Nokia Here vs. Apple Maps
Nokia Here (left) is the Finnish company's official maps app for iOS. While it has many useful features, you can see from this side-by-side comparison that the graphics are not as polished as Apple's
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Nokia recently unveiled its new take on mapping services, called Here. Today, the first version of Here arrives in the Apple App Store. We've been checking it out this morning, and we're so far impressed with its many features, although the overall experience needs polish.
Let's start with the good news: Here is responsive and intuitive. Icons are in logical locations, and the do generally what you expect. Slide your thumb across the screen, and the map fluidly moves with it. Sometimes it takes a second or two for map data to fill in as you move, but this is an issue with every mapping app, and I found Here to be much more nimble over a cellphone network than Google Maps or Bing.
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The app is also loaded with features. Satellite view and live traffic are there, although the latter is just for major roadways. You can switch easily from kilometers to miles (Nokia's a Finnish company, after all), and there's even an option to download specific maps for offline viewing.
Nokia has already honed its mapping approach on its Windows Phone handsets. On Windows Phone, Nokia has separate apps for maps, transit and driving directions that all work together in tandem. Here lacks the OS-level integration, but it carries over many of the best features of Nokia's winning maps suite for Windows Phone.
Those features are typically found in many other mapping apps, of course, so let's get to a couple that aren't. First is voice guidance for walking directions. I'm not sure why Nokia chose to prioritize this feature over turn-by-turn driving directions, but it's a nice perk nonetheless. The voice is male and British, which makes for a pleasant change from the Siri-like female "assistants" out there, but there doesn't seem to be a way to change the default.
The hands-down best aspect of Here, though, is its beautiful mapping of public transit. Once you select the "Public transport view," subway and commuter lines appear as lines, thank you very much -- and in the proper colors. The actual subway directions, however, leave a little to be desired, telling me to take a train on my regular commute that I never would (or should). There's still no better app for directions than a native of the city you're in.
And now the bad news: This app is blurry. It's clearly not using the vector graphics common in other map apps (like Apple's own) -- text and icons on the maps themselves (as opposed to the ones in the menus and UI) look fuzzy on the iPhone's retina display. It's a distracting problem that makes you want to stop using the app as soon as you possibly can.
A couple of other annoyances: When you search for a term (say, "sushi"), and you then move the center of your map, the map doesn't automatically refresh to show you a new set of "pins." The app also has an annoying habit of often taking you back to your present location if you haven't touched the screen in a while. There doesn't even seem to be a way to turn that off -- it's a horrible "feature" that shouldn't even be the default.
Data on places isn't as thorough as, say, Google's, with no star ratings for restaurants or reviews -- just a single "official" description from Nokia publication partners like Lonely Planet and Time Out. But you do have the option to instantly call, share or plot a route to any place of interest that comes up in a search.
If you sign in with a Nokia account, you can do things like save maps and routes in your "Collections" in the cloud like you can with Google Maps. You can save specific places (say, that Indian place that came up in search) as well. But even if you don't sign in you can still use most of the app's features, and even save a single map for offline viewing.
Even though Nokia needs to re-think some of the defaults and add better graphics, Here is an excellent map companion that iOS users should add to their location quivers immediately. It needs vector graphics and turn-by-turn directions to really excel, however, so hopefully those are in the works... and Apple gives them the green light.
This story originally published on Mashable here.