Bing, Google Maps, and MapQuest all have their charms, but which one will get you where you need to go with the least hesitation and the most accuracy? We examine all three and pick a winner.
The test: alternate transport methods
Not driving? Modern mapping services can get you there on foot, by train, or via bicycle. Well, most of them can.
When it comes to alternative transport, Google once again is ahead of the game. Google Maps offers clearly labelled pedestrian, public transit (bus/train/tube), and even bicycle directions; and switching among them when you display a map is easy. Foot and public transit directions are generally spot-on, but bike directions (still in beta) need work, as they often route you far out of your way to get to a street with a bike lane - even if that street is busier than any on the more direct route.
Bing includes public transport directions as an option, but Google's are slightly better because they identify the price of your bus tickets. Bing comes up short on recommendations for walking to a bus stop: A dotted line crosses through buildings instead of guiding you along the best streets to take. Bing's walking-only directions are just as good as Google's, though.
MapQuest offers one set of directions, designed for cars, and nothing else, which reduces its usefulness for people walking, bicycling, or using public transport to something close to nil.
Scores: out of 10
The test: Street View
In 2007, Google pioneered the Street View system, which lets you see a photo of what your destination will look like when you're staring out your car's window and wondering if you've reached the right place. Three years farther along, Google's Street View has achieved amazing depth of coverage, and though the pictures tend to be grainy, even obscure byways are likely to have full 360-degree imagery associated with them.
The picture is somewhat murkier on MapQuest. Its 360 View service is not currently available in the UK. In the areas where it is available, you can't zoom into photos to get a closer look. Still, it's passable in a pinch and is certainly better than nothing.
Bing Maps' new Streetside service has the best-quality images of all the services, but if you find a street with actual coverage, you're lucky. It hasn't made the UK yet and in the US, Bing has left entire cities unphotographed so far.
Bing's 3D interface is optional. While not immediately practical, it's fun to use. That said, Streetside is an extremely promising project, as is its (optional) 3D interface, which takes you out of the street level and up to a bird's-eye view on command, complete with pan/zoom/rotate functions, to present a fancy CGI rendition of your destination - or of the entire city you're in. It may not be so practical, but it's certainly cool to play with.
Scores: out of 10
NEXT PAGE: The bonus round