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Whether you’re driving for a rideshare app or heading somewhere when you’re off the clock, getting the right directions is an absolute must. For many drivers, choosing the best navigation app comes down to a tough choice between two top contenders: Waze vs. Google Maps.
Our app stores are saturated with hundreds of navigation app options these days, with each one vying to be your download of choice. But while every app will claim its own unique benefits, there’s probably one that edges out the rest for your specific needs.
Drivers all over the country are quick to debate the two, much like tech consumers battling between Apple iPhone or Android.
This article will provide a comprehensive side-by-side comparison of Waze and Google Maps, two of the most popular navigation apps in the market today.
We’re finally going to settle the dispute, and give an unbiased balanced review of the two apps, so you’ll know which is the best one for you.
Let’s get started.
- Waze vs. Google Maps: The Basics
- The Main Differences Between Google Maps and Waze
- Comparing Interfaces
- Real-Time Data
- Map Features
- Ease of Route
- Ability to Customize
- Data Usage
Waze vs. Google Maps: The Basics
Before we dive into a head-on comparison, let’s define the two contenders.
Waze and Google Maps are both Google-owned global mapping apps that are built for iPhones and Androids, but each platform has successfully maintained its own user base. Despite the fact that the apps both fall into the navigation category, they can easily be distinguished by users.
Google Maps is perhaps the most widely recognized app around. Founded in 2005, it’s one of the earliest mapping platforms and has nearly 130 million more users than Waze in the U.S. alone.
The Google Maps app has long been known as the golden standard in navigation, due to the fact that it provides high-quality directions for far more than driving. It also supports directions for walking, biking, and even public transportation.
They are baking more community-based features into the app, but it focuses more on Google’s huge domination of mapping.
Waze, on the other hand, is a purely driver-focused app that was founded in 2008 and acquired by Google Maps five years later. The platform is best known for its heavily crowd-sourced approach, as it uses community-driven information about road conditions from its users.
When you open the app, Waze also clearly takes a more modern approach, offering a minimalist (albeit, somewhat cartoonish) interface in comparison to the traditional look of Google Maps.
Drivers can share real-time data about accidents, traffic incidents, speed limits, speed traps, and other trip information that helps other drivers navigate the fastest possible route.
While these two navigation apps are heavy contenders, it’s worth again noting that they share the same parent company: Google. Google actually acquired Waze for more than a billion dollars back in 2013, but since then the apps have continued to operate independently. They service similar functions in getting you around, but they offer two different methods of doing so.
But if the app’s actual functionality is what matters most to you, you’ll need to dive deeper into how Waze and Google Maps actually work.
The Main Differences Between Google Maps and Waze
While both apps offer turn by turn directions, there are a few key differences between Google Maps and Waze:
- Waze is community-based, Google Maps is more data-based.
- Waze is pretty much just for cars, Google Maps offers walking, driving, biking, and public transportation directions. They also have built-in “Explore” features that allow users to see events, reviews, photos, points of interest, etc. There’s even the “street view” mode to see things at street level.
- Waze requires a data connection, Google Maps is available offline.
- Google Maps includes business data such as menus, hours, and phone numbers, while Waze does not.
- Waze offers real-time info such as road closures, road hazards, traffic alerts and real-time traffic conditions based on driver data. Google Maps has only started to include some of these features recently.
- Google Maps uses a traditional navigation interface, while Waze offers a sleek and minimal interface using the latest in design language.
- Google Maps is fairly basic, Waze offers a high level of customization (including celebrity voices!)
In short, Google Maps is a simple but powerful navigation tool that selects the quickest and most efficient route.
Waze collects data from a bunch of different users and leverages that data to tailor your trip experience, giving you the most efficient route that’s free of obstacles and other nuisances.
The Waze app interface goes for style without giving up minimalism (which I’m a huge fan of). It has all the details you need and uses 3D graphics to grab your attention.
Waze initially targeted early adopters of tech who opted for a sleek and well-designed interface to bring them on board. And it’s been a successful approach. Waze now has a Spotify integration and can even quickly identify the nearest gas station (Google Maps can do this to, but it takes a little bit more work).
Google Maps, on the other hand, has a pretty dated interface. The downside to this is that it resembles Mapquest, a massive throwback to the late 90s/early 2000s. The upside is that while simple and dated, there’s not a lot of fluff to get lost in, and minimal distractions to the user when driving around.
