Free Waze smartphone traffic app is a winner

It looks like any other GPS navigation unit out there. It knows where you are and routes you to your destination with spoken turn-by-turn directions. But Waze (also available for Android devices) is not a high priced GPS unit. It’s an app on your smartphone. Did I mention it’s free?

Waze uses GPS maps along with traffic information that comes from another very powerful source: People. You, and all the other Waze users around you, are all contributing while you drive. Part of it happens transparently as your smartphone transmits information along your route. This helps to adjust travel times along major highways or streets. That live traffic information, the fact that you’re doing 6 mph at mile marker 38, is invaluable. I was surprised to find so many Waze users on the road with me. The company says there are now 18 million worldwide users of the app, and it’s adding about 1.5 million every month.

The other social networking of Waze comes when users report traffic problems. The user can report an accident, heavy traffic, construction, or even a police officer hiding in the bushes. While trying Waze for the first day I was able to report an accident, take a picture of the accident, and record my own mini-traffic report about it. My fellow Wazers, sitting in a backup that was miles long, could touch the accident symbol to actually see my photo of what was causing all the problems and to hear my traffic report, “Inbound Kennedy at Augusta. One car accident. Three lanes blocked. Traffic getting through in the left lane and on the shoulder.”

I’ve been using Waze every day. I find it to be extremely accurate in its mapping and travel times. A new version just came out that shows gas prices along your route. At a glance you can find the cheapest gas. Waze is available for the iPhone, Android, Windows, Nokia Symbian phones and Blackberry. Like any app of this kind, however, it’s best to have your phone plugged in to the car’s power and a holder for your phone is also a good idea. A holder that clips to the car vent is nice so you don’t leave a thief-attracting suction cup mark on your windshield.

I’m very impressed by this free app. It’s clear that through the use of GPS, user input, and crowdsourcing, Waze has really raised the IQ of my already smart phone.

Watch Ed Curran’s video review:

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