Google Maps and Google Earth: What's the difference?

Whereas on the desktop you can quickly switch between the informative Maps interface and detailed full-blown satellite Earth view, the experience is a bit choppier when you're juggling Maps and Earth apps on Android. Google Maps contains all of the navigation, lightweight mapping power and points of interest with just a small hint of satellite imagery, while Google Earth has complete 3D satellite data and just a small subset of information on places, without any point-to-point navigation. In the end there are pretty clear roles for when to use each one — let us explain.

Google Maps is for routing and getting to places

When it comes to finding places to go and how to get there, most people should just reach for Google Maps. The amazingly up-to-date information both in terms of maps themselves and points of interest are really top-notch among mapping software, and whether you're driving, walking, biking or taking public transit Maps really has you covered for turn-by-turn navigation.

The mapping data is great for displaying traffic or navigation routes, but it isn't that great for letting you get a feel for the area you're about to go to. Of course there's Street View, but sometimes you need something a bit more zoomed out — and unfortunately the satellite layer you can toggle in Maps is 2D and not very high resolution. Maps is going to cover about 95 percent of what most people need out of their mapping app, but the highest-detailed information for some things still lies within Earth.

Google Earth is for exploring

For the explorer in all of us, Google Earth is worth having around. Even though Google Maps offers a basic satellite view, if you want to really look around and see what things are like, you need to open Earth instead. The satellite view within Earth is dramatically higher resolution and more complex than what you'll get in Maps, and includes full 3D rendering of that satellite data so you can get a feel for the size of buildings and topography of the areas you're exploring.

You can get guided fly-by tours of certain buildings and full cities, or you can simply scroll, zoom and pan any way you want. Earth includes some points of interest and can also overlay Wikipedia information for locations, but tapping on specific items doesn't give you the rich data experience offered by Maps.

Of course Earth also includes Street View just like Maps, but in this case it's a far less jarring experience when you're moving between a satellite view and Street View — though you may notice discrepancies in imagery based on when the pictures were captured. The combination really means that you have a fantastic tool for looking around pretty much anywhere in the world and getting really good, accurate images of that place at any zoom level. Earth is a tool for exploring, not necessarily for getting directions to a new pizza place.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

28 Comments
  • Much of the world still offers only what you get from the regular maps Posted via the Android Central App
  • I love them both Posted via the Android Central App
  • Apenas si alguna vez utilizo Google Earth.
  • earth is kept up to date, g maps can be anything up tp 16 years out of date.
    i had to keep complaining to google in 2014 to get the map and sat data updated for a very busy,M25 home counties town in the uk, because it was still showing buildings, roads etc from before my daughter was born in 1999,and was becoming totaly usless in some areas.
  • What is the wallpaper from the hero image?
  • I cannot post links here, neither do I have the exact background from the Hero image as it seems to be cropped. After some Googling I found this one is part of a serie. Google for "simoncpage ipad hd retina wallpaper" and hit the top result. Enjoy.
  • Thanks!
  • I've seen it in the multimedia app Zedge. Posted via the Android Central App
  • If only Google put their maps on all the platforms. Every map in comparison is inferior. Posted via BlackBerry Classic
  • I get your point, but to say Maps is "inferior" because it isn't on some platforms isn't really fair. Google Maps is great for the platforms it is on, and for people who use those platforms it's a top choice. If I'm an Android user my Maps experience isn't degraded by the fact that Maps isn't available on Windows Phone. You can knock Google for not having Maps available on Kindles, BlackBerry and Windows Phone, but that doesn't make the app useless on Android or iOS (or the web, let's remember).
  • Stop! Your making to much sense LOL Posted via the Android Central App
  • He didn't say maps is inferior. He said every map in comparison is inferior. Posted via the Android Central App
  • ^ This. Hahhahah. Somebody misread my comment. i think Google Maps is superior. Posted via BlackBerry Classic
  • I use them both for different things. I can easily spend a whole day playing around with Earth. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I wish that Google maps to introduce 3rd terrain elevation and more navigating features, and a bit more control over the navigation settings (visuals) Posted via the Android Central App
  • I've noticed when they came out with the iOS version, all the little tweaks disappear in an attempt (I think) to stream line the app between OSs. With the lack of hardware power from even iPhone 6 with only a dual core 1gb RAM, it'll never happen. Posted via the Android Central App
  • With my galaxy 5 earth is a little laggy, but with my tab s it is seamless. Even better than my new laptop in graphics rendering and overall ease of use. I am an avid bass fisherman and I use the apps to find new places to fish and give me insight as to what the terrain is like so I can understand why there's deeper sections and where currents and feeder creeks that aren't mapped anteater else.
  • Google Maps runs nice and smooth white Google Earth lags like hell. Posted via the Android Central App
  • As you can see from the difference in quality in Maps and Earth when it comes to satellite, there's a reason for that.
  • Google Earth never really worked for me. Sometimes it did but for the majority it always lagged and loaded terrain and skyscrapers slowly with crappy quality. The incentive is smart and pretty cool but the quality isn't up to par. Even Apple Maps is better with the 3d part on iOS especially when you zoom out and you can also see the planet where its dark and light. Posted via the Android Central App
  • This isn't about Apple, it's about Google Posted via the Galaxy Note 4
  • If people can't tell the difference between Google Earth and Google maps, they shouldn't be allowed to use the Internet or phones Posted via the Galaxy Note 4
  • People down here in Florida don't even know what side of the road to drive on. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Lol Posted via the Galaxy Note 4
  • +1 Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yeah, I disable the Google Earth app.
  • I find myself using google earth far more in my work life, mostly on desktop. As a civil engineer, Its invaluable. Maps is a great app too, I just don't use it as much Posted via Android Central App
  • Hey bro I am confused so download both I guess