In terms of operation, Waze moves around a lot. The app changes locations, shifts, rotates, and pans when you change directions. There are very bold, brash directions at the top of the app, which make missing a direction incredibly difficult. As you drive, there are “pins” like potholes, speed traps, and traffic jams that pop up, and they are very easy to avoid.
Using Google Maps is similar to Waze, but very user-friendly. The Google Maps app also moves around, but only when necessary. Google Maps also displays directions at the top of the app, and gives you plenty of notice when you need to take an action.
Winner: Google Maps
I like the interface of Google Maps better than the interface of Waze. While the minimalism isn’t for everyone, I like it because it cuts down on distractions while I’m navigating to my destination.
Though it’s unknown exactly how much data is shared between the two apps, Waze and Google Maps are known to collect real-time traffic data from users who are already on the road. Because of this, both apps do provide accurate directions that take into account traffic jams, major road closures, and more. Your ETA should be accurate on both platforms, as well.
Still, Waze’s crowd-sourcing model does shine in this category. Waze users can easily submit information about road hazards, local street closures, and car accidents that your Google Maps app may not immediately notice, so you’ll get an extra layer of real-time accuracy.
While Google Maps has built in new features to support user-provided data in recent years, they’re definitely not as well-known or heavily used. Waze, on the other hand, emphasizes user reports on its homepage.
Of course, this isn’t to say that Waze always provides the best routes. Because it’s more heavily dependent on community reports, it tends to thrive in major cities — especially in Boston, New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Chicago — but isn’t always the ideal map app for users in smaller cities or suburban or rural areas.
We prefer the Waze interface because it provides much more actionable information. You can quickly see the cause of a traffic jam or see if they are reports of police cars coming ahead.
Beyond routing, both Google Maps and Waze provide special features that can improve your driving experience.
Both apps can display the local speed limit, so you always know how fast you should be driving. Waze additionally lets users report where local speed traps are, so you can ensure you’re within the legal speed limit before you come across one.
However, if you’re seeking local destinations, Google Maps can help. Because Google business pages are integrated into the platform, you can easily find nearby businesses, along with photos and user reviews about each one, and can even get suggestions catered to you if you create an account. Google Maps also supports its street view feature, so you always know you’re arriving at the right storefront or residence.
If you’re specifically looking for nearby gas stations, Waze can take the lead. The app includes real-time gas price data, provided by users, so you can save money when you need a fill-up.
Another helpful Waze feature? You can request roadside assistance from your fellow Wazers. Instead of waiting for help from your insurance company or a friend for minor issues, you may be able to find someone who’s already nearby to help you with a flat tire or jump-starting your car.
Winner: Google Maps
If I’m using a navigation app, I either don’t know where I’m going, or I am using it to keep track of time so I’m not late. The Street View feature is pretty cool, so I have to give this one to Google Maps.
Ease of Route
Despite the fact that Google Maps and Waze may share some data, their algorithms often formulate completely different routes. This is because Waze is designed to get you to your destination as fast as possible — even if you’re only shaving off 30 seconds.
Waze can definitely be helpful when you’re in a time crunch, but this emphasis on speed can actually make your route unpleasant and harder to navigate. Users frequently report unnecessary turns, U-turns, and freeway exits. In rarer cases, you may be taken through alleyways just to get to your location.
Google Maps, on the other hand, almost always provides logical suggested and alternative routes, without sacrificing too much time. You’ll also get lane assistance, so you never miss an exit or turn.
If you have passengers in your car, Google Maps is the more consistent way to provide a great ride experience without the risk of getting lost. Otherwise, you can take your pick. If you don’t mind frequent turns, Waze truly can help you save time on the road.
Winner: Google Maps
When driving, I don’t need any extra hassle or frustration. The weird routing that Waze does sometimes works, but not every time. For that, Google Maps takes the win on this point.
Ability to Customize
When you want an experience catered especially for you, both navigation apps can provide a wide range of features that can be customized. Regardless of which app you choose, you can opt to avoid freeways and tolls, connect with Spotify, and change your navigation voice.
However, Waze does go above and beyond in terms of customization. In addition to its Spotify integration, the mapping app supports a large number of audio apps for listening to music, podcasts, audio books, and more. Plus, while Google Maps only allows you to change between accents and languages, Waze allows you to have fun with your navigation by selecting celebrity and character voice prompts, too.
More practically, Waze also enables you to get the best routing and gas price information for your specific car type. Just by inputting information about your vehicle, you’ll get Waze maps that take into account whether you’re eligible for the carpool lane or even commercial routes.
