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10 essential Google Maps tips and tricks

By Tom Morgan

We've rounded up some tips to turn you into a Maps power user, plus a few extras to put a smile on your face.

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From plotting a weekend away to navigating a commute or just meeting friends, Google Maps is an essential tool for many of us. But there are more ways to use it than you might imagine.

Whether you have an Android smartphone or an Apple iPhone, Google Maps has plenty of lesser-known features. You can download maps to navigate tricky roads without an internet connection, run effortless voice searches and more. Keep scrolling for tips on making the most of Google Maps on mobile.

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1. Goodbye pinch and zoom, hello one-handed zoom

Simply double-tap the screen, but keep your finger on it after the second tap and then swipe down to zoom in or swipe up to zoom out.

2. Save maps to use offline on your phone or tablet

Whether you're on 3G or 4G, mobile data connections can be flaky - especially if you're outside a major city. You may also want to turn data off while abroad to avoid a large bill. Fortunately, you can save maps for offline use and access them later in the main menu under Your Places:

  • Android: Tap the mic and say 'OK Maps' to save the maps.
  • Apple iOS: In the top-right corner, tap the three-dot menu and tap Save offline map.

3. Send directions from a computer to Android/iOS devices

You can ping over directions you've looked up on a laptop to a phone or tablet using the Send to device option, just as long as you're signed into your Google account on all devices. Enable the option in iOS via Google Maps > Settings > Notifications > Sent from desktop maps.

4. Set scale, units, places and your home or work, and view history

In the Google Maps menu lies Settings, where you can set distance units, enable map scaling and view/edit maps and locations history. Your places lists offline maps, saved locations and the option to set Home and Work addresses. The Google Now app synchronises this information across app and desktop versions and gives you real-time traffic updates - handy to check before heading off to work or on a trip.

5. Orient yourself when out and about

Ever wondered if you're facing the right (correct) direction? Tap the compass icon and the map shifts to face the same direction you are. Tap again to revert to the default 'North up' view.

6. Catch the last train, and view public transport, traffic and cycling routes

Enrich standard and satellite maps by adding layers from the menu. There's Cycling, Terrain, Public Transport and Traffic - the latter two have real-time information, such as red lines warning of heavy traffic or upcoming departures and arrivals for bus, train and tube stops (and the routes serving them). To view the last trains and buses, tap the train icon, load the route, then tap Settings > Last > Done.

7. Effortless voice and 'nearby' searches

Search by speaking place names in Android, via Siri in iOS on an iPhone or using your PC microphone. If you're looking for points of interest, such as a car park or cash machine, or want to grab lunch in an area you don't know, simply search using the word 'near', for example, 'cafes near Bristol train station'.

8. Off-road street view with 'Views' and 'Treks'.

Treks takes Google's Street View camera off the car roof and puts it onto a helmet, boat and so on. Explore Yosemite National Park in the US, cruise around the canals of Venice, view the majestic Northern Lights and much more.

9. God-view mode

Fancy flying around London or New York, or just between home and your local chippy? Get a unique view with this combination of Google Maps and Google Earth.

Phone/tablet: You'll need both the Google Maps and Google Earth apps installed. In Maps, tap the menu button and select Google Earth to open. Place two fingers on the on-screen map and change the viewpoint as you wish. To rotate the map, move your fingers in a circular direction. To tilt, move them up or down the screen. Pinch them towards or away from each other to zoom in and out.

PC/Mac: Search for a landmark or location, such as the Empire State Building.

 

Click the square named Earth in the bottom-left corner. Click the Tilt view icon (it looks like four tiles) to change the angle.

 

Finally, position the map as required - hold down the Ctrl key and use your mouse to move it, and use + and - symbols to zoom in/out. As you zoom past certain major landmarks, they will appear in 3D.

 

10. Google Maps 'Easter eggs'

A few of the best (chocolate-free) surprises, which are best experienced using Google Maps on a laptop or desktop:

  • Search for directions between the Brecon Beacons and Snowdon, and check the transport options to discover a rapid, but rather toasty, scaly route.
  • Search for directions between Fort Augustus and Urquhart Castle, choose the train/bus icon and check the transport options to have a local beastie help you on your way (choose 'fewer transfers' if you can't see the unusual method).
  • Locate Dr. Who's TARDIS on a London street and venture inside.
  • Drag peg man over Area 51 in Nevada and he turns into a spaceship.
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