Road-tested Reviews: The Waze of the Road

Though my husband and I are veteran roadtrippers these days, there was, in fact, a time when we traveled without a GPS. Or at least, with a less than adequate one. Let me tell you, there is little more terrifying than driving through I’m-not-really-sure-where, Georgia, in the middle of the night when your GPS decides your course is now somewhere in the Atlantic. We knew we were staying on a particular highway for quite some time to go, but it’s unsettling when your primary mode of navigation goes kaput in the middle of the night, hundreds of miles from home, and you don’t have much of a backup.

Which is why it still amazes me now that even the most basic smartphones today have the ability to pull up a map, drop a pin for where you’re standing, and tell you how to get from A to B. Which is what we did to try and solve the GPS problem in Georgia, until the phone lost signal, too.

At any rate, we’ve come a long way in a very short number of years, to the point where even GPS capability is a standard on a common device like a cell phone - even most of the cheapest models you can buy today have some kind of built-in navigation capability. Pretty neat. But even more neat is a little GPS app available for iOS, Android, Blackberry, and a slew of other devices called Waze - and it’s totally free.

image courtesy waze.com

Waze was originally built as a free, crowdsourced GPS application, which means it didn’t start out with very much map data. Users would allow the app to record their path as they drove, which created a very accurate map over time for roads all over the world. These days, the maps are spot-on accurate, and enough to make some of the big players in the mapmaking game take notice: Google purchased Waze in 2013 for a hefty $1.1 billion - nothing to sneeze at there.

But Waze doesn’t stop at being a simple mapping and navigation app. It also gives users the ability to interact with other travelers (affectionally called “Wazers” within the app) by passing along helpful information about road hazards like accidents or construction; showing areas of slow-moving traffic or traffic jams; as well as noting the locations of speed traps. All of these notifications rely on the community at large to keep updated, but Waze’s userbase has grown to support the app over the years, and the reports appear fairly accurate most of the time. The more you use Waze, the more your credibility rating goes up - and notifications you report are taken more seriously by the app, so there is some measure of built-in accountability.

The reporting interface gives you quick access to a bunch of common road hazards - just tap and report. image courtesy waze.com

 

Hazards reported by other users pop up to show you what's ahead on the route. image courtesy waze.com

 

Waze even has a number of social features built in, giving you the option to pick a cute icon to represent your car on the map (mine’s a kitty!) and view other Wazers on the roads around you. You can give a social “shout out” to passing cars in greeting, or just see what’s up on the road. Waze also “gamifies” the act of driving, giving you points for driving on roads that aren’t well traveled (to help build map accuracy) and points for finding “items” along your route - the app drops in random collectable items and your icon snaps them up for points. Just like Pac-Man.
Me-yow, that's a cute avatar! Roads blurred by me because that's uh, a little too close to home. image from cantijustorbit.blogspot.com

 

The profile page allows you to connect to your Facebook (and other social accounts) as well as check other settings, like enabling you to be invisible to other drivers. I've always wanted the power of invisibility. image from cantijustorbit.blogspot.com

 

Waze gives you more points the more you use the app. image from cantijustorbit.blogspot.com

In the app’s most recent incarnation, a slew of never-knew-you-needed-it features have rolled out, including the ability to automatically notify someone of your progress and location on a route - I can safely say I’ll be using this to notify my family back home that we got to our destination safe and sound on our next trip. Another new feature allows you to send an email or text message to a friend you’re picking up - all they have to do is reply, and Waze will auto-magically plan a route for you. They don’t need to have the app, and you don’t have to input directions. Waze is also smart enough to help you pick out the fastest route to avoid slow traffic and other hazards, and will adjust itself on the fly.

image courtesy waze.com

image courtesy waze.com

 
I’ve been using Waze since some of its earliest iterations, and can only say positive things about the progress they’ve made with the app. Waze has become a constant companion for us on roadtrips, sometimes besting iOS’ built-in Maps app in terms of accuracy, and certainly the clear winner in terms of extra features and information about road conditions. Even if you prefer iOS Maps, Waze provides a reliable backup, or at least a very good second opinion,  in case you’re feeling hesitant about the route you’re given by other mapping software. With clear, easy-to-understand narration, useful traffic information, fun social features, and the fact that it’s completely free, Waze gets a thumbs up from me.
 
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Disclaimer: I did not receive any compensation from Waze or anyone else for writing this review. I just love their product and wanted to give my personal recommendation. Some images used in this post were provided by Waze's media kit.

 More out of this world roadtrip tips, reviews, and stories at Can't I Just Orbit?

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