Google Maps and Waze are good at different things, and that's a huge road trip hassle

Android Auto Lifestyle
Android Auto Lifestyle (Image credit: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

To start the summer, my family and I drove over 2000 miles round-trip to Texas. Our vessel was a 2017 Ford F150, pulling a 21-foot cargo trailer we converted into a camper. We drove all the way from Kansas to Padre Island National Seashore, so we could camp on the beach for a few nights with some friends. The experience was fantastic, but the driving experience could have been a bit better if feature parity between Google Maps and Waze on Android Auto was more cohesive.

When I bought my truck in December 2019, I was so excited to discover the vehicle supported Android Auto, a first for me. While my truck's head unit doesn't support a wireless connection, I love using Android Auto all the same. From Google Assistant with its communication integrations to streaming music, it's great, especially its navigation features.

Changing your wallpaper in Android Auto

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Until I began using Android Auto, I had used Google Maps exclusively whenever I needed help navigating anywhere. Google Maps has so many helpful features, and above all, I'm familiar with it, which is essential when you're trying to get around somewhere you're unaccustomed to. But Android Auto made me want to try some new apps, and I knew a few people who loved using Waze. So I thought I'd try it out.

And you know what? I really like it. I like how it shows road names, gas stations, hotels, and restaurants more frequently without zooming in. I also appreciate the user-sourced data in regards to construction and road hazards. Plus, the fun things that get added periodically, such as celebrity voices like Boy George during Pride Month or the dog and cat car icons going on right now, give each car ride something new to look out for.

Waze Alert

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

In 2013, Google acquired Waze. Since then, some of these user-souced features have begun finding their way into Google Maps. Both apps operate independently, but since the same company owns both, there are some shared resources. While I appreciate that, not as many of Google Maps' features have crossed back over into Waze as I would like.

Juggling Android Auto apps on the road

Android Auto running on a phone

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

I decided to start our road trip using Waze as my navigator to get to our destination as safely and quickly as possible. As I was planning out my trip I wanted to be sure to save the route and surrounding area for offline usage in case I ended up in areas without cellular coverage. Google Maps lets you download a trip or just a specific region, whereas Waze only — as far as I could find — lets you download your route as a planned trip.

From an environmental, time-saving, and financial standpoint, I'd love to get better fuel mileage, but frequent stops are welcome with kids onboard.

Off the bat, things worked swimmingly as it began notifying me of road hazards and construction areas. But I began to notice a big feature disparity when it was time to fill up on gas.

My truck is a half-ton vehicle with a 3.5L twin-turbo motor, and typically I average around 19MPG. While pulling my converted cargo trailer camper, weighing in at about 5700lbs fully loaded, I get a fabulous 8-9MPG. This means I had many stops to make over the 2000+ mile journey, and with a 20-gallon fuel tank, I needed to know with certainty how far my next fill-up was.

There are a lot of great Android apps, but not all have an Android Auto counterpart, and even the best Android Auto apps features are paired down from their smartphone apps. This is done for a few reasons, but mainly to limit the number of interactions required from the driver. Because the more time the driver is looking at the display to choose a feature, the less time they are looking at the road.

Travelling down the interstate can be treacherous with contruction, blown-out tires, and more, but Waze and its user reports of those things before you reach them is extremely helpful.

Unfortunately, one of the missing Android Auto features from Waze — that Google Maps has — is finding a stop while in route. This is a major issue when traveling. The Waze phone app allows this, but Android Auto disables the option while your vehicle is in motion. With Google Maps, however, you can add a stop in a couple of different ways, even by voice, while driving.

Android Auto Lifestyle

Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

So after asking my wife several times to use her phone for Google Maps and find how far the next gas station was, I switched to Google Maps in Android Auto at the next fuel-up. Yes, we could have continued to juggle both navigation apps, but it was not convenient, and she had to become my turn-by-turn helper — something neither of us liked.

