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Here Maps review

The good: Nokia’s Here Maps app has good local search, directions for driving, walking, and public transit, and a great way to save locations in collections.

The bad: There is no visual component like Street View or 3D views. The app bumps you to Safari for full reviews of locations. The app feels like a Web-based option.

The bottom line: The Here Maps app does a pretty good job with most of what you would want in a navigation app, but various issues and a lack of visual options like Street View make it only a passable substitute for what is already available.

 

Nokia’s Here Maps app covers the navigation basics fairly well, but various issues in this early iteration make it a poor substitute for either Google’s Web based offering, Apple’s Maps app, or even other third-party map and search options.

Map views
You have a number of options for viewing maps. A layers button in the lower right brings up a menu with two buttons at the top for switching between map views and toggling traffic incidents. Map viewing options let you choose between standard map, satellite, public transit, and Live traffic views. Most work as you would expect, but in my particular location in the San Francisco Bay Area, the public transit view only showed the light rail (BART), but had no bus maps or information. When you search for a location and choose public transit, the app will show you bus lines to take on your route, but it seems odd to have a dedicated public transit view layer if you’re not going to show all the public transit information.

The Traffic view section lets you toggle traffic incidents like accidents, congestion, and construction that show up as icons to give you advance warning on the map. The app shows heavy traffic spots using yellow and red overlay lines on the route, though it was unreliable in my testing, sometimes giving no indicators when the traffic was obviously bad (Nokia admits this feature is still in beta).

It’s important to note that the Here app does not have options for either 3D views like Apple Maps or Street View from Google Maps, so if you were hoping to get Street View back, you’re not going to find those type of features here.

Search tools
The Here Maps app has most of the features you would expect, but at this early stage, it’s not perfect. You can search for businesses, common search terms (such as “pizza”), and specific addresses using a standard search field, and the app shows you the locations on a map. From there, you can get a suggested route to your destination for driving, walking, or public transit. The directions seem mostly reliable, but in my testing I got a walking route for a nearby destination that gave me a roundabout path when a more direct path was available. It may have been an anomaly, because most directions I tested seem solid, but it’s worthy of note.

Also noteworthy is that there are no turn-by-turn directions with voice for driving, but the Here app does include them for walking directions. The voice directions for pedestrians requires a quick download within the app to activate. The male voice used is clear and easy to understand and sounds more naturally conversational than it does robotic as it gives each direction on your journey.

Searching for a restaurant shows you the location before you start your trip, and you can read reviews before deciding to go there, but it’s not an ideal user experience. The app gives you a Lonely Planet review (when available) and user reviews powered by Trip Advisor, which is a great service, but the app directs you to the Web interface or to download the the app, taking you away from the Here Maps app. You can still read the opening sentences of a review and see star ratings from within the Here app, but it’s a shame you have to leave the app to read more. As an added bonus, if you’d like to try something new, the app also has suggestions for other highly rated restaurants in your area.

If you sign up for an account with Nokia, you have the option to save your favorite searches into collections. This means you can make a collection of favorite restaurants or places you want to try, for example, so you can quickly find them again and get directions. Your collections are saved on the server, so once signed in on another device or computer, you’ll be able to access your collections there as well. Having search collections is a neat idea for keeping similar searches together. In contrast, with Apple Maps you can create a bookmark for later viewing, but you can’t put your bookmarks into categories.

Conclusion
The Nokia Here maps app is a pretty good option for getting directions and local search, but it has a few problems at this early stage. The search collections features are a great idea and are definitely useful for saving searches you can access from anywhere, but other tools in the app can be unreliable, and strange user-experience issues make you wonder why you’re using this app instead of Apple Maps.

What particularly struck me in my testing was the overall feel of the app. Putting aside the app’s usefulness, The Here app simply feels like using a Web-based service rather than an actual native app. It’s like the difference between the old Google Maps app and the Web-based version iPhone users have to use now. It’s functional, but it doesn’t have the same feel. I recognize this is highly subjective, but I think if you download the app, you’ll see what I mean.

Overall, the Nokia Here app is a pretty solid alternative if you’re still hunting for a good maps app, but it’s not the go-to maps app we’ve been waiting for. Most features work as advertised most of the time, but there are still a few problems that have yet to be ironed out before I’d recommend it over Google’s Web-based maps or Apple Maps.

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