16 handy hidden tricks for Google Maps on Android

Who doesn’t love Google Maps? The Maps Android app helps those of us with oatmeal for brains find our way anywhere, without having to fire any neurons or exercise any synapses. It even helps us find places to pick up tasty cuisine — like, uh, oatmeal (yum!).

But there’s much more to Google Maps than meets the eye — and odds are, you aren’t taking advantage of at least a few handy hidden features lurking within the Maps Android app. With Android 15 right around the corner and more shiny new Googley goodies showing up by the day lately, I thought it’d be a fine time to dive deep into this ever-evolving Android anchor and think through some of its more off-the-beaten-path advanced options.

Take a few minutes to explore these possibilities the next time you’ve got Maps pulled up on your phone, and get ready to experience the world around you in a whole new way.

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Google Maps Android trick #1: Better directions

The most important part of Maps is navigation — right? And yet, the Maps Android app’s best navigation experience is curiously tucked away in a labyrinth of options and disabled by default. In fact, most average roaming land mammals would never even know the superior route exists!

But hey, you’re reading this column. You clearly aren’t an average organism. So let’s take your Maps adventuring to the next level, shall we?

Start by opening up the Maps app on your phone, then:

  • Tap your profile picture in the app’s upper-right corner.
  • Select “Settings,” then scroll way down and select “Navigation settings.”
  • Scroll down again until you see the section labeled “Glanceable directions while navigating,” and flip the toggle within that section into the on and active position.

One quick switch, and boom: The next time you search for a specific location, you’ll see the detailed steps and ETA info right on the route overview — from the second you hit the “Directions” button.

Google Maps Android: Glanceable directions JR

Google Maps’ glanceable directions options makes it infinitely easier to see where you’re going — at a glance.

Much better, wouldn’t ya say?!

Google Maps Android trick #2: Smarter driving

Speaking of navigation improvements, Google’s been flippin’ and floppin’ more than a flailing fish with its Maps- and Assistant-