It didn't take far down the road for me to realize that I really missed the real-time traffic and road condition data that Waze provided. Google Maps' data wasn't missing entirely, but the data was generally delayed, not as detailed, or (in some cases) actually missing.

Source: Chris Wedel/Android CentralGoogle Maps on the left and Waze on the right

Using Android Auto for a long road trip is wonderful. Both Waze and Google Maps can do a fantastic job of getting you where you need to go. But as a driver, it's vital I have constant access to information that'll make me feel comfortable and in control. Knowing that there's debris on the road before you get to it, that there is a car pulled over on the side of the road, or how far away the next fuel stop is along your route all mentally prepare you for stressful situations.

You shouldn't have to fumble with multiple apps to get that peace of mind, whether you're driving 2000 miles or a much shorter distance.

Chris Wedel
Smart Home Writer
Chris Wedel is a fan of all things tech and gadgets. Living in rural Kansas with his wife and two young boys makes finding ways to get and stay online tricky. By utilizing his years of experience with the tech and mobile communications industries — success is assured. When not conquering connectivity challenges and testing new gadgets, he enjoys cruising a gravel road in his UTV with some good tunes.
  • Yeah, I don't get why they can't synergize both apps. On AA, is Waze at least giving warnings while Google Maps are on the screen?
  • I agree with this!! I wish Waze had the notification to tell you which lane to be in at a junction. I much prefer the notifications and the user input makes it much more useful. Mobile police cameras seem to appear really quickly :)
  • Waze shows you and tells you which lane to be in. Not sure why it's not like that on your end. Maybe check settings? I do have a newer phone, Galaxy A71 5G running Android 11, not sure if that makes a difference.
  • So true! What I really wish I could do is switch seamlessly between Waze and Google Maps while navigating to a destination. Like have Waze running while on the highway (avoid police) and then tap a button that switches to Maps and maintains my direction input when I need more detailed navigation. Today you have to enter everything in again. I don't have in car AA.
  • I'm glad you brought this up. Last month I completed a 1600 mile trip and used Google Maps through Android Auto the entire trip. For the most part it was pretty good except in the city where streets are right close to one another. It would say take the next turn but the map was dragging behind the command and once or twice I took the turn too early when it actually meant the next street. On Florida's Turnpike it misrepresented the layout to one of the toll stations so I missed paying a toll. The main question I have is regarding the general operation of Android Auto. Can you control the operations of your phone apps and use Google Maps at the same time? In other words, can I listen to a podcast through Google Podcasts etc, and have the map on the same screen? And then change to another podcast all through the vehicle screen without having to stop and change through the phone? Or whatever app I might want to use?
  • I haven't used Android Auto for a car in a little bit but it takes over your phone screen, like a splash screen, and you have to override it to start using apps normally while plugged in. Your heads up display has all of the compatible apps you need to control so you don't have to go back to your phone. You can switch between Maps and Music/Podcast screen all on the heads up display.
  • When I plug in my phone and select Android Auto it takes me straight to Google Maps. I never see a display of apps on the vehicle screen. What takes you to the app display screen, that round thing that looks like a button on the display screen?
  • You only get one visible active app at a time, but you can have a podcast playing while viewing Google Maps. Is that what you mean?
  • Essentially yes. Or be playing music from your phone, or be in another app, etc. Right now anything having to do with the phone I'm having to control on the phone itself. Which means stopping the vehicle to change to whatever is the next thing I want to listen to. I'm trying to figure out how to control that through the Android Auto screen.
  • It could be a case of whatever app you're trying to use isn't Android Auto compatible so it doesn't show on the screen, but will play the audio still via Bluetooth
  • I did play around with it last night and found out the round button looking thing on the Android Auto screen does act like a menu button. Clicking it brought up all the available apps on the screen, Maps, Google Podcasts, etc. A lot of those apps I don't think I've seen before but I didn't have time to explore around in them.
