Review: A mapping contender emerges in MapQuest

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I tried both during my trip on an older Android phone. MapQuest has one for the iPhone, too, and a new iPhone version due out next week promises nearby gas prices (Android already has it). Bing’s voice feature works only on Microsoft’s Windows phones, which I didn’t test.

MapQuest’s version is still clunky. While driving to Tucson’s airport, it told me to continue three miles along Interstate 10 only to tell me to stay on the highway and continue another three miles from there. It doesn’t take a genius to know that three plus three is six. MapQuest’s app also kept announcing every time it was rerouting directions following a missed turn. These were annoyances I had with Google’s Maps Navigation app when it first came out in 2009, but it has improved since then.

MapQuest’s app also failed to find a destination when I mistakenly pluralized a name. Google figured it out. As with the website, Google makes it easy to search on its app. It has walking directions for some indoor locations such as airports and shopping malls, too.

Not that Google was flawless: After I asked for directions to an Indian restaurant in the Tucson suburb of Oro Valley, Google’s voice navigator sent me back to my rented condo, as if to tell me I had eaten enough. Google also lacks MapQuest’s night mode, which darkens the screen for nighttime driving.

Back to using the website versions of the mapping services, Google excelled at finding transit directions from my apartment in Manhattan to LaGuardia Airport. Bing and MapQuest also offered transit directions, but only Google knew about a bus that stopped just a block from my apartment. MapQuest wanted me to take three subway lines and walk 40 minutes with heavy luggage. Those three also offer walking directions; Yahoo says transit and walking options will come this year.

Of the four services I tested, Google is the only to offer bicycle directions. It’s different from walking directions in that cyclists must respect one-way signs. Bike routes also favor bike lanes and shun steep hills when possible.

Google is the best overall so far, but I’m glad there’s competition.

I hope MapQuest can catch up on finding destinations so that I can take advantage of its exclusive features. In addition, MapQuest is a good choice for the iPhone, as Google’s voice-guidance feature is available only on devices running on its Android system. In fact, that feature has been one big reason I haven’t switched to an iPhone.

All the services can improve the way they communicate directions. Turn left “at the next light” is easier to interpret than take the “third left” _ especially when it comes to paper printouts. On busy highways, I don’t want to have to figure what’s an intersection and what’s just a driveway to a strip mall.

So I blame Google, Yahoo, MapQuest and Bing for all those wrong turns I made in Phoenix. It wasn’t my driving at all. But without them, I might still be going in circles looking for that wedding.

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