Waze users can even choose to avoid unpaved roads to save their tires.
When it comes to customization, Waze blows Google Maps out of the water. This one is a no-brainer – Waze.
User interface and features are great, but what about data usage? This factor plays a large role in determining the winner of the Waze vs Google Maps saga.
If you’re on a strict data plan, you’re already sucking down massive amounts of data from using Uber and Lyft. If you don’t watch out for the data usage, you’ll start to pick up unwanted overages and extra charges.
Let’s take a look at how much data each app uses.
How much data does Waze use?
The amount of data that Waze uses is dependent on a number of factors, including the amount of time you use it, trip distance, etc.. But let’s take a look at a quick real-world example from our favorite source, Reddit.
My data: About 15MB average a month driving about one hour a day on average. So about 0.5 MB a day. Multiply that by 5 and that’s 2.5 MB a day if you drive for 5 hours. This is 35 MB for the two weeks you suggested.
This seems a bit low, but other drivers also seem to agree that they’re using something similar.
This is one of the biggest drawbacks of Waze – it requires a constant internet connection to function. Unless you have Wi-Fi in your car, this means you can expect to use a significant amount of data anytime you’re using the app on the road.
How much data does Google Maps use?
Like Waze, the amount of data used by Google Maps depends on the factors listed above.
For this example, we’ll take a look at a recent post on the Andoid Apps section of Reddit:
I also checked the logs after the fact on my provider’s website. I saw that the data download occurred in bulk at the approximate time I left before the trip. There was very little data used while I was actually driving. The majority of the data downloaded all at once when I set the trip.
It looks like Google Maps might be a bit more efficient at managing the data used by the navigation app. One of the reasons for this is because Google Maps offers the ability to download a location, switch data off, and still get to where you need to go. This is a great feature if you’re traveling abroad and don’t have an international data plan.
If your smartphone has a limited data plan, Google Maps is the clear choice, thanks to its reliable offline maps. As long as you have your data on when you start your drive or when you need help rerouting, you can get to your destination with or without a connection.
Even if you have unlimited data, you may want to consider Google Maps for its offline functionality. If you ever lose your signal — which can happen frequently in a moving vehicle, especially outside of the city — you won’t be stranded without directions when using the original mapping app.
Winner: Google Maps
Google Maps is the winner here because the ability to download maps while your connected to Wifi is a huge advantage.
Our Winner: Waze
When we drive for Uber or Lyft, Waze is the go-to GPS. Of all the mapping apps and GPS apps out there, no app is better at providing alternate routes to save time (and money).
It’s more useful based on the sheer amount of data it collects through its massive user base; which is not only extremely valuable, but presented in a visual and actionable manner.
Because of the social features, Waze offers better routes to avoid traffic and potholes (or have their time wasted because you get pulled over for a ticket).
There are so many other new features that come standard, all of which provide a huge upside to you and the rider.
However, Google Maps is still very reliable. If you aren’t too concerned about avoiding traffic or shaving a minute or two off your drive time, Google Maps works perfectly fine. Google Maps is our navigation app of choice when traveling long distances or overseas because of the offline maps feature. We also like the public transit direction on Google Maps, but most people won’t need that feature.
Navigate to Your Destination With Ease
Google is clearly dominating the navigation market, as the owner of the two biggest mapping apps in the United States. However, when comparing Waze vs. Google Maps, it becomes clear that both have unique pros and cons that continue to distinguish them from each other and from their competitors.
Google Maps is the most widely used navigation app in the U.S., offering trusted data and logical routes for just about any drive — whether or not you have an internet connection. Waze is a rising, modern mapping app that gets you places faster, all while improving your experience through user-provided data.
If you own an iPhone and are still unsure if Waze or Google Maps are right for you, you may want to consider your native app, too. Despite many setbacks in its early stages, Apple Maps is now widely used by iPhone users. Read our Apple Maps vs. Google Maps comparison to make an informed choice for your commutes.
Brett Helling is the owner of Ridester.com. He has been a rideshare driver since early 2012, having completed hundreds of trips for companies including Uber, Lyft, and Postmates. In 2014 he acquired Ridester.com to share his experiences with other drivers. His insights are regularly quoted by publications such as Forbes, Vice, CNBC, and more. He is currently working on a book about working in the Gig Economy, expanding his skill set beyond the rideshare niche. Read more about Brett here.