Google Maps vs. Waze: Which Is the Best Navigation App?

Google Maps Vs Waze Gps App Hero

Waze and Google Maps are the big guns of the smartphone navigation world. Even though both apps are owned by Alphabet, there are substantial differences between the two. Read on to find out whether Google Maps or Waze is the best navigation app.

Waze vs. Google Maps: Searching for Destinations

Waze’s search can be buggy and unreliable, returning zero results for existing addresses and formatting search results in a confusing way. It also suffers from a problem common to most GPS apps: preferring a result that is thousands of miles away because it is a closer match for the search string.

Waze Vs Google Maps Interface Search

Google Maps’ search is as close to perfect as you can get. It typically only needs a partial address to come up with the correct search result. While results formatting can be quirky, Google Maps doesn’t suffer from the same “no results” hiccups. Landmark search (e.g. “Washington Monument”) is also more reliable on Google Maps.

For stops along the way, both Waze and Google Maps can search for destinations along your planned route, either for categories like Food or Coffee or custom search strings. Google’s interface for locating these stops is far superior, while Waze’s list/map hybrid is cramped and hard to read. Further, Waze tends to suggest destinations that are close to your present location, but actually in the opposite direction of your travel, which isn’t very helpful in an “on the way” search. Google gets major points for having a usable interface here.

Google Maps vs. Waze: Route, Navigation and Traffic

When you need to exit or split, Google Maps helps you get into the right lane for your move. For example, it might suggest you get in the right lane for an upcoming exit or stay in the left three lanes for an upcoming highway split. Waze doesn’t seem to have access to the database containing that information, so it doesn’t provide lane recommendations.

Waze Vs Google Maps Interface Navigation

Crowd-sourced traffic data used to be Waze’s big selling point. It still is: users readily and reliably report traffic, police, construction, street closures, and more. As such, Waze typically has the most up-to-date traffic information. That said, both Google and Waze navigate effectively. In most cases, they suggest the same route to a location. While Waze may be faster to switch you to another route to avoid traffic, both Google Maps and Waze will get you to most destinations within a few minutes of each other.

Waze vs. Google Maps: Voice Prompts and Interface

The Google Maps interface is more customizable, with options for map and satellite views. Waze provides a more cartoonish, friendlier interface, while Google Maps is designed with the blocky and colorful Material Design language. Both are adequate for navigation, with a sufficiently clear interface for turns, but neither is perfect. Google Maps does a better job of consistently displaying street information, while Waze tends to dynamically move labels around as your location updates.

Waze Vs Google Maps Interface

Voice prompts are effective and well-timed but can be verbose, especially on highway exits. Waze is forced to interrupt your phone’s audio playback to provide voice navigation. With the right settings, Google Maps will lower the volume of your playing audio instead, avoiding the hard stops that Waze inserts. Depending on what you’re listening to, it might be less disruptive with Google’s system, but it can be hard to understand the directions playing simultaneously with a podcast or music.

Google Maps vs. Waze: Data Usage

Data usage on Google Maps and Waze is so minimal as to be irrelevant. GPS navigation doesn’t require your data connection: it uses a satellite-based global positioning system (GPS) to locate you, not the internet. Searching, downloading map data, fetching traffic, generating reports, and updating your route all take data. But they don’t take very much. We generally find you’ll use less than a couple of megabytes of data for most navigational tasks. You do need some kind of data connection to get data from Google’s servers, which includes your direction, but your actual position is updated primarily by GPS satellites.

Waze vs. Google Maps: Other Features

Both Google Maps and Waze provide calendar integration options, but we prefer Waze’s system. Before it’s time to leave, Waze provides an estimated time to depart with travel time so you get to your destination at the appropriate time. Then, about ten minutes before it’s time to leave, Waze sends a “Time to Go!” notification. Tap that notification to see directions. Google Maps just provides quick access to the addresses of upcoming appointments in its search area. It’s not as robust or useful as Waze, but it’s still helpful.

Google Maps loses major points on the privacy front, but smart users can control what Google learns about them by disabling location history. But Waze can also share your location data with the Google Mothership with few options for controlling that data flow. This makes Waze the worse offender, even if both apps are competing for last place.

Conclusion: Our Favorite

Google Maps and Waze are broadly equivalent, providing similar routes and navigation experiences. That said, Google Maps wins in terms of interface, navigation and search. While Waze can help you out in an especially sticky traffic situation and includes more up-to-date information, the clunky interface and disappointing search aren’t as worth the trouble as they once were. As a result, we recommend Google Maps as our favorite GPS app.

Alexander Fox Alexander Fox

Alexander Fox is a tech and science writer based in Philadelphia, PA with one cat, three Macs and more USB cables than he could ever use.

6 comments

  1. Google is not going to make its acquired app (Waze) better than its flagship app (Maps) so it’s no surprise that Maps came out on top. I would not be surprised if Google kills Waze in the future.

  2. Most of the time I have both apps turned on because I have found the real-time traffic/road conditions on Waze invaluable but appreciate the search functionality of Maps. Several times it has alerted me to accidents that would have caused me hours of delay – or did cause me hours of delay because, stupidly, I didn’t follow its direction. As to Google killing off Waze (“dragonmouth” comment) – I thought so too until lately, as I am seeing that they appear to be making them more similar yet keeping the individual strengths of each.

  3. I’m curious about energy consumption because Waze seems to me to be a battery hog. While never having conducted any kind of controlled study my sense is that Waze kills my battery far more quickly than Google maps (or Apple maps).

  4. I use Waze on a motorcycle, and yes, it needs constant power. My problem with Google Maps is the green background with white text for instructions, almost impossible to read in sunlight. There seems no way to change this.

  5. I don’t like either, but do0n’t have a choice, since many newer cars have traded their own Nav Aps in for cellphone aps.

    For instance, is it even possible to set up a multi-destination route on either? If so, I have not figured out how to do it. T\Perhaps this is because the user interfaces are poorly done on both. Google should go after the automakers to re-introduce their own NAV aps on the car’s screen with the added ability to download Google maps instead of the every-few-years-$200-map-upgrades they used to offer.

  6. I am here just commenting about Maps vs Waze for my GIS course, but i think maps is a better nav app rather than waze, because maps is easy to use and this app is already installed on every android smartphone (i don’t know about IOS). The point is if your car or bike don’t have a navigation system installed, just use Google Maps.

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