Tips and advice

What is Waze? Phone sat nav app explained

The Waze app is a popular free live navigation tool that uses data from users to find the best routes – find out more in this comprehensive guide

Waze App Volvo

Thanks to the mass adoption of smartphone navigation apps, massive paper road maps are now seen as antiques of the past. You simply input your destination before setting off, and your phone acts as a sat nav by using its in-built GPS function. Of the various apps available to you, Waze maps is one of the most popular in Britain – proven by the fact that it has over 2.1 million monthly users. 

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Most smartphones come with pre-downloaded navigation apps depending on your device, such as Apple Maps or Google Maps. Waze, meanwhile, is free to download and compiles data from its users to give real-time updates on the best routes to take. Some in-built car sat navs also offer real-time traffic alerts but they’re often an expensive optional extra and not much use if you have an older car. It also means you don’t have to buy an aftermarket sat nav and stick it on the windscreen.

What is Waze, and how did it grow to such prominence?

Waze was launched in 2008 but it really exploded in popularity when Google bought it in 2013. Since its introduction, it has gained over 100 million users globally and has remained a separate piece of software from Google’s in-house navigation app.

Waze Renault

With so many users, Waze is often thought to be one of the most reliable and accurate third-party navigation apps. It harvests data from all those users to find the best and quickest routes so, in theory, you should be able to avoid traffic jams. Of course, it doesn’t always work like that - sometimes you can’t avoid the queues - but Waze will at least be able to tell you how long you’ll be delayed.

Since 2018, Waze has been compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, pieces of software that can run a selection of your phone’s apps on a car’s infotainment screen. That means you can use Waze if you prefer it over the inbuilt navigation software, and enhances its usability.

Features of Waze

The primary function of Waze is to get you to your destination, but it does offer other appealing features - some of which aren’t offered by its rivals. When you’re using the app, it gives you turn-by-turn guidance with voice prompts and alerts specific to your exact location. It can notify you about traffic jams, road closures, speed cameras and local hazards, plus the location of police patrols and mobile speed checks. As you’d expect, this last feature is controversial, but it’s certainly part of the appeal for some of the app’s users.

Users can also report tailbacks and traffic information directly to Waze, instead of the company relying on updates from local authorities. As a result, it can relay the information it has received to its other users on the same route, often much quicker than conventional sat navs. Waze rewards users who report things with points, which can then be exchanged for prizes. It’s like a loyalty card scheme, and is one of the ways it retains users.

Another nifty feature of Waze is that it tends to point you towards oncoming service stations and popular stopping points. Some could see this as irritable advertising, but for the vast majority, these suggestions are a welcome means of planning an oncoming stop without having to ground to a halt or ask your passengers for assistance.

Does Waze work offline?

Waze uses your mobile phone’s GPS and data to function, so it may not work as well if you’re in an area with patchy signal or if you’ve used up your data allowance. However, Waze does store your planned route offline, so it can still show you the route if your signal drops out.  

You’ll need to bear in mind that in places where it can’t pick up a signal, it can’t give you live traffic updates. It also won’t be able to show you the way if you divert off the planned route. But ultimately, the fact that Waze continues to work in places where mobile networks tend to go offline, such as rural countryside areas, remains a big benefit. 

Waze vs Apple Maps and Google Maps

Waze smartphone

All three of these navigation apps are free to download and use, and a lot of it comes down to personal preference. Waze tends to show more notifications on the screen while you’re driving than Apple Maps and Google Maps. But as we’ve mentioned, Waze lets users report tailbacks and hazards, so you may find it to be more accurate than Google’s or Apple’s software.

If you’re worried about how much data each app will use while you’re on the move, Waze might be the best option for you - it uses less than half of the data than the other two. Over the course of 20 minutes, Waze will use around 0.23MB of data on average, compared to 0.73MB for Google Maps and over 1.8MB for Apple Maps. For context, streaming a three-minute song uses about the same amount of data as Apple Maps uses in 20 minutes.

All of these navigation systems should only be used for guidance, and you shouldn’t try to continue on your route if the road’s blocked or if it’d be unlawful to carry on. We’d also advise pulling over if you need to input an address or information.

Five advantages of Waze

  • Simple to use and navigate with
  • Data and information are extremely accurate
  • Allows you to choose a route depending on specific circumstances i.e. fastest, cheapest
  • Can keep working while offline
  • Costs nothing, but offers rewards

Five disadvantages of Waze

  • Not ad-free
  • Reporting delays or obstructions forces you to touch your mobile
  • Some user-reported data could be wrong/misleading
  • Interface could become cluttered if too much is happening in your area
  • Drains phone battery unusually quickly

 

So, should you get Waze?

If you’re considering downloading a free navigation app for your phone, Waze is certainly one of the best and most popular options. Its crowdsourced, up-to-the-minute information means it’s usually quicker and more accurate than its competitors, while the ability to report delays is a handy bonus feature.

The amount of notifications it sends you might become annoying (but you should be able to turn these off in the settings), and it works best if you’re in an area with many other Waze users. Weighing up both the advantages and disadvantages from above, it’s easy to see why Waze has grown to be as popular as it has.

Read our guides to the best car parking apps and the best iPhone apps to download this year.

Shafiq has had a serial obsession with all things automotive since he experienced his baptism of fire as a seven-year-old in the passenger seat of a fourth-generation Toyota Supra. He then decided to turn this passion into a profession by becoming a double journalism graduate and cutting his teeth at publications like CarThrottle, Electrifying, and The Intercooler.

He now works as a Content Editor at Carbuyer, and looks to keep the nation informed on the latest trends and news in an industry that is embracing its most significant period of change since Bertha Benz’s historic drive in the Patent Motorwagen. 

Shafiq says…

“Whether you’re a traditional enthusiast looking for your next big super saloon or someone who simply wants to find their perfect back-to-basics supermini, there is common ground to be found for both parties right here at Carbuyer. Our goal is simple: to provide you with all the advice and the details that you need to make a calculated decision that satisfies both your head and your heart.”

Shafiq Abidin’s expertise and interests:

  • Mini SUVs
  • Luxury electric saloons
  • Used performance cars

Shafiq Abidin’s top tips for car buyers:

  1. So often, buyers have their hearts set on a particular colour combination or specific cabin details. There’s nothing wrong with that, but a willingness to compromise on trim and design will often pave the way for big savings. At the end of the day, buyers should first and foremost be looking at whether or not a car satisfies their needs, and only secondarily on the more materialistic things.
  2. Having a full log of service stamps and the entire documented history of a used car is everything you need to understand how its life has been lived. Where one car may have just 10,000 miles on the odometer, but has been plagued with issues over its lifespan, another with 50,000 miles could be completely trouble-free – it’s all an indication as to how its previous owners have treated it. Remember, you’re not just buying that car, but you’re also taking on the responsibilities of what its former owners have done with it, so it’s paramount that you don’t underestimate the value of good maintenance.
  3. Do you really need that bigger, more powerful engine? These days, even the mid-level options for a particular model range provide everything you need to make a statement while retaining a large portion of the economy provided by the more ‘boring’ option. Fuel isn’t going to get any cheaper, and finding the right balance is key to ensuring that you won’t be spending more than you’d be happy to.

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