Google may own Waze, but that doesn’t mean its own Maps product and Waze are the same. In fact, the two still fight for dominance over your navigation needs. So which one is better? Turns out, it depends.
To keep things simple, we’re going to break this down into three categories: navigation, finding stuff, and other features. Any navigation app should be simple and just work, because the last think you need to worry about when getting around in unfamiliar territory is fiddling with the app that’s supposed to be taking you to where you’re going.
Navigation: Getting From A to B
Obviously, navigation is the most important part of any navigation app. They need to take you where you actually need to go.
When it comes down to it, both Google Maps and Waze do the job! And that’s not surprising, given that Waze and Google share a lot of maps and traffic data. That said, there are some big differences.
Waze allows people to create and submit maps. It also lets people easily report problems with existing maps. And those reports tend to get blended into the maps pretty quickly. In rural and remote areas, you’ll often find user-created maps in Waze where there are simply no decent maps available in Google Maps.
That said, Google Maps also comes with one significant advantage over Waze. While Waze only offers driving navigation, Google Maps also offers navigation if you’re walking, biking, or using public transit. In those situations, Google Maps is the much better choice.
For just driving directions, I’ve personally used both Waze and Maps pretty extensively, both in rural and urban, heavily-populated areas. For me, however, I’ve had Waze take me on more questionable routes than Google Maps has. I’ve found this especially true in congested areas.
Here’s an example. In Dallas, Waze took me pretty far out of the way, only to put me right back on easily the most congested interstate in the entire town (I-35). And that’s exactly what I was trying to avoid. Using both Maps and Waze to go to the same destination in downtown Dallas multiple times, Maps didn’t use this (or even a similar) route even one time. Yet Waze insisted on it.
I’m not sure if it’s because it was the most direct route or what, but it was increasingly annoying—to the point I had to stop using Waze when driving to that particular location. And it’s not the only time I’ve had those kinds of troubles with Waze.
Now, to be fair, most of the time Waze and Maps used very similar routes in all my other tests. But I have to give Google Maps the edge in the navigation category. This is because it reliably gives me better routes, but also because it offers additional navigation options if I’m biking, walking, or taking the bus or subway.
Winner: Google Maps
Finding Things: Restaurants, Gas Stations, and Everything Else
If getting you to where you’re going is the most important aspect of any good navigation app, then knowing the surroundings is easily second on that list—in fact, the two almost go hand in hand.
When it comes to knowing what’s around you, both Waze and Maps do a good job. You can search for locations by name, and pretty much find what you’re after. You can also use voice to tell either one to find a place and they’ll both do it, though personally I find Maps to be slightly better at finding places—or perhaps it’s just the fact that it locates the place, then immediately starts navigation instead of asking for more input like Waze does.
On Google Maps, you can pan around the map and easily spot lots of locations. Waze tends to show a lot fewer locations, and those are only of specific types—gas stations, for example—and bigger icons for businesses that advertise on Waze. Below, for example, are two shots of the same location in Google Maps (left) and Waze (right).
Both Google Maps and Waze can show you not only the location of businesses you search for, but their hours of operation, phone number, departments, and more. Google Maps tends to have details on more businesses than Waze—especially local ones. But Waze also lets its users create their own pages for businesses or attractions, and then share them.
In the end, this is another very close category. Personally, I give Google Maps the edge because it’s easier to pan around the map and spot interesting close-by places, and because they tend to have better information about locations than Waze does.
Winner: Google Maps
Bonus Features: Police Detection, Other Navigation Options
Then there’s all the other stuff. Waze’s claim to fame, of course, is crowdsourcing aspect. It’s really pretty cool and, let’s be honest, is the real reason people even consider Waze over Maps in the first place.
As Waze users drive, they can submit all kinds of real-time information to Waze very easily. This includes things like the location of police speed traps, stalled cars, wrecks, debris on the road, and all kinds of other stuff. As other Waze drivers pass the same location and get a notification about the obstacle, they can upvote or downvote it to let Waze know if it’s still present.
It’s a brilliant feature.
The way each app handles offline data is also interesting. Google Maps lets you download a specific area for offline navigation, so you can start navigation without a data connection. You could even navigate an entire route without needing data. By comparison, Waze only downloads the route data after navigation has started, and only for that particular navigation session, which is much less useful. Sure, if you lose data while driving then you should still be good, but that’s the extent of its usefulness.
And then there’s the fun stuff that doesn’t really matter—like voice customization. Waze offers it, Maps doesn’t. Pretty simple, and I’m not convinced that should really even matter in this argument, but hey, maybe it’s important to you.
It’s really hard to call a winner here. On one hand, Waze offers the crowd-sourced ability to know what driving obstacles lie along your path, and some fun voice options. Google Maps lets you download offline maps, so you can be more prepared in the event you lose your connection.
It’s up to you which suits your needs better, but personally I think Waze has the advantage on extra features.
So, Which Is Better?
You can call this a TL;DR if you want, but here’s the nuts and bolts:
- Use Maps if you want arguably better routes, offline navigation, more places of interest, and navigation options for walking, biking, and public transit.
- Use Waze if having access to real-time crowd-sourced data—like police activity, wrecks, and debris—is important to you.
It’s really that simple. Both apps will get you where you’re going, and both have great sets of features. I actually switch between the two pretty often, using Maps when I want the best navigation features, and Waze when I know where I’m going and just want the crowdsourced traffic data. Best of both worlds there.