Google Maps 5.7 hands-on

Google has just updated its Google Maps app for Android and with it brought two new features for those who like to get lost a lot.

The main new feature to version 5.7 is Transit Navigation. It promises to add in transit advice (trains and buses) to your city so instead of telling you to walk 3 miles down the road, it can now suggest you just hope on the number 14 instead.

With 400 cities available worldwide including London we thought it was only right to give it a go. Or so we thought.

For our hands-on test we started in London’s Soho. We asked Google Maps 5.7 to get us to Waterloo Station the best way it knew. That should have meant a quick hop on the Tube (Bakerloo or Northern) to Waterloo Station and a chance for the new app to show us its new transit offering. 

Sadly the app came up empty. Not even an acknowledgement of the London Underground, buses, or of course the Boris bike system. Google Maps 5.7 suggestion? Walk or get in your car. Oh dear.

15 minutes later using our own knowledge of London and we’re standing on the concourse of one of the biggest stations in the city and the former home of Eurostar.

This time the instruction is to take us back to Pocket-lint HQ in Ascot. Google Maps 5.7s response?

Leave Waterloo station ignoring the train that leaves in 6 minutes and would take 55 minutes, head over to Embankment, then over to Victoria, change at Clapham Junction, and finally catch the same train we would catch further down the line that leaves Waterloo. Oh dear again.

Still there are nice touches. The app does give us info about the trains leaving Victoria giving us train times so we know what’s what. The information and directions it gives are easy to follow too. But suggesting a journey time of 2 hours 43 minutes over one of 61 minutes shows the big holes in the system: a lack of data. Thankfully we knew where we were going. We wouldn’t in its current state want to trust the system.

Testing the app in other locations we again found it ignoring trains completely, suggesting walking for 58mins, or getting four different buses, rather than a train.

There is still reason however to upgrade and while we aren’t impressed with the transit navigation feature we are impressed with the new downloadable maps option that lets you download portions of the maps anywhere in the world.

Type in a search destination, press the red pin that shows up, and as long as you’ve enabled a new download maps feature in Labs (Settings/More/Labs) you can download all the mapping data for a 10 mile radius surrounding that point to view offline. After 30 days, all downloaded map areas will be removed from your cache, but they can be re-downloaded any time.

Why would you want to do that? Well we’ve done it to London and that means we can scan the map for where to go when you are offline like on the London Underground. We can also see this being really handy when visiting abroad to save large data costs. GPS still works allowing you to navigate and the 10 miles when offline. If you are working your way around a city it should be enough to cover you. Sadly you can’t search the map if you are offline. 

Google Maps 5.7 is available in the Android Market now.