When I think of the tech that I’m most thankful for, mapping and navigation applications are at the top of my list.
I still remember the days when getting to a new destination meant printing out pages of MapQuest directions, breaking out the “Thomas Guide” (or worse, dealing with those paper maps that never folded back correctly), or — gasp — actually asking people for directions. Those methods did the trick, but they weren’t always efficient, and involved a lot of preparation. Now, you can just pull up your smartphone, enter an address and, boom, you’re on your way.
There are a lot of choices when it comes to navigation apps — Apple Maps, Bing, Telenav and Waze — but Google Maps remains one of the most popular choices out there. But did you know that it can do a lot more than just get you from point A to point B?
I’ll highlight some tips and tricks for using Google Maps, and point out some of the lesser-known features of both the desktop and mobile version — from getting faster driving directions to finding out about upcoming events in your area. Be sure to check out my colleague Katie Boehret’s earlier review of Google Maps to find out more about the Explore and Rerouting features.
A couple of easy tricks will get you on the road faster and let you zoom in and out if you only have one hand free. Both are for the mobile app.
To save a couple of clicks for voice-guided navigation, after you’ve entered your destination or tapped a point on the map, press and hold the transportation icon on the bottom right of the screen, and Google Maps should start spouting off directions right away. This may not be useful if you want to see all the different routing options, but if you’re not picky, this move will save you time.
To zoom in and out of a map, you can always use the standard pinch-to-zoom feature, but there may be times where you don’t have both hands free (for example, when holding onto a hand strap while riding the bus or subway). In those cases, double-tap the screen, but on the second tap, don’t let go. Instead, drag your finger up to zoom out, or down to zoom in.
Save maps on your phone or tablet for offline mode
As much as smartphones have enhanced our lives, they’ve also given us a false sense of security that they’’ll always be there to help us. But there are times when you may not have an Internet connection (for example, if you’re in a remote countryside spot), and if you’re trying to navigate around an unfamiliar area, that can be a problem.
With the iOS and Android apps, you can download a map of an area to view even if you’re offline. Here’s how: While you’re still connected to the Internet, zoom in to the part of the map that you’d like to copy. Then, in the search box, type “OK Maps.” You should then get a message at the bottom of the screen saying, “The on-screen map has been cached.” (Note that if you’re saving a large map area, it may take a little while.)
This means that when you open Google Maps, even without a data connection, you’ll still be able to get the lay of the land with your offline map. Also remember that GPS should still work on most devices, so you can see your position on the map. You just won’t be able to get directions or search for a specific location.
The offline map feature is also useful when you’re traveling overseas and don’t want to incur expensive data-roaming charges.
Search for flights
You probably think of Google Maps as a way to get driving directions, or even directions for public transit, walking and biking. But did you know you can also search for flights using the desktop app?
The process is largely the same as getting driving directions. Begin by entering your starting point and destination, and then you should get an option that reads, “See results on Google Flights.” If you don’t see it, click on the three dots in the top toolbar to get more transportation options, select the airplane icon and then click on “See results on Google Flights.”
This will bring up a page where you can select the dates of your trip and view a list of available flights, filtered by price, times, airlines and more. You may already use sites like Expedia or Kayak to do the same thing, but it’s another option if you want to do some comparison shopping.
Find upcoming events
Not only can Google Maps help you get to your next concert, sporting match or theater show, it can also tell you about upcoming events. I’ve found this to be a handy feature when I’m visiting a new city and am looking for fun things to do.
On the desktop version, enter the name of a venue or select the location on the map. Below all the information, such as address and reviews, you’ll find a tab for Upcoming Events. Tap on it and it will expand to give you a list of future events. If there’s something that interests you, you can select the specific event and Google Maps will take you to a page where you can purchase tickets.
Drop some local knowledge using Map Maker
As the saying goes, it’s better to give than to receive, right? Well, the Google Map Maker feature allows you to do just that. With it, you can edit maps to make any corrections or add new businesses to further improve the accuracy and usefulness of Google Maps for you and the rest of the world. And for any pranksters out there thinking about pulling a fast one, know that all changes must be reviewed and approved by a team of Google moderators.
Google Maps is already a useful service, but these tips can help you get even more out of the app. Google also offers a pretty informative support section for both the desktop and mobile versions if you need more help navigating through all of the mapping service’s features.