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.
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.
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.
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.