Application Name: Bing for Android
Description: Interface for Microsoft Bing services, including Bing Maps.
Publisher’s website: Bing Community post
Cost: Free; currently only available for Verizon customers (coming “soon” for others)
Version/date reviewed: v.1.01 / 8-30-10
Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2
A number of apps have had unofficial Bing map viewing capabilities, but Microsoft has just released their first official Bing application, including Bing Maps support
. Unfortunately, the initial release is only for Verizon phones, which pretty much means that if your phone doesn’t say “Droid”, you’re out of luck. But they do say it will be coming to other carriers “soon”, whatever that means. It’s now available for all phones from all carriers.
This is the full Bing experience, including text/image search; but since this is a geo-referenced site, I’ll only look at the geography-related features.
Figure 1: Start up the app, and get the Bing image of the day on your starting screen (looks like China here). Search box at top, with voice entry capabilities; additional options down at the bottom. Tapping on that little grid box minimizes the additional options off the screen. Going to Maps …
Figure 2: …Standard street map view. If you’ve given the app permission to access the GPS, the blue dot is your current location, and the “filled” blue dot at lower left indicates that the map will keep you at the center of the map if you move.Standard two-finger pinch and zoom on supported touch screens, or use the zoom controls at lower right. Touch and drag to move to a different area, or enter a geographic search term at top. When you move the map area, the “filled” blue dot will become unfilled to show your current position is no longer at the center; at any time, you can tap that control and re-center the view around your current position.
You can change to different views (aerial and hybrid) with the Menu => Map Type control; I wish there were a layers button on the map itself to make this easier. You can also get rid of the search bar at top with Menu => More => Full screen.
For a long time, Bing only had black-and-white government aerial imagery for my area, which paled in comparison to Google’s color imagery. But they recently added aerial imagery for my neighborhood, and I must say it’s sensational, much better than Google’s for the same view. Below (Figure 3) are Bing (left) and Google (right) aerial views for the same spot at maximum zoom for each map app, and Bing just kicks Google’s ass in terms of quality and resolution. Two pics were taken at different times of the year, so that’s why the pond looks different:
Bing Maps (aerial view, maximum zoom)
Google Maps (satellite view, maximum zoom)
Positional accuracy was much better than Google Maps, too; Bing Maps imagery appeared to be pretty much dead-on, while Google Maps was off about 10-20 meter. I’ll be testing GPS accuracy on my Android unit for future posts, but based on what I saw today using accurate Bing Maps imagery, it’s pretty damn good. One thing Google Maps on Android has that Bing Maps currently hasn’t is the ability to view your own points/lines/polygons (more on this soon).
Figure 4: Under the “Local” option are listings for local business and attractions. It’s nice to have these integrated in the main app, unlike Google Maps, which pushes you to the separate Places app (I’ll be covering Google Maps in depth in a few weeks). My unofficial test shows Bing to be more up-to-date than Google; Google still lists a local pizza place that closed 5 years ago, while Bing doesn’t have it. Google does a much better job pulling up restaurant reviews, though.
Figure 5: Directions work reasonably well; starts by default from your current location, initially shows the full path to your destination, then zooms in as you move through the directions step by step with the arrow keys at top. But this isn’t automatic navigation; you have to press the arrow keys as you reach the end of various steps on your trip. Google Maps Navigation is far better, with automatic spoken turn-by-turn directions, and the classic 3D view used by standard car GPS units. No contest here – Google kicks Bing’s ass in return.
Bing seems to use its own voice-to-text entry service in the app, and it’s not very good – slower than Google’s native interface, and recognition can be hit-and-miss. There was one time when the app wouldn’t respond in the Directions mode, but exiting back to the main menu and then going back to Maps and Directions fixed that problem. And, of course, it has the classic problem where it only works if you have a data connection, either cellular or WiFi, but it’s hardly alone in that. For a first release product, I found it remarkably polished, bug-free, and easy to use.
It’s not a replacement for Google Maps by any stretch, but the Bing app is an excellent complement, particularly for its first-rate aerial imagery and integrated local search. And if you like Bing search (I think it’s OK, but prefer Google), it’s nice to have a specialized app for that rather than struggling with the browser’s shrunken view. Highly recommended for Verizon users who can get it right away; for those on other carriers, hopefully you won’t have to wait too long :).