Google Maps Offline Directions Review
About a month ago I covered Google’s announcement of the release of turn by turn directions for Google Maps online. (Android only right now. Coming to iOS soon.) At that time I was only a few days away from my Panama trip, so I was hoping to get the new version of the app. Thankfully it came to my device the morning I took off and I was able to test this functionality on my way to/from the Panama Canal, my hotel and the airport.
How to Download Offline Maps
Before I detail my experience, let’s look at how to download the offline maps. Google has made it incredibly easy.
- To download an offline map, simply search for the city/area in Google Maps and go to the destination page that comes up. For example, here is my search for Panama.
- Unlike previously, you don’t have to mess with menus or anything else. Once you reach this screen simply hit “Download” and it will ask you to choose the area.
- You can zoom in or out with your fingers and the app shows you how much space your map will take and how much you have available. Once you have the correct region, then click “Download” and the fun begins!
My Panama Google Maps Experience
I was down in Panama with PDX Deals Guy to complete the AAdvantage Elite Fast Track. We agreed that I would be the driver and he would be the navigator. Since I recently changed from T-Mobile to AT&T I didn’t have international data, so this really came in handy. After landing and procuring the rental car, I typed in Panama Canal into the search box and Google Maps calculated a route. That was a good sign!
As we left the airport, I immediately noticed there is one huge difference with the offline system. Since voice data would make the map too big, it simply dings at you whenever you are supposed to turn. This isn’t terrible if you have a navigator, but it could be hard when you are buy yourself. With that said, the full street names and directions do show on the screen.
Getting to the Canal
Panama City has a lot of streets that suddenly split and wrap around each other. Navigating through these was tough, even with the GPS directions. Several times we almost went the wrong way, but managed to correct it at the last minute. Then, at one point we did go the wrong way and Google Maps flawlessly redirected us. I’m not honestly sure a normal GPS would have done any better.
About 40 minutes after we left, we arrived at the parking lot of the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal! We watched the movie, looked through the museum and then waited until a ship came through the locks. It was supposed to rain, but thankfully the weather held up. As you might expect the ship moved slowly, but eventually it went from one side to the other.
Getting to Our Hotel
Getting from the Canal to the hotel was quite a bit easier. We had already driven about 90% of the route on the way out to the canal, so it was more familiar. Still, at one point the road split and we didn’t know which way to go. Luckily I made a last minute decision to go left and I was right! Lucky for once I guess.
Before long we did arrive safely at the beautiful Hyatt Place Panama City. This hotel is definitely nicer than the U.S. Hyatt Places and almost could be a normal Hyatt. The rooms were great and the hotel was comfortable. Most importantly, they have free valet parking so the car is nice and safe overnight.
Back to the Airport
Our final test of Google Maps offline came as we drove back to the airport. We had an early morning flight, so we left the hotel at around 5am. Without traffic to deal with, the instructions were easier to follow and we got to our destination without any hassle. My phone truly did a fantastic job navigating without the internet connection. This is the death blow to dedicated GPS systems in my opinion.
I actually think Google Maps offline is more important than most people know. Maps & GPS can use up a lot of data and now having that information stored locally should help with that. While this is a useful international driving tool, it is probably going to be just as useful for when you are at home. Even if you have an internet connection, why should you suck all of your data when you can simply download a map?
I was beyond impressed with Google Maps Offline turn by turn directions and can’t wait to see how they improve the functionality. While we did have a few hiccups, they were mostly caused by the confusing roads of Panama City. Sure, having a voice to guide us would probably have helped, but it wasn’t necessary and we were able to get around without a connection. How awesome!