- Available at: Apple App Store, Google Play, BlackBerry App World
The level of choice between GPS navigation apps for smartphones continues to grow, but how good can one be when it’s entirely free to download and update? Waze is considered a “communal and social” app designed to not only use turn-by-turn traffic but also to “outsmart traffic” through better routes and crowd-sourced information.
As a free app, Waze offers an impressive set of features. You get voiced turn-by-turn directions with spoken street names, a lively and elegant map, plus the ability to contribute or benefit from information other Waze users input into the map.
Therein lies the crucial bridge that Waze offers. It tries to use data collected from other local Waze users to determine what the best route would be. For example, Waze will usually offer one of a few possible routes when inputting an address, but if the fastest route happens to have a reported collision or police speed trap, it will instead present an alternative route that stays away from the problem area.
What works differently here than with, say, TomTom’s HD Traffic, is that traffic data has to be set manually, as opposed to the automatic method TomTom uses. This isn’t convenient while driving, of course, but the fact that information can pop up in real-time is still very cool. For example, an alert might come on the map indicating that another driver is reporting gridlock conditions on a major road near your route. From there, you can alter your route to stay away or have it done for you.
This works the other way, too. Since Waze keeps track of your driving speed, it will ask if you if you’re experiencing traffic congestion once it notices that you’re going far slower than the speed limit. Tap the Yes button and it will display that publicly, so that other drivers are aware.
This works pretty well, and it’s nice that the map itself can also be edited and updated this way. Assuming there’s a new street that doesn’t show up on the map, the app will follow along your route whereby you can then manually include it in the map for inclusion.
But naturally, if Waze wasn’t good at actual navigation, then all the above features would be useless. Thankfully, it does well in that regard, with intelligently chosen routes and timely, albeit repetitive, voiced directions. Using day and night maps is neat, but what’s especially convenient is that it will zoom in on a junction or complicated intersection to help you figure out which way to go.
Another nice feature is the ability to lay pins down on the map for routes with multiple stops. Hold down the point you want on the map and the pin drops with a set of features to customize what you want to do. It’s great, but is not convenient to do when behind the wheel, so you’d have to plan it out ahead of time or pull over while en route and do it.
With a growing community and serious work by the developers, Waze should only get better in time. If you’re looking for a free navigation app for your iPhone, Android or BlackBerry, you should give this a try.