  • I've tried Waze and I'm not a fan. I found the "car on side of road" and other notifications to be intrusive and annoying. And usually inaccurate, as well. I either use the built-in navigation (Sync 3, updated late last year and has very accurate and up-to-date traffic and POI guidance from satellite) or Google Maps via Android Auto.
  • I do love Android Auto and the fact that my car, a 2021, supports displaying it on the car's screen. While Waze does have a lot more information, I find it to be a bit overwhelming while driving, so i stick with Google Maps. One issue i do have with Android Auto in my car, and can't figure out no matter how much i search online, is why I can't display the music controls in the bottom of the screen while running Google Maps. I can do it in older rental cars I've had, but not in my current vehicle.
  • Maybe your screen has strange resolution? Layout depends on res I think. Have you tried to enable developer options in Android Auto? Maybe you'll find something there to force it.
  • In your short article you have twelve incidences of the dreaded word that. All can be eliminated making your sentences and paragraphs read and flow much better. Reading all those that words is similar to hearing a speaker continuously repeating "ah" "um", ad-nauseam.
  • I use Waze through AA more than maps, simply because it offers more accurate information on hazards etc.
    However, during the winter months a few local roads get closed due to flooding and there is no way of marking a closed road using AA. It's impossible.
    When I raised this in the Waze forum I was advised to disconnect my phone, open the app and report it that way. Assuming it was safe or possible to do this at all times, when in reality it simply isn't.
    In my experience of both navigation apps using AA, both have useful features deactivated for no apparent reason, and it makes you want to use the phone the old fashioned way, which is what AA was supposed to eliminate.
  • Interesting article. I use both waze and GM. But am I the only person who is shocked (although not surprised) at the appalling and environmentally irresponsible truck you are driving? America need's to wake up to the damage their country is doing to the world. It is simply not acceptable to drive around in gas guzzlers while the world burns or gets washed away in floods. Shame on you and shame on the American government for not having the balls to raise tax levels on gasoline to make the use of these vehicles prohibitively expensive. Open your eyes America!
  • "am I the only person?" Yes. Yes, you are. But your jealousy does not negate the fact that 8-9 mpg from a big truck pulling a 21-ft rig, all while spewing cleaner exhaust than the air in any Chinese city (where people can own neither the truck, nor the rig), is an impressive engineering achievement. Because America.
    Shame on you for using precious electric resources to virtue-signal your self-righteousness and attack the man's freedom, and his safe, responsible use of the resources available to him to accomplish a task.
  • Stay in your safe space and keep up the virtue signaling 👍. May you be blessed with a endless supply of juice boxes and teddy bears 🧸
  • Waze is much better than Google maps.
  • Sorry, but I have usually found waze data to be unreliable in my travels. Crowdsourced data isn't all it's cracked up to be. If I believe everything waze told me, we'd have half a dozen crashes reported in a five mile stretch, when it turns out to be a lane closure from construction. (Happens often on the two Interstate expressways I live near.) The speed trap warnings are useless about 75% of the time (either there's no speed trap present, or the speed trap isn' reported). Then again, I don't speed recklessly and just find speed trap alerts to be annoying. And the waze app still looks like a friggin' cartoon--I can't take seriously any app that looks like it was developed by a grade schooler. I'll stick to Maps, which has flaws of its own but at least it's more consistent for me.
  • I'm in Australia. I use Waze around town for the traffic data, and on major highways. Once I leave the dual carriageways, I prefer Google Maps as it is more stable and can handle lack of mobile connectivity better. I would prefer to be able to use Here We Go (Here Maps) in this circumstance, as there is much of Australia that has no mobile data, but it doesn't work on Android Auto.
  • I actually used both on a road trip last weekend. I have a Surface Duo and I had Google Maps running on one screen for directions and Waze on the 2nd screen for road conditions information. Both were very useful and one of the few times that having two screens on my Duo came in hand.