It's Christmas Eve 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?
Celebrating its 60th anniversary, the North American Aerospace Defense Command has announced - with Microsoft and Bing listed among its corporate contributors - this year's NORAD Santa Tracker program.
NORAD consists of both apps and a website. They feature the NORAD headquarters in the North Pole Village as well as highlights of the program over the last six decades. They're also equipped with a countdown, Santa-tracking tool, and new holiday-themed games, movies and music.
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.
It's called Santa's Village, and over the last few weeks people have been able to visit the website every day to (according to Google): "Prep alongside the elves, test weather conditions with Rudolph, skydive with Santa, learn about holiday traditions like kallikántzari -little creatures from Greece that eat Christmas cookies" etc.
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 10 seconds ahead of NORAD's countdown. So, children who are especially anxious for Christmas to get here now will probably prefer Google'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 was 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 showed places Santa’s visited by default, so you could 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.
As of 3 December, the NORAD app only lets you explore the North Pole, which then serves up links to additional mobile screens for NORAD HQ, Library, Theatre, and Arcade. These are akin to the website versions.
Google Santa Tracker features
We think Google's tracker inteface is confusing to navigate. Everything is cluttered on the homepage, and it's hard to determine what is new (if it's not labelled as new for today). Things seem bunched up underneath the countdown - which just so happens to be the clearest thing to understand about the site.
You have to click around and see what you can find. But content is how Google's offering really shines. 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.