What a difference a year makes, particularly when it comes to Android and Google’s ever-changing Maps app. Key new features include searching and navigating in “offline” mode, as well as viewing (or hiding) your contacts on the map.
We’ll also detail a few other Maps features we didn’t cover last time around, such as “private labels” for locations, custom Home and Work icons, and a super-easy way to send directions from the desktop version of Maps to your phone.
Read on for seven new tricks in Google Maps for Android, starting with…
1. Search and navigate with offline maps
When we last checked in with Google Maps, its ability to save “offline” maps was pretty limited. Sure, you could download neighborhood or even city maps to your Android device for offline viewing, but you couldn’t search, and navigation was out of the question.
The good news is that recent versions of Google Maps have given offline maps a complete overhaul. Once saved, online “areas” are searchable just like when you’re online, and you can even tap a restaurant, a bank, or another venue for business hours and a user review score. Best of all, you can now get turn-by-turn directions within a saved map.
To download an offline map, just tap anywhere on the screen, pull up the detail window at the bottom of the display, then tap Download and position the box over the area of the map you’d like to save. Once that’s done, you’ll be able to search and navigate in your saved areas the next time your device is offline.
To update or delete your saved maps, tap the three-line “hamburger” button in the top corner of the page, select Offline areas, tap a map, then tap Delete or Update.
2. Send map directions from a desktop to a phone
Zapping a location to your phone from the desktop version of Google Maps used to be quite the clunky operation; you had to send a place via a lengthy text link, or you could “star” it as a favorite and later dig it up on your Android handset.
Luckily, the recent redesign of Google Maps for desktops came with a welcome addition: an impossible-to-miss Send to Your Phone button that appears whenever you click a location.
Just click the Send to Your Phone button, and the location will appear as a notification on any of your signed-in Android or iOS devices; you can also send a Google Maps marker within an email or text message, just like before.
In the case of a Google Maps location arriving within an Android notification, the alert will include shortcuts for directions as well as turn-by-turn navigation.
3. Look for (or hide) your contacts on the map
As you scroll around your neighborhood in Google Maps, you may notice something new besides the usual street names, businesses, schools, and other points of interest: the names of contacts in your address book.
Just tap a name to jump to the contact’s card in your address book, or to get turn-by-turn directions to their location.
Only you can see the names of contacts in Google Maps, but there’s still a way to wipe a name off the map.
Just tap the name in Maps, tap the three-dot menu button next to their contact card entry, then tap Hide contact in Maps.
You can also tap the three-line “hamburger” button in the top corner of the screen, tap Your Places, then scroll through the list of contacts under the Labeled tab. If you see a contact you’d like to hide, tap its three-dot menu button and select Hide contact in Maps.
4. Add a private label to a place
There’s a deli near our old Brooklyn apartment called Nelson Deli—or rather, that’s what my wife and I call it (because it sits on the corner of Nelson and Court streets). On Google Maps, you’ll only see the store with its real name, Las Americas Deli Grocery.
If you want, though, you can add a “private” label to any tappable location or venue in Google Maps. The label will only appear for you, so no need to worry about changing a business’s name for everyone else.
To add a private label to a location, tap it on the map, tap the three-dot menu button in the top corner of the screen, select Add label, then type in anything you want.
When you go back to the map, your private label will appear in place of the real name of the venue. Tap the location, and you’ll see a new, yellow Labeled button next to the Save button. Tap Labeled to edit or delete your private label.
5. Change the icon for home or work
When you specify your home and work addresses in Google Maps, both locations are stamped with a couple of simple, relatively boring icons: a house icon for Home, and a briefcase for Work.
Those icons will do the trick, but you can also jazz them up a bit if you’re feeling creative.
Just tap your home or work icon in Google Maps (you can search, or tap the three-line hamburger button, tap Your Places, then find Home and Work under the Labeled tab), then tap Give your icon a new look. You can pick from more than 30 different icons, from a camper to an igloo to a teepee or a windmill.
6. Measure the distance from one point to another
If you want to know if you’re really jogging five miles in the morning, there’s an easy way to find out using Google Maps.
Tap anywhere on a street until a red pin drops, swipe up on the information pane at the bottom of the screen, then tap Measure distance.
Next, drag the map until the on-screen reticule is hovering over the location you want; as you drag, the number of feet or miles will appear at the bottom of the screen. If you want to make a turn, tap the blue plus-sign to anchor the line to the map and drag the reticule in a new direction. Keep going until you’ve traced your entire course, then check how many miles you’re actually pounding out each day.
7. Know when the bus, train, or subway is coming
No need to pull out a bus schedule when you’re checking public transit on Google Maps. Tap a station, then tap a line for arrival times.
Times that appear in green are in real time, and you can tap a time to see arrival times for other stops on the line.
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Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices.
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