Google Maps vs. Waze: Users Love One, Hate the Other

Google Maps vs. Waze 6 photos
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
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It's safe to say that Google Maps and Waze are currently the world's most popular mobile navigation apps. Google Maps is pre-loaded with Android, the leading mobile OS worldwide, but is also the top alternative for Apple Maps, the native mapping service on iPhones. Waze can be downloaded from the app stores on both platforms.
Google Maps and Waze have the same owner (search giant Google), but they've embraced different directions that allow them to target different audiences.

Despite still boasting navigation capabilities, Google Maps feels more focused on its world exploration component and features that allow users to get business information, submit reviews, and contribute to building an all-in-one mapping service. Waze is all about traffic navigation, as its exclusive focus is to get you from point A to point B as fast as possible.

Google Maps and Waze keep getting major updates, with new features added regularly, Google Maps has recently received new capabilities on Android Automotive, including support for showing nearby compatible charging stations when running out of battery and a new color palette that made the app more confusing, especially at night.

Waze's latest update adds new warnings for speed bumps and sharp curves, improved roundabout navigation, and more information to help you drive to a destination safer and more conveniently.

The two apps continue to operate independently, but based on the reviews posted on the Google Play Store, users are increasingly more satisfied with Waze and disappointed with the experience with Google Maps.

Google Maps has 17.8 million reviews and a 4-star rating, while Waze has 8.7 million reviews and a 4.5-star rating. Waze ranks higher than Google Maps despite the latter coming with every Android phone (hence the bigger number of reviews).

However, the reviews posted on the Play Store show that not everybody likes the direction Google has embraced for Google Maps. Some people still complain about the color theme introduced in the fall of 2023, but most messages signal bugs that Google somehow fails to fix.

Google Play Store reviews
Photo: Google Play Store
"It no longer speaks directions," someone says, while another user explains that the app has become "unusable." Google Maps "freezes every time I try to open it," they say.

One user reveals that Google Maps has become less reliable after the latest updates, adding time to their drives, taking them on unnecessary tolls, and crashing in the middle of the drive. Others claim the keyboard doesn't load when trying to search for an address, the app doesn't respond to touch, and sometimes suggests detours that don't make sense.

Not everybody hates Google Maps, as some users are still satisfied with the app, but the number of negative reviews has increased significantly, thus the 4-star rating on the Play Store.

Google Play Store reviews
Photo: Google Play Store
Waze feels like a more stable and reliable navigation solution based on the reviews published on the Play Store.

Users still complain of occasional bugs, especially on Android Auto, though the unpolished experience when connecting an Android phone to the head unit might not be Waze's fault. Android Auto is often responsible for most of the bugs that happen in the car.

"Absolutely one of the best driving apps around," one user explains, while another one adds that it is "better than Google Maps."

Google Play Store reviews
Photo: Google Play Store
Compared to Google Maps, Waze's main selling point is a crowdsourcing engine that allows users to pin hazards on the map. Waze supports a wide range of traffic hazards, such as accidents, potholes, broken traffic lights, vehicles stopped on the side of the road, blocked lanes, and roadkill. When one user marks a hazard on the map, Waze uses the information to generate warnings shown to other users.

Most users who complain about bugs in Waze criticize the Android Auto experience and the detours generated by the app when looking for routes. In my experience, Waze is better than Google Maps at finding faster routes, albeit the benefit typically comes down to two or three minutes at best. Waze also offers more complex routes than Google Maps, as it sends you to small and narrow roads to avoid traffic jams and slowdowns along the route.

Waze users complain of bugs like the dark mode no longer working on their phones, lost Internet connection (Waze only works online to download and upload data), the app feeling slow and providing directions with a delay, and lost favorite locations. Some of these problems could be caused by the GPS connection or device issues, so they might not be directly tied to Waze.

Google Play Store reviews
Photo: Google Play Store
At the end of the day, Waze isn't better than Google Maps, and Google Maps isn't better than Waze. It depends on your expectations and what you need from a navigation app. As I said earlier, the two apps have a different focus, so if you want an all-in-one solution, Google Maps is the right pick. Waze is the better option if you want an application exclusively focused on traffic and want to contribute to its crowdsourcing engine.

In both cases, some of the problems you hit might not be caused by the apps but by your phone, the GPS connection, or Android Auto.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
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Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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