While Google Maps is overwhelmingly the map and navigation app of choice in the western world, there can still be times when it's not the best option for your particular travel scenario. For example, sometimes you'll be in areas where your phone's data connection is spotty or non-existent, in which case Google Maps navigation stops working.
Or perhaps you want to get across town via a scooter or bicycle instead of car. And other times, you might want to check out some nearby hiking trails, in which case Google Maps can tell you how to get there, but it may not necessarily give you much info about the trail itself.
In all of these niche situations, there are other map apps to choose from. While Google Maps regularly makes inroads into their turf, these are still worth downloading and checking out, because of their specialized expertise. Here are some of the best edge-case map apps that you'll find.
Apple Maps: The old iOS stalwart on the verge of a rebirth
While Apple Maps is often derided, we at Download.com have discovered that the quality of your experience can actually vary from one region of the US to another. In fact, in some cases, it may give you better routes and arrival time estimations than Google Maps. Since it's free and already pre-installed on your iPhone, it's at least worth checking out. CNET reported this summer that Apple Maps is also undergoing a complete rebuild with mapping data collected by Apple itself, so we wouldn't count this one out regardless.
Citymapper: The master of urban transportation options
As its name implies, Citymapper (Android, iOS) specializes in urban travel -- getting across town quickly and smoothly, rather than traveling from one town to another. When we loaded this app for the city of San Francisco, we were shown transit options specific to MUNI, BART, Caltrain, bicycles, scooters, light rail, and even mopeds. It also integrates with Lyft, Uber, and the local ferry services. You can also set addresses for work and home and get real-time estimates for arrival and departure times.
Maps.me: GPS-based navigation when you don't have a data connection
Funnily, Google Maps navigation doesn't work without a data connection, so there's a cottage industry of apps that can work with nothing more than a GPS satellite. It's not quite as precise as Google Maps, due to the signal delay between space and your car, but it's definitely more usable when you're out in the boonies.
Maps.me (Android, iOS) is one of the best choices for GPS-based navigation, with a clean interface and lots of options to customize its behavior. It's a pretty good safety net if and when Google Maps can't get a data connection.
PlugShare: When you're traveling in an electric vehicle
While Google recently announced that its Maps app now includes directions to local electric vehicle charging stations, PlugShare (Android, iOS) may still be able to locate more of them in your area. In addition to showing you where the stations are, PlugShare includes detailed info for each one of them.
For example, can anyone plug in, or do you need to officially be a customer of the establishment? Is there a fee on top of the charge cost? Are there any photos of the location? What types of connectors are available? PlugShare can answer all these questions and rate each station on a scale from 1 to 10, and it claims a database of more than 50,000 stations around the US.
Sygic: GPS-based alternative with built-in dashcam option and one-time payments
If you prefer to pay once instead of subscribing like you do with Maps.Me, Sygic (Android, iOS) is another high-quality choice. This company was actually the first on Android and iOS to begin offering a service to compete with dedicated navigation devices from Garmin, TomTom, and others.
If you decide to become a paying customer, it's a one-time fee of $16.49 for a lifetime North America map license; $22.49 will add traffic info (which requires a data connection); and $29.99 will get you a lifetime license that lets you navigate the globe, with traffic data when available. You can also turn your phone into a dashcam with the Sygic app, for $6.49.
Waze: Crowd-sourced, real-time traffic updates and warnings
Google purchased Waze (Android, iOS) in 2013 for about a billion dollars, but it's more or less allowed the Israel-based company to chart its own course. Before and now, Waze has arguably been the best choice for getting through congested population centers like the San Francisco Bay Area, perhaps even better than Google Maps itself.
That's because Waze users (called "Wazers" in the community) can send real-time updates from their phone to everyone who's using the app. See some debris in the road that's blocking a lane? Is there some police activity that's slowing things down? You'll get that kind of info in Waze as soon as a driver reports it, allowing you to reroute around the problem before it becomes a problem for you.
- Google Maps app launches new feature to help find EV charging stations
- Google Maps integrates star ratings for businesses directly into the map
- Google Maps mobile app adds elevation chart for bicycle riders
- Waze turn-by-turn navigation service brings separate 'Carpool' app to all US customers (CNET)
- Technique could enable robots to navigate pushy crowds, congested streets (ZDNet)
- How to turn on gesture-based navigation in Android Pie (TechRepublic)