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Are You a Wazer?

 Before the introduction of GPS units, I used to dislike driving out to new places using the good old printed “MapQuest” or” Google Directions “, since due to my being “sense of direction” challenged, any minor deviation in the route would throw me off and gets me going in circles.   Or worst if we are driving along and one of the kids decides they want to go to the restroom, getting off the freeway and back to hopefully in the same direction always called for a tablet of antacids.

I feel like I’ve practically used every brand of GPS unit produced; the Garmins, the TomToms…etc.  Then one day the iPhone came along and being the gadget addict that I am, I had to dump my old flip phone and get myself one of these gizmos.  Off one of the first apps I experimented with was the Google Maps.  It was great.  No more having to remember to print out the directions before going out the door.  But, using the maps was a bit hazardous if you are driving by yourself as you tend to take your eyes off the wheel in order to look at your directions on that small screen;  as fun as the Google Maps novelty was it did not really qualify to replace my GPS unit.  Until, after some digging I later discovered an app called Navigon, which closely replicated the GPS unit.  The pricing was a bit tricky but it did the trip and I forked over the $$$ to download and use it.  That day marked the end of the GPS unit, which I happily handed down to my daughter who just got her license and was not driving.

The Navigon app worked well until the producer started with the updates and things got a little complicated with every new update.  For some reason, they kept fixing something but breaking another and I was getting frustrated but I had to stick it out as I no longer had the GPS unit.

Later just like a typical addict, I was getting bored with the iPhone and more curious about the Android devices.  I got my feet wet with Android using the Samsung Galaxy S2.  I fell in love with it right away.  It did everything the iPhone did, plus more.  The best part Android devices came with their native Google Maps GPS app and cost Zero to use.  The app worked very well, but it was a vanilla GPS app, meaning no favorites, no contacts, no restaurant and gas icons along the route.  But it was free so I could not complain.  I did try a few Android GPS apps but none worked to well, and the Android version of Navigon was too expensive and did not have review that satisfied me.  Besides, I refuse to pay for something twice, as Navigon refused to honor my iPhone license.

Then a few weeks ago I discovered a free Android application called Waze.  At first glance it sounded like just another attempt at replicating the other GPS app out there.  However the more I used it, the more I fell in love with it.  And after my latest road trip from California to Las Vegas, I liked Waze so much I decided to share my observation and experience with it. 

Initially I was leery of using Waze alone for my driving because I was not sure about its accuracy compared to Google’s, then I learned that Waze actually used Google’s data to provide the service.  Better yet, I learned that Google itself had acquired Waze from a small company for a reported $1.1 Billion.  That alone gave me enough confidence in the application to go ahead and start using it.  Oh, one more thing, Waze is also available on Apple’s app store, free as well.Waze Screenshot

When you first download and open Waze it asks you to register (and for a good reason as you will see later).   It will also point you to set up your home and work addresses in order to help you with your daily commute.  Once that is set up you are ready to go.  My recommendation is that you familiarize yourself with the application before you actually start using it for directions.  This way you are not fiddling with it while you are driving which is worse than texting and driving.  So, from my perspective the application is pretty much a “zero configuration” app; just install sign up and enjoy.

Now on to the Wazed Road trip.  I decided to use Waze throughout the trip to Vegas.  I figured I can take the chance since I already know the route and I can monitor the application for accuracy.  This turned out to be the best way to test the application.

Before I left I went ahead and entered the name and address of the hotel in Vegas and sure enough, Waze was able to pull it out of my address book without a glitch.  Try doing that with the Google Maps app, and you will know what I’m talking about.  Once Waze establishes its destination it will present you with potential route options showing you mileage and time it takes to get there.  Select one and off you go. 

As we drove along, I began to notice various popups informing me of potential road hazards, highway patrol cars (both visible and hidden), and road construction.  It turned out, these were not some automated street camera notifications, they were actual facts reported by other fellow Wazers.  That is why they have you sign up.  So, I decided I am going to try and start doing my own reporting of road conditions.  This will take a bit of practice, but luckily I had my wife driving with me and she started experimenting with the lower right bubble icon and began reporting.  .   This functionality reminded me of the old CB days.  If any of you readers are old enough to remember the CB you will know what I’m referring to.  If you don’t know what I am talking about, find yourself an old “truck driving” or “truckers” type movie and you will see it.

We continue on with the road trip thinking that’s a nice application, I think it is a keeper.  Suddenly my wife tells me: “hey look at this feature, you can actually tell people where you are and have them track your progress as you move towards your destination.”   I said let’s send the notification to someone and have them look us up on the smart phone (they have to have Waze installed off course).  So, we sent a Waze generated text message to our daughter letting her know what that was about.  She clicks the link in the SMS message and voila, a little car displays on her phone representing us driving on the I-15 toward Las Vegas.

Our daughter was impressed with the Waze text message and thought it was “cool”.  She then joked that we should not expect her to text us with her tracking link every time she goes to Vegas.  On the other hand, this is a real handy feature for those of you with young adults.  If they are willing to do it, at least you can check every once in a while to ensure they have reached their destination.  The best part about this functionality is that it also tells the recipient of your estimated arrival time or ETA.

Finally, the last functionality I want to tell you about is the “groups” functionality.  I am still not sure how it works exactly, but I suspect it is designed for folks who use the same route and would be able to share their traffic information.   I will leave you to experiment on your own with this “group” and other social sharing features.  Hopefully other readers will contribute and share their Wazing experience…

I know I’ve been WAZED, how about you?

 

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