I was slow to adopt navigation apps. Why, I thought, would I need software to read a map for me? But then I discovered Waze , and the video gamer in me fell in love.
Waze is a free, community-driven traffic and navigation app, which means that the people who drive the same roads as you create the data. Their speeds tell Waze where jams are, and some users even edit the map data.
What I love most about Waze, however, is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It looks and feels almost like a video game, which includes the possibility of “gobbling” road goodies as you drive along: During the World Cup, you could pin the flag of the country you were rooting for to your icon and pick up virtual soccer balls that were planted in certain areas. It’s not for prizes; it’s just fun, and I like that in an app.
Waze is now owned by Google, and many of the great features of Waze — such as warnings about traffic jams, hidden police cars, and road closures — have been integrated into Google Maps. But I’m a purist and am likely to stick with Waze, because there are just so many awesome features to play with.
You might know about some of these; you might not. But just in case you haven’t discovered all the excellent bells and whistles of this fun navigation app, here are some of the things I’ve found while playing around:
1. Elvis has not left the building; he’s guiding you home.
Most navigation programs give you the ability to choose either a male or female voice in the audio settings, but how many of them offer you Elvis Presley? Or even a crooning boy band? Waze does, if you go into Settings by tapping the gear in the Waze menu at the lower left of the screen. From there, tap Sound and Voice Language, and soon you can be cruising home to the sultry sounds of the king of rock ’n’ roll. One word of warning: You don’t want Elvis guiding you if you are in an unfamiliar place that is not clearly marked; his directions are pretty much limited to a sultry “Take a left” and “Take a right.” But when he called me “baby” when warning me of an upcoming traffic jam, I almost melted.
2. It syncs your calendar events to plan your routes.
Planning your social calendar but don’t want to have to look up routes individually? As of version 3.7.8, if you give Waze permission to access your calendar and then tap the Tap to Add button that appears at the top of the Navigate menu, Waze will list appointments with locations, and it’s just a tap to navigate to them.
3. Hate tolls? How about driving the back routes?
Waze feels you. Go into Settings, tap Navigation, and you can customize your route to lose the tolls, the dirt roads, or even the freeways.
4. It finds gas.
This has gotten me out of a few “empty tank” jams when driving in unfamiliar places. In the Main menu, tap the Navigate map icon, tap the Gas icon at the lower left, and a list of gas stations near you will pop up, including their per-gallon price. You can also display this in map view. Don’t like your choices? Go into Settings, tap Gas Stations & Prices, and filter to your heart’s content by brand, gas type, price, and distance.
5. A few million of your friends on the road are looking out for you.
Icons pop up when other drivers note that there are traffic jams, speed cams, police, or road hazards ahead. I really love a heads-up so I can plan out alternate routes. Which Waze also offers you, by tapping on the Routes button in the Navigation menu.
6. Customize what you see on your route.
Don’t want to see all the other Wazers on the road or to get distracted by the road goodies game? Turn them off by going into Settings, tapping Display Settings, and then tapping Show On Map.
And, while this is not exactly high tech, it’s the little things in an app that keep me happy. You can customize the color of your routes by going into Settings, tapping Display Settings, and then Map Color Scheme. Your mileage may vary, but my route color of choice is Twilight, because it’s purple, and purple rules.
Want to cruise the highways and byways in a free Porsche, at least on your phone? Back into Display Settings we go: Tap My Car and pick out your favorite ride among the 20 or so choices. I drive a “mom car” in real life, but when I’m Wazing, I’m driving in style in a Porsche 911.
It’s frustrating when a navigation system freaks out and zooms in or out when it’s not supposed to, but Waze loves you and gives you the ability to control the zooming. Go into Settings, scroll down to Advanced, and then tap Auto Zoom. You can now zoom according to speed or distance, or even not zoom at all.
7. You can be a Good Do-Bee and help other Wazers out, which feels good.
Are the fuzz out in force? Did you spot a speed camera that others should know about? I don’t advise doing this while you’re driving, but if you have a passenger with free hands, have him tap the button on the lower-right corner of the main screen, and a Report screen will pop up. Report the road feature of your choice, and it gets broadcast to other Wazers in the area.
Did I mention that this also gets you extra points toward leveling up, just like in a video game?
And if you’re the competitive type, you can link Waze to your social media accounts and see how much better you’re doing than your friends, who are all still just baby Wazers, while you are a mighty, mighty, warrior Wazer, who has victoriously stomped them into the dust.
Not that I would know.