Thursday, 28 June 2012

Google Maps goes offline again: you win some, you lose some

Offline again

Google Maps for Android used to require a live internet connection for everything. Not good if you're driving in the middle of nowhere without any internet in sight. And definitely not good if you're roaming abroad and every byte of data costs a fortune in international roaming charges.

And then Google Maps experimented with offline maps. They were quite limited: you could only download up to 10 blocks of 15x15 miles, and they expired after a month. It was better than nothing, but nowhere near as good as OsmAnd or Nokia Maps. Someone should definitely port Nokia Maps to Android, because its HTML5 version is watered down too much.

And now Google is done testing its offline maps and sends it to the real world.

You win some

The new Google Maps lets you download larger areas. No matter how big your city is, you can download all of it, including its suburbs. You can't download entire countries except for mini states like Monaco. Your maps are limited to chunks of about 80 MB no matter how much space you have available on your phone.

You lose some

The number of maps you can download went down. You can now only download 6 maps, so if you're planning to move around a lot Google Maps won't cut it.

When you update Google Maps all your old maps (those 15x15 mile chunks) go up in smoke, so you have to download your offline maps again.

If you can. Because many places are "unavailable for download" and I'm not talking about the North Pole. If you're heading to the mediterranean beaches this summer you can forget about bringing offline Google maps with you. Spain, Portugal, and Italy are among the countries that Google Maps refuses to download.

August 2012 update: You can download maps of Portugal now, but Spain is still out.

Not really offline

OK, you're about to travel in an area for which Google does not block map downloads. Now you can navigate offline, right?

Wrong! Google Maps still needs internet to search places on the map, and you have to go online to use turn-by-turn navigation. WiFi on the highway is few and far between, so if you pay for international data roaming you have to look for other navigation apps.

Really offline

If your area is adequately mapped by OpenStreetMap there are some truly offline navigation options for free. My favourite free offline navigation app is OsmAnd. It lets you download entire countries, and it can do everything offline. Searching, route calculation, turn-by-turn voice navigation, OsmAnd has it all and it doesn't cost a penny.

Google Maps

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