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6 quick tricks for doing more with Google Maps

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Google Maps

Google Maps

The Google Maps app has transformed the way we get around, but are you making the most of its features?

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Since its February 2005 launch, Google Maps has grown to become one of the most useful apps on the web and on mobile. In fact, it has transformed the way we travel so thoroughly that it's hard to imagine getting around without some sort of map app in hand. As straightforward to use as Google Maps is, it packs some hidden features under the surface. Here are some useful tricks to get more out of your Google Maps experience.

Download maps for offline use

Download maps for offline use

There might be times, far from civilization, when your phone loses its data connection... which means no more loading of map tiles. You can guard against this ahead of time by caching parts of the map for offline use. To get started, tap Offline areas from the app menu.

Maps makes some suggestions (like the area around your home address or places you've recently searched for), or you can select Custom area to specify a section of the map yourself. Down at the bottom, you can see how much room it will take up on your phone.

That data storage is the only real downside to doing this, but you can delete offline areas at any time. Note: Even though a cached map keeps the app running without a data connection, you will lose certain app features—such as live traffic updates—once you go offline.

Tap the settings icon (the cog symbol) on the offline maps screen to set how often the cache is updated and cleaned out automatically.

David Nield/Popular Science

Find stop-offs on your route

Find stop-offs on your route

Google recently added a particularly useful feature to its apps for Android and iOS—the option to search for places like restaurants or gas stations on your current route. That means you can take a quick detour without having to reconfigure your whole journey.

When you're in the middle of navigating somewhere, just tap the search icon, then choose your category from the list. Maps shows suitable locations near your current route, together with opening times and how much time the detour will take. Pan around the map to see more suggestions.

Tap on a location then choose Add Stop to add it to your route. Plus, you can add up to nine stop-offs on a single journey by tapping the menu button (three vertical dots) when your navigation instructions first appear, and choosing Add stop.

David Nield/Popular Science

Double-tap to zoom the map

Double-tap to zoom the map

This is a very simple tip that you might not know about: Use your finger to double-tap and hold on the Maps screen, then drag up or down, and you can quickly zoom in and out.

It's hugely helpful when you've only got one hand free to hold your phone and are trying to get a closer look at a location (or a broader overview of the place you're in). It works on Google Maps for both Android and iOS.

You can still use the old two-finger pinch-and-zoom technique as well if you prefer, but remember the one-handed option in case you need it.

David Nield/Popular Science

Add custom names to your favorite places

Add custom names to your favorite places

Maybe your family has a specific part of the beach they like to get to, or you want quick directions to grandma's house without having to type in the address every time. In situations like this, you can add custom labels or names to places in Google Maps.

Search for a place, like an address, or just plant a pin somewhere in the map with a long press on the screen. Tap the bottom of the screen to bring up the place card, then choose Label and give your spot a name.

The name is linked to your personal version of Google Maps, the one that shows up whenever you sign into the service, so your custom names will show up in your web browser as well, as long as you're already logged into your Google account.

David Nield/Popular Science

Get home with a single tap

Get home with a single tap

If you're using Google Maps on Android, you can take advantage of Android's fondness for widgets by setting up a quick shortcut to get home.

Get the widget selector up (usually done through a long press on a blank part of the home screen), then look for the Maps entries and choose the one marked Directions. When you place the widget, you can choose an address and a mode of transport, as well as set other route options (avoiding toll roads, for example).

Set the destination as home and there you have it—a one tap solution for finding your way home from anywhere, whether by car, public transport, or foot.

David Nield/Popular Science

Check traffic ahead of time

Check traffic ahead of time

Most of us don't like being late, but because of fluctuating traffic conditions, the driving time to a specific place can vary a lot depending on when you check the route. Driving to the office on a Sunday morning, for example, will take you a lot less time than going the same distance during rush hour.

To get around this, click on the Leave now button when you look up directions on the web (this option isn't yet available in the mobile apps). Select the Depart at option instead, set your time and date, and you get a more realistic estimate of your journey time for the period when you're actually going to be traveling.

Google Maps can't actually predict the future—if an unexpected crash occurs along the route, you're out of luck. But Google can use data it's amassed in the past to make an educated guess. It should give you some idea of when to set off for the family reunion on Saturday or that job interview next Monday.

David Nield/Popular Science

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