New Google Maps Hands-On: Maps Have Never Been This Cool

Amongst the the deluge of new stuff Google announced today, there was a rather large update to Maps. We just spend some time putting our hands all over it. The verdict? You're in for a treat.

When you first open the new version of Maps, it's obvious that something is different. The map itself is far more prominent, taking up more of the screen, and giving you more context for what you're looking at. If you have it in map view (as opposed to satellite view) you'll notice that things just look a lot cleaner and easier to read. It's kind of the simplistic look of Apple Maps, except you're not missing the granular information that you need and, y'know, it works well.

We love the new look for directions. It's super intuitive and infinitely easier to read than it was before. Our favourite part has got to be the "More times and options" button. When you're looking at options for public transportation it gives you a super simple visual view of the different routes you can take. If you don't need to be at your destination until later, you can just drag the bar over, and you'll see the different options for when you need to leave and how you need to go. We foresee ourselves using this all the time.

There's also just a lot of eye candy that's really lovely. The Photo Tour mode is actually pretty amazing. There's a cinematic quality to it that you don't expect from a mapping application. All of the animations, like zooming in to Street View look really good. And the very idea that you can pull way, way out and the clouds you're seeing over the Earth are where they actually are right now, is awesome. You could use Maps to watch a hurricane develop. Brave new world.

We tested it on a fast but crowded network, and it performed very well. The vector-based maps scaled up and down quickly, and search results came through nice and fast. It understands context much better than it used to. For example if you're looking at a specific neighbourhood in the map view, and you search for burritos, it will show you all the burrito joints within that area. The higher rated places (or ones you and your friends have ranked) will be more prominent, and the more you use Maps (and other Google services) the better it will be able to predict the things you're going to look for. Spooky and/or cool.

We've been playing with it for a bit in Chrome using our MacBook Pros, and it worked very well. That said, it's even more fun on the Chromebook Pixel. Using the touchscreen to quickly zoom in and out and search around is just very intuitive and fluid. It probably gives us a preview of what the updated mobile apps will be looking like. Can't wait for that.

So, to sum up, having spent an hour or so with the new Google Maps, we're really impressed. Can't wait to get our hands on the mobile version with the new and improved Navigation features.