3 tips to get the most from Google Maps

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Google Maps can be amazing — and often maddening — for driving directions.

But the app is an overstuffed jewel box of other handy features, if you’re patient enough to learn its quirks.

More than a billion people regularly use Google Maps. But because the app has a zillion overlapping features, it can be daunting to use it beyond the familiar basics.

Try these three tips to up your Google Maps game. (The instructions are for the app version, not the website.) And drop me a line if you have your own favorite tips.

If you avoid Google Maps, I hear you. We might do this for Apple Maps, too.

Use ‘Lists’ to keep track of your favorite spots

I use this feature to save birdwatching spots, bike shops where I can get emergency repair help on the go, and restaurants I want to try with notes on the dishes I’ve heard or read about.

To save a restaurant to a Google Maps list:

  • Search for the restaurant name. When its details come up, look at the options to the right of “Directions.”
  • Chose the option for “Save” and tap “New list” at the top of the next screen. Name it something like Best Burgers Nom Nom.
  • Tap “Create” in the upper-right corner.
  • You can keep your list private or select “Shared” and add friends and family to suggest their favorite burger spots.
  • To see your lists and individual places within a list, go the main screen of Google Maps and tap “Saved” on the bottom row of the app.

Once you have places saved in a list, you can tap on them to “Add a note about this place.” If your cousin Julie said you must order the cheesy onion rings at her burger spot, put that in the note.

When I’m out and about, I open my Google Maps app to see if any restaurants from the Best Burgers list are nearby.

In addition to lists, Google Maps has options to save places under similar “Want to go” or “Starred places” categories. It can feel overwhelming. You might pick just one or use all three features differently.

Google said it is “constantly improving the Google Maps experience” to make it easier to find helpful information.

Download maps for areas with unreliable mobile phone service

Try downloading a map if you are headed outside the United States and are worried about phone data charges, or you go places with flaky mobile phone service.

A downloaded map will work fine without cell reception.

To download a partial map in Google Maps:

  • Pick an area that you want to save. In the image above, I chose a part of Yorkshire in England that I visited on vacation.
  • Select your profile picture or initials in the upper-right corner of the screen.
  • Pick “Offline maps” and then “Select your own map.” Zoom in or out until you’ve highlighted the area you want to save.
  • Tap “Download.” Your section of map is now accessible when you don’t have an internet connection.

Use visual pointers for turn-by-turn walking directions

Let’s say you’re a half-mile from a restaurant on your Best Burgers list, but you’re not sure how to walk there.

You could click “Directions” in Google Maps for turn-by-turn instructions — or you could power-boost those instructions.

Click “live” in the bottom right of the Google Maps screen and point your phone at what’s around you. (Your phone may ask for your permission to turn on the camera.)

Google plops virtual arrows onto your screen that point you to your next left turn. It’s like the Pokémon Go game, but for pedestrian directions.

Please take care with this feature. You don’t want to be a danger to yourself or others by holding your phone constantly in front of your face. (The app does scold you if you use it that way.)

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