Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Waze To Go

Like many other folks, I do a lot of driving to get to science fiction conventions.  While I don't mind driving, I do mind running into traffic jams and other complications that make the trip more wearisome than it should be.  When I was in San Jose to visit with the Other Daughter for her surgery, she had me use an app called Waze to navigate around the city instead of using a GPS.  I didn't download it then since I don't drive much at home, but when we started planning our Florida trip, I thought it would be a good time to check it out.  It turned out to be a real timesaver.

Since we ran both our GPS and Waze at the same time, I could directly compare the two.  As far as map accuracy, Waze was more accurate -- my GPS was two years old and the maps weren't current.  Both showed the same position for our car, so the tracking was good.

At first it was just amusing -- watching out for stopped vehicles and confirming them or reporting them "not there."  But Waze showed its real worth when I spotted a notice of a big wreck on the interstate ahead and figured out from the messages and reports that the mess stretched for about six miles and average speed on that part of the road was around 4 miles/hour.  A quick view of the maps showed that we could avoid it all with a pretty simple detour.

The interface is pretty simple -- just a map and two buttons.  The one on the left allows you to customize your account; the one on the right allows you to report on-road issues to other drivers.  The app alerts you (if you wish) when you're within a half mile of cops, stalled cars, and various road conditions including roadkill and weather.   

The maps are all real-time maps and are generally more current than your GPS, since Waze gives you points for making edits to correct road conditions -- places where other maps might not be updated (recent construction that's closing the roads, for instance.)   It was better at identifying accidents than my GPS (which only reports based on the state's Department of Transportation status reports), and some of the features (tires in road, bad weather conditions) were alerts that turned out to be very useful.  Also included is a "gas prices" feature -- Waze gives you points for reporting updated gas prices, but because it can only be done when you're actually stopped at the gas station (the software has a method of checking), it isn't quite as useful as GasBuddy.

 Waze shows your position on the map with a custom icon that also indicates your activity if you're in the top 10% of active users for your state.  While this is fun, it also leads to some false reporting, which is a problem in some cities.

If you're the only person in the car, it can be a  very distracting app, since you will be tempted to respond to alerts.  This is especially true if you're driving in a city, since the number of alert messages can be pretty high.  But it's THE perfect app to hand to your passengers, and it's a real timesaver (and sanity saver) for long trips.

Waze is available as an Iphone app and an Android app.

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