Waze is built entirely for drivers. Apple Maps and Google Maps offer more holistic features, providing detailed information for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. Waze has a distinct focus, one aimed at being the best companion for people getting from point A to point B in a car. It’s the app you fire up on your phone and slam into your dashboard’s holster before speeding off. In addition, the app offers eye-catching maps and social features that add flair to a category not known for its pizzazz. Unfortunately, Waze stumbles a bit in the ease-of-use department, despite its rich driving-focused maps.
Where to Find Waze
Waze is actually Google Maps‘ little brother. Google purchased the app in 2013, folding its crowdsourced driving data into the larger, broader Maps app. This is why Waze is entirely focused on driving; Google doesn’t want two apps that do entirely the same thing. So, Waze lives in the daily commute or the long-distance drive. It’s not the navigation app for walkers or cyclists.
The app is a free download from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, and both versions offer similar features. I primarily tested Waze on an Android smartphone, but the service also has a web-based version, Livemap, that gives you a bird’s-eye traffic view. Google Maps also offers a web version, but Apple Maps does not—unless you count third-parties like DuckDuckGo that tap the Apple’s MapKit JS framework to display map data in a browser. You can use Livemap to plan a trip, then save the information to the mobile app.
Waze’s maps are largely the same as those found in Apple Maps and Google Maps, but they feature a host of bright, colorful icons. These icons represent traffic jams, police, accidents, and road closures, all reported by Waze users (called “Wazers” in the app). Popular brands, such as Starbucks and Exxon, have map icons, too, so you’re know how far away you are from a fresh cup of Joe or a tank refill.
You and other Wazers are represented by small, cute characters that move around the map in real time. Each character has a different look depending on the mood that each person sets within the app, ranging from the happy Sunny to the ninja-like Sneaky. You can change your mood at any time, which gives Waze a more personal touch and social feel. This is further enhanced by the ability to click on a Wazer’s icon to message them or “Beep” them—a greeting to fellow Wazers on your commute.
Ride Together, Share the Wealth
Waze is straightforward and simple, featuring just a few on-screen buttons. One button re-centers the app on your current location, becoming a speedometer when it locks onto you. Next to that is a button that takes you to the “Car Info” menu, a place where you set the type of vehicle you’re driving. This changes the routes the app gives you. Your options are Private, Electric, Taxi, and Motorcycle, and each category is nicely tailored to the needs of the vehicle type. For example, Car Info highlights taxi-only parking lots and potential charging spots for electric vehicles. You can also change your preferred gas type or set the app to avoid tolls and HOV lanes.
There’s a cool carpool option available as a sidestep to Uber or Lyft. You can choose whether you drive or ride. As a driver, you control matters using the Waze app itself, picking up extra passengers heading your way who share the cost of gas and tolls. As a passenger, you must download different app: Waze Carpool. Riders pay directly through the app, which takes care of calculating gas, mileage, and any tolls. Waze brands this an eco-friendly option, a way to rideshare in a more personal manner.
The big, shiny “Go” button is where most of Waze’s action lives. Once its tapped, you can choose where you want to go today or set up future trips. You can search for specific buildings or addresses, which quickly brings up pertinent details, such as distance, business hours, and nearby parking. If you hit the “Go” button again, you’re taken to the route selection screen, which gives you the fastest route and point out any traffic on that route.
There are buttons that let you add a stop along your route, or find any gas stations, restaurants, or parking along the way. Tap the gas station button, for example, and you see list of stations and their gas prices. Hit the parking button, and you’ll be given any nearby parking and the distance you have to walk from that location to your destination. In terms of driving, Waze makes its fast and easy to get on the road, more so than Apple Maps or Google Maps.
Once you’ve dialed in your route, a number of other options appear on the app. The big, orange report button is key to Waze’s operation, letting you instantly report any traffic, accidents, or closures to fellow Wazers. The app’s social model encourages people to report any issues along their routes, making it easier for Waze to give everyone better directions. You can see the avatars of nearby Wazers, which serves as a handy reminder that many people are on the same road as you.
Waze remembers your recent searches, but it’s well-suited to frequent commuters. You can save home and work locations, add favorites, or set certain planned routes as events. With the latter option, the app send notifications for when you need to leave to get there on time.
Problems emerge between opening the app and starting a trip, though. Waze is built to take you from your current location to a destination. Selecting a different starting point is more difficult; you must search for that other starting point, dive into a contextual menu from that search result, click “set as start point,” click the new start point, and then search for your destination. That’s far more annoying than Apple Maps and Google Maps’ streamlined location selection process.
Waze’s web-based Livemap makes it easier to change your starting point, but the process still isn’t ideal. In fact, the company expects you to search trips on Livemap and transfer them to the app. Waze also lacks terrain, satellite, and 3D maps.
Similar to Apple Maps, Waze doesn’t let you save maps or routes offline. The option that best resembles that is to start a trip and then go offline. Unfortunately, you’re out of luck if you lose your connection before you start the drive. This method is only for that single trip, and you’ll miss the detailed, real-time information that makes Waze unique. Google Maps, on the other hand, lets you save maps for offline use as long as your device has storage space, with the app offering turn-by-turn directions. On the upside, Waze saves routes as shortcuts.
Waze has a number of vocal options. There’s voiced turn-by-turn direction, and you can record your own voice within the app. There’s something keen about giving yourself directions, and you can share these voices with your friends. Waze has voice commands for hands-free searching, as well. There’s a cool feature available for music lovers: Waze can connect to streaming music apps, such as Amazon Music, Pandora, or Spotify, so you can manually control your tunes while driving.
A Waze Down the Road
In an era when apps try to be everything to everyone, Waze’s simplicity has its benefits. If you’re taking a daily driving route, or just want to get from where you are to a new location, Waze is great. It does what it needs to do, and not much else. These excellent Waze tips will help you get started with Waze in no time.
However, the competition offers more features. You may not need more than simple driving directions on most days, but when you do, Google Maps (our Editors’ Choice for navigation apps) or Apple Maps have you covered. Even in terms of certain directional options, such as creating a route from a place other than your current location, Waze isn’t as simple to use as Apple and Google’s offerings. Still, frequent commuters will love the community, and Waze’s crowdsourcing means you’ll always have access to the best driving routes.
If you prefer dedicated GPS devices, check out these cool Waze alternatives.