many of Google’s other popular services like Google Assistant, Google Street View, and Google Search are integrated into Maps, and Google Maps also now has Waze-like features, like real-time traffic updates and augmented reality features that help with directions for walking around new neighborhoods. It makes sense Google would port some of these features over to its (probably) preferred map app, so it could be we eventually see the differences between the two apps disappear.

Waze and Google Maps compared

While both apps offer basic turn-by-turn directions to get you to your destination, there are key distinctions between Google Maps and Waze.

Google Maps Waze
Directions and voice navigation are available for driving, walking, biking, and public transportation. Directions are exclusively focused on driving.
The app takes a mostly data-based approach to local community information and directions, but now does include data gathered from users that provides real-time road congestion and conditions. The app uses live, community-driven, crowd-sourced information about real-time road conditions from drivers.
Google Maps can be used both online and offline with turn-by-turn directions offered in offline mode. Waze requires a data connection.
Google Maps includes local businesses and landmarks, including information like menus, hours, and phone numbers. Waze tracks road conditions without community business information.
Google Maps has a basic but traditional navigation interface that includes a wealth of information but can look cluttered. Waze has a sleek, minimal interface with many customization options and 3D graphics.
Voice navigation choices include driving, biking, and walking, real-time location sharing, and augmented reality directions. Waze features voice navigation options, including celebrity voices and the ability to record commands in your own voice.
Lane designation feature lets drivers know which lane they should be in before turns. The app monitors your speed and lets you know when you are going too fast.
Integrates Google Assistant, Google Street View, transportation network and ride-sharing companies, and Google Search. Includes Google Assistant on Android and Siri on iOS, remembers commonly used routes, frequent destinations, and commute times.
Drivers can find parked cars easily since the app saves parking locations and has an EV charging station locator. The app offers one-button access to a map of parking lots near your destination.

Which app gets you there faster?

Comparing the features of navigational apps is one thing, but the real value of their assistance is how quickly and easily they get you to your destination. For city driving, Waze excels at finding alternate routes around accidents and traffic jams and alerts drivers in advance of road-related incidents. Waze’s police reporting helps drivers monitor their speed to avoid getting a ticket. Waze sometimes leads drivers through residential neighborhoods or roundabout ways of reaching your destination, which could be ideal in some situations, such as longer trips, but which may not save a lot of time locally.

Google Maps gets you to your destination in a timely fashion and also alerts drivers about accidents and traffic jams. Google Maps’ alerts are more general than Waze’s, because Google Maps doesn’t have the same high degree of social integration. However, Google Maps does have a larger and more informative map view, which often shows routes and surrounding services more clearly.

Which app is best for you?

Waze is a great navigation tool for any driver looking out for police traps, traffic updates, and accident reports. It’s these customizable alerts that allow for users to set unique routes and allow for social integration. That integration is most useful when setting your customized route or choosing the quickest path when navigating.

While Waze may be a thorough option for drivers, we prefer alternative choices when it comes to foot traffic. Google Maps, which is accessible on Android Auto, offers the same ability to retain traffic analysis and help you avoid those stop-and-go jams. However, it can also provide a Live View feature that uses augmented reality.

It’s the augmented reality that is best for pedestrians; People new to an area can orient themselves quickly by walking through the location on Google Maps. You can also utilize the “Saved” tab in the app to make a note of all your favorite places, from that charming café in a new city to your pup’s preferred dog park near home.

The best part of these apps is that you aren’t limited to using a single one unless you’re a hardcore app minimalist. You can install both options and then use either whenever it seems best. Google Maps is probably best to use when you’re looking to explore an area or need more general knowledge than just driving directions. On the flip side, Waze’s more driver-based focus makes an excellent tool for commuters, because it can warn of issues ahead and let you bypass them in a way Google Maps may miss.

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Jackie Dove
Jackie is an obsessive, insomniac tech writer and editor in northern California. A wildlife advocate, cat fan, and photo app…
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