On any modern smartphone, a mapping application is par for the course. It is arguably one of the most useful apps around. As Blackberry smartphone owners, we are given the free pre-installed Blackberry Maps software, present on pretty much every modern Blackberry. It comes with GPS tracking, uses maps from Google, navigation from Tom Tom, calculates your speed, and much more! So why not give it a try? For this review I will be using my Blackberry Torch 9860 running OS 184.108.40.2060.
As we open up Blackberry® Maps, it instantly tries to find your location, and it does this very quickly and successfully. The assisted-GPS feature definitely helps narrow down your location when the GPS signal gods just can’t cut you some slack. The map is scaled to a view an area of about a square kilometer, which unfortunately is the closest you can zoom in. As the GPS signal increases, your location circle gets more accurate. The maximum GPS resolution is about a few metres, which isn’t bad at all.
The touchscreen responsiveness is great. Pinch-to-zoom and panning are fast thanks to the BB7® hardware. The checkerboard-type background is everywhere when you pan or zoom out, but if you have a good data signal, the map should render in a few seconds.
The appearance of the maps is fairly standard in appearance, yet the first thing you notice is that the earth is grey. While most map applications go for a safe white colour, Blackberry® Maps has a slightly gloomy appearance. To be honestly, I prefer white for better contrast, but this is no deal-breaker by any means.
You can use the optical track pad to pan around the map, or switch to “Zoom mode” in the Blackberry® menu and use it to zoom. It gives you options, which is nice, but I don’t see a Nobel Prize for this feature anytime soon. In typical Blackberry® fashion, there is no kinetic panning or zooming. This doesn’t do much for the user experience, which is something RIM® really has to work on. Hopefully, with the new BB10® OS, RIM® leverages their Cascades® engine to add some polish to Blackberry® Maps.
One annoying thing is that Blackberry® Maps has to load each screen every time you navigate somewhere. No map information is cached. You end up with a less-than-pleasant user experience when browsing around.
Blackberry® Maps also instantly starts clocking your speed once it has your location. It shows up nicely in the bottom right-hand corner and it’s cool when you can measure your speed in a car, bus, train, bike, or hoverboard instantly.
In the options menu, you can change things like the backlight when your battery is running low, or what to show on start-up, your map orientation, and choose between imperial to metric units.
Overall, the experience is average. Due to the lack of cached map data, the browsing experience isn’t fun like Google® Earth. Panning is frustrating, zooming out is unimpressive, while zooming in is very quick and smooth. The buttons are nicely laid out and look good. Love or hate the grey background, it’s subjective.
You’ll notice four software buttons at the bottom of the screen: My location, Find location, Get directions, and Send Location.
My location: Shows you where you are.
Find Location: Find locations such as addresses, coffee shops, hotels, liquor stores, and other popular venues for Blackberry® addicts.
Get directions: Maps out a route for you.
Send Location: Sends your location in pretty much any conceivable communication medium you can think of (excluding snail mail and pigeon carriers for now).
Options, options, options! If you’re rocking a Blackberry® with a QWERTY keyboard, you can always go manual and use the “o” and “i” keys to zoom. Pressing “space” will find your location. In classic RIM® fashion, the keys “w”, “e”, “r”, “s”, “f”, “z”, “x” and “c” can be used like a directional gamepad like on your Super Nintendo (if you don’t like the track pad for some reason).
You can save your favourites simply by centering your cursors on the location and selecting “Add as Favourites” in the Blackberry menu. For example if I wanted to go from Mike and Jim’s place in Waterloo to Eric’s place in California, I can simply use my favourites list for destinations and locations at any time. By default, the favourites appear as little stars on your map, which is nice.
From road trips to McDonalds runs, sometimes we don’t have time to go “where no man has gone before” and need the fastest route from A to B. Blackberry Maps makes this process possible. Simply press the “Get directions” button and you’re prompted by simple Start and End fields. You can use your current location, the centre of the map, search for a location, or search for one of your saved “favourites”. You can even choose your route options. If you’re feeling cheap, you can choose the shortest or one that avoids tolls to save money. You can even choose an option that avoids motorways, which could be useful in rush hour.
Once the route is plotted out for you, you’re on your own. You’re initially greeted with old-skool Mapquest-like step-by-step directions with no map. Pressing the “View map” button on the lower left, the map is generated and you’re good to go!
But not so fast. There is no turn-by-turn navigation, no soothing British voice telling you that you missed your turn, or any “Siri-like” voice commands to make you feel like you’re aboard the Starship Enterprise. You can, however, cycle though each step in the route, which is useful if you prefer not to look at the road while you drive. Pressing the “n” key will cycle through the next step in the directions. Pressing “p” will bring you to the previous direction. The convenience is simply unrivalled.
Despite this, I managed not to drive off a cliff or end up in Afghanistan using the directions. Thanks to the Tom Tom® navigation intelligence, every single route should be the same as that calculated on a Tom Tom® GPS device. In two words, “Very good”.
If you’re not navigationally-gifted, there is an option to “Update from here”, effectively, it’s the manual version of the same “Re-calculating” message we wish we never hear during our drives.
Finding a location:
With finding a location, you have to choose between an address and a venue. Coming from Google® Maps, which figures it out for you, I think most people would prefer one search field. Your “favourites” are shown below, making it easy to select your common destinations and travel to them from wherever you are. Locations are typically found within seconds and the map view centres on the destination.
Tapping on the location, you are presented with useful information like the address, phone number, GPS coordinates, website, and even reviews (in the case of fine dining establishments such as McDonald’s), compliments of Google®.
Blackberry® Maps supports many countries, specifically those in light grey. So if you’re looking for some BB Maps action in Zimbabwe, you’re in luck!
All in all, Blackberry® Maps is a solid map and navigation application that is perfectly in line with the old Blackberry® Mantra: flexible and practical. Unfortunately, this is as far as it goes. While pinch-to-zoom and panning are fast actions, rendering the map is a different story. The only app we have to compare Blackberry® Maps too is Google® Maps for Blackberry®. Google® Maps for Blackberry® lags behind in quality compared to its equivalent on Android or iOS. Features such as the speedometer, favourites, and good GPS positioning allow Blackberry® Maps to be a very useful application you can depend on without being something to get excited about.
- Available in most countries in the world.
- Works quickly
- Sending locations is easy
- Directions are accurate
- GPS is accurate
- No Frills
- Rural street names need to appear on a larger scale
- No compass integration
- No smooth rendering of maps
- No kinetic panning or zooming
I’m not going to lie though, on my previous Blackberry Storm, I deleted Blackberry Maps within the first 5 minutes of use. ™