Christmas Eve is tomorrow, and that means the big man is almost here to deliver presents. There are two really good options for the young and old to keep abreast of the movements of Father Christmas online.
One is from NORAD and Microsoft combined, while the other is a rival Santa Tracker from Google. Both have their merits, but which should you bookmark to ensure you know exactly when the jolly old fella is going to empty his bulging sack down your chimney? We compare the NORAD Tracks Santa and Google Santa Tracker to see what they have to offer.
What is the NORAD Tracks Santa?
The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, has been tracking Santa for over 60 years. This year, NORAD has once again released a website and an app to let you track the big bearded man as he delivers presents around the world.
When you go to the website, you're taken to Santa's Village, where you can learn about NORAD and it's ongoing to mission to track Santa, play new games everyday in December and listen to Christmas songs.
What is the Google Santa Tracker?
Google's been tracking Santa since 2004 and has updated its annual Santa Tracker, because it wants kids checking back every day in the run up to Christmas. Like NORAD, the refreshed tool doubles as a hub of activities.
Google also has an area called Santa's Village, and since 1 December, people have been able to visit the village to play games, learn about holiday traditions around the world and watch Santa prepare for take off on Christmas Eve. We quite like Santa Selfie, where you can shave Santa's beard and change its colour to get him ready for the big night.
NORAD Tracks Santa app
Google Santa Tracker app
NORAD Tracks Santa on Christmas Eve
From the moment you go to the NORAD website, you'll see a countdown to Christmas Eve superimposed over artwork of the Earth being orbited by satellites and mounted with the North Pole at the top.
Google Santa Tracker on Christmas Eve
Both the Google Santa Tracker website and its Android app show a countdown to Christmas Eve straightaway. Interestingly, Google's countdown seems to be 3 hours behind NORAD's countdown. So, children who are especially anxious for Christmas to get here now will probably prefer NORAD's offering (ho ho).
NORAD Tracks Santa tracking
It's important to remember that NORAD and Google usually position Father Christmas at different places, and that's because they use different methods to track Santa. It's also because Santa tends to moves so fast that he's hard to pinpoint! Once you spot him in one location, he jumps to the next in an instant.
From the web browser, NORAD automatically take you to a 3D view of where Santa’s was currently flying, and at the bottom of that screen, you'll see an estimate of number of gifts delivered.
You can also see where Santa was last seen and where he's heading to next. You can click and drag with your mouse to rotate the view, as well as use keyboard buttons in the top right corner to zoom in and out. Furthermore, you could use 2D/3D button in the top left to get a 2D-view of the world.
Camera icons showed places where he has been spotted on NORAD’s Santa Cam, and when clicked you’d see video of Santa flying around different landmarks and major cities of the world. To see all the clips that have been recorded, in the NORAD map, you click an icon on the tracker map to see a playlist.
Many of these features are also available through the NORAD mobile apps. If that wasn't enough, at Bing, you could search for “Where’s Santa,” which brought up his location and a link to NORAD
Google Santa Tracker tracking
Similar to NORAD's tracker map, Google’s map shows Santa's current location, along with details about his next stop, an estimate of gifts delivered, and his distance from you. Google’s map shows places Santa’s visits by default, so you can click on that location to learn more about it and see animated videos.
You can also see occasional status updates from Santa (sort of like a News Feed, which you could scroll up and down through). We like Google's little video clips, but they aren't clips of Santa in flight or customised to a location. The Android app also loads Santa’s position and the ability to Chromecast Santa’s location.
The app works with Android Wear watches, so you could download a Santa Tracker watch face, allowing you to step away from your phone or computer for the night and really enjoy time with family. But if you don't mind being tethered to a desk, Google also offered a Chrome browser extension.
The extension puts an icon in the top right of your browser to reveal Santa’s location at a glance, like the Wear app. Oh, and similar to NORAD and Bing's partnership, a super easy way to find Santa’s location was provided through Google.com. You just had to Search for “Santa” on Google to get his location.
NORAD Tracks Santa features
We think NORAD's website interface is organised a little clearer than Google's, but it also looks more dated and not as bright and vibrant or modern. We enjoy that there are cute animations on the homepage, but everything looks a bit cluttered at the same time. The highlight to the site is probably the music player at the bottom.
We also like the Let's Go button placed over the Earth at the top, which brings you to Santa's Village (showcases daily arcade games, movies about Santa, Christmas Music, and more). So, basically, there are two main ways to find stuff on NORAD: the Let's Go Button, and the sidebar menu.
Google Santa Tracker features
Google has updated its tracker since last year to make it much easier to navigate. Before it wasn't clear which content was new, but now there's a clear timeline for each day in December, leading you along a path to Christmas Eve. You can also click the menu button in the top left of the page to see what content is new today.
Google's content offering is really, very good. The games are fun. The ability to learn how to code is cool. And the very Material Design-esque animations are plastered everywhere and downright adorable. Google did well with all that.
You'd have to be a bit of a Scrooge to have a go at either slice of seasonal fun, so we're not going to say which we prefer.
What might swing it is what device you use - after all, if you have any phone other than Android, NORAD has the only dedicated app available. If you use a tablet or PC, both work well in a browser.
Oh, and another thing that might make you choose one over the other is design. We're partial to Google's design, but NORAD managaes to keep up in that it offers a much easier interface to navigate.