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Google Maps is completely indispensable. Whether you need to plot a 500-mile cross-country road trip or just find a nearby coffee shop, this is the app you’ll use to do it.
But it’s such a powerful app that it contains a lot of features that many of us might never have even heard of, much less used. So let’s take a look at 10 features in Google Maps for Android you might not know about but should start using today.
1. Measure Distances Manually
Google Maps’s navigation features are great for getting you from point A to point B. But sometimes you don’t need a full route. All you want to do is get a rough estimate of how far it is from one place to another, or perhaps to measure out a quick five-mile run around your neighborhood. Google Maps has a tool for this, called Measure Distance.
- Tap any point on the map and a red pin will appear on that exact spot, showing the name of the place you’ve selected.
- Tap the name then, select Measure Distance.
- You’ll see a dotted line with crosshairs at the end. As you drag the map, the distance between the crosshairs and your original pin are shown at the bottom of the screen.
- This gives you a quick “as the crow flies” measurement. For a more accurate reading, hit the + icon in the bottom right of the screen to add multiple points to your path.
- Press the Undo arrow or Menu > Clear to remove the points you added.
Unfortunately, you can’t save your measured distance as a custom map.
2. Remember Where You Parked
Sometimes, remembering where you parked your car can be as big a challenge as finding the parking space in the first place. There’s a simple tool to manage this in Google Maps.
Once you’ve parked, open the app and the blue dot will show your current position. Tap on the dot, then select Save your parking from the options.
That’s it, your position is now saved. Tap on Parking location to add a bit more information. You can type any relevant notes about the spot, and also enter the amount of time you have left in the space. You’ll get a notification when it runs out.
When you’re ready to return to your car, just open the app and tap Directions at the bottom of the screen.
3. Check to See If Your Train Is on Time
Google Maps has fantastic integration with tons of public transportation services in countries around the world.
Tap on a bus stop, train station, or subway station icon on the map, and you’ll see all the relevant timetable information for that location. It saves you having to install separate apps for every public transport company you use regularly.
Better still, tap on one of the scheduled routes to see all the stops on the line, live information showing where the bus or train currently is, and whether or not it’s on time.
4. Book a Hotel Room
When you’re on the road and need to find a hotel room on short notice, you can use Google Maps as the starting point for your search.
Zoom into the map and you’ll see icons for all the nearby hotels on screen. Tap on one of them, then tap on the name at bottom of the screen to see further information. Among the options here are a Check availability panel which enables you to enter dates and to see corresponding prices for those dates from various hotel websites. Click through to book a room from one of those sites.
This feature is actually an ad, and is labelled as such. But it’s a great example of how ads in apps can actually be useful and unobtrusive when they’re implemented well.
5. Get More Information on Anything
The Information screen for every location is good for more than just transportation and hotels.
As well as the essentials like phone number, address, and accessibility information, details are often tailored to the purpose of that location. So, a sports stadium might give you details for the next game that will be played there, a restaurant will have pointers to the menu or a table booking service, and a tourist location will show you how long people spend there, and when is the best time to avoid the crowds.
6. Connect to Your Calendar or Gmail
Google Maps can connect with your Google Calendar and Gmail apps, and it can bring location information into the mapping app.
These details include meetings, flights, and other scheduled events. They show up in Google Maps when you search for things like “my flights” or as part of the extra information screen for a particular location. You can also see all of this grouped together in Your places > Upcoming.
7. Share Your Trip Progress
Sharing your location has been an option in Google Maps for a while. Just select Location sharing from the sidebar, then choose who you want to share with and for how long.
The feature has now been expanded to include Trip Progress. This enables you to share your position with select people while you’re navigating a route. They can see how far you are on your journey and when you’ll arrive.
You won’t ever have to send another “Almost there!” text again. Once the app has plotted your route, tap on the arrow at the bottom of the screen, select Share trip progress, and pick the person you want to share with. Sharing remains active until you arrive at your destination.
8. Become a Local Guide
Much of the extra information that makes Google Maps so useful comes from its large community of users. You can join in by becoming a Local Guide. There are more than 30 million of them worldwide, and they earn points and rewards for their efforts. Rewards include three months of Google Play Music or cheap movie rentals.
All you have to do is select My contributions from the sidebar, then tap Get Started when prompted to join Local Guides.
You can contribute in various ways: leaving reviews and ratings, sharing photos of locations, answering other users’ questions about your area, and answering simple questions about a location (e.g. “Is this restaurant child friendly?”). Each contribution earns a different number of points.
9. View Buildings in 3D
Depending on where you are in the world — and the U.S. and U.K. are included — you can view maps in 3D.
First, tilt the map into the 45-degree isometric view by dragging two fingers upwards on the screen. Now zoom in, and keep zooming further until the buildings should eventually shoot up from out of the ground. When you encounter multi-story buildings, you can even select which floor you want to see.
10. Calibrate the Compass
Finally, if you start to find that the accuracy of the Maps app is faltering, you can reset it by calibrating your phone’s compass.
Tap the blue dot on the map that shows your current position. From the options screen that opens select Calibrate compass at the bottom. Now follow the onscreen graphic — you need to twist and rotate your phone in a figure-eight shape three times. You’ll get confirmation when it’s done, along with a message showing your new Compass accuracy level.
Your Favorite Features?
If you’re only using Google Maps as a basic navigation app, you’re really missing out. There’s so much more to the app than just getting from A to B and back again. You can use it for driving or walking, for long-distance travel or short trips into town. And because more features are regularly added, it’s getting better all the time.
What are your favorite features in Google Maps? Which ones do you use most, and what would you like to see added in future? Join us in the comments to share your thoughts.