The built-in Google Maps functionality that comes with your iPhone is great. But there’s only one problem: there aren’t any turn-by-turn directions or voice prompts. Because of this, you have to constantly peek down at your phone and advance the text-based directions in order to see the next turn coming up. This is inconvenient, not to mention dangerous. There are a number of alternatives to this, such as buying a dedicated USB device or purchasing a GPS app from the iOS app store for a hefty price. But if you want turn-by-turn voice directions and you don’t want to buy a new gadget, GPS app Waze may be right for you.
Waze is a free app for the iPhone, Android and several Windows Mobile and Symbian phones. At its heart, Waze’s functionality is very familiar. You fire it up and it uses your smartphone’s built-in GPS capabilities to fix you on a map. Then, you can enter in an address or search for a point of interest and get driving directions. But unlike Google Maps for the iPhone, Waze automatically updates your position and gives you voice prompts for every turn along the way. This lets you get GPS navigation hands-free without taking your eyes off the road.
To this end, Waze is an excellent app. But it’s more than just a way to get driving directions. Whereas companies like TomTom and Garmin pay top dollar to generate and purchase maps, with Waze, the maps are maintained by the community. By using Waze, you agree to send data back to Waze’s servers, which helps them map new roads, correct inaccuracies in their maps and calculate drive times.
There’s also another social layer to Waze that lets you join commuter groups and chat with other drivers. You can see other Waze users driving on the map, as well as read reports such as traffic reports, hazard warnings and accident reports. This information can help you avoid snags and get to your destination faster.
Similar to games like Foursquare, you can also earn points in Waze for completing certain tasks. For example, if you drive a certain amount of miles in a single day, you can unlock bonus items on the roadway that you can pick up for points. You also get points for reporting map corrections, discovering new roads and other tasks. You can see the top Wazers in your area by viewing the scoreboard.
While the free turn-by-turn voice navigation GPS features of Waze are truly valuable, you should be cautioned not to get too sucked in to the social gaming aspect of this app. Distracted driving is always dangerous, no matter how heavy or light the traffic is. In fact, Waze prevents you from inputting text when the car is moving. Do your best to ignore the pop ups and distracting items on the map and focus on the road in front of you, and Waze can become your new best friend.
Tip: Waze is a big drain on your battery. Consider plugging your phone in with a car charger whenever you use this app.