The Google Maps Feature Almost Nobody Uses (But Really Should)

The days when paper maps were a must-have for drivers out there are long gone, and the future seems to be all about the digital successor.
The Google Maps feature most drivers ignore 10 photos
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
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No matter if they’re being used for navigation by people like you and me or by autonomous vehicles where they serve as the eyes and ears for safe driving, digital maps have embarked on an innovation trend that is unlikely to come to an end too soon.

Google is at the forefront of this push, with Google Maps regularly being improved with new capabilities that help transform the traditional experience with a modern approach. The immersive mode that Google announced in 2022 is living proof on this front, as it helps explore the world in a way that nobody thought would be possible a decade ago.

Despite all these investments in new-generation features, Google Maps remains a valuable tool for drivers out there, boasting some of the most advanced navigation capabilities out there.

While most people use it to go from where they are to where they want to be, Google Maps also packs a series of extras that eventually enhance the way users can do this.

One of the primary goals of navigation apps is to make the road more predictable. To do this, they’ve been updated with clever features, such as traffic reports, real-time warnings, and other features that are specifically supposed to keep the driver in the know about what’s happening on the road ahead.

One of the Google Maps tools that significantly helps in this regard is surprisingly also one of the features that few people actually use.

Google Maps route preview
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
The route preview option has been around for a while in Google Maps, and its goal is as straightforward as it could be: it provides us with a preview of the route we are about to use, therefore also making the journey overall more predictable.

By letting us explore the route in advance and see every little turn that we’re about to make, Google Maps has a major contribution to getting drivers prepared for a journey.

Here’s how the route preview works and continue reading to find a few times to make the most of this feature.

Before anything else, in order to access the route preview, you need to set up a… route. In Google Maps, type the address where you want to go – the starting point is by default your current location, but you can also define another place using the directions menu.

Once you configured the entire route (you can also add multiple points), Google Maps should provide you with an overview of the journey you’re about to start. The summary includes the distance, the estimated time of travel, and starting in 2022, how much gas you could save by using a fuel-efficient route.

Google Maps route preview
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
At this point, you can already start the navigation, but if you scroll down, you should see an option called route preview – for some users, this option might not be available unless you also define the starting point, as explained above.

Tapping this option launches the route preview UI where you can inspect the suggested route in detail, down to every turn that you’re supposed to make when you start the journey. The previous and next arrows in the lower part of the screen let you explore the entire route from the starting point to the destination.

The best way to use the route preview is in satellite mode. Unfortunately, Google Maps does not allow users to change the map type while the route preview is enabled, so you need to enable the satellite layer in the overview screen (where you are also provided with statistics on the suggested route). Additionally, you can also configure the extra information that you want to see in the route preview screen, such as traffic details – though you need to keep in mind that the traffic conditions are displayed in real-time, so if you plan to start driving at a later time, this information would no longer be relevant.

The route preview screen would be substantially improved if Google eventually decides to add 3D navigation in Google Maps. Currently available in Apple Maps, this new-generation navigation experience provides better orientation, eventually making it easier for drivers to figure out which way they’re supposed to go. Google Maps doesn’t yet feature 3D navigation but 3D models are already available in the app. The immersive view that Google announced last year could eventually push the whole thing to a new level in terms of 3D content, as users would be allowed to explore every location with a more realistic experience.

For the time being, however, the route preview option is something that drivers should totally use more often, not necessarily for their daily commutes but especially when leaving on a long journey in places they’ve never been to. This should help prevent those awkward moments when you end up making a wrong turn, eventually forcing Google Maps to re-route and adding extra minutes to the journey.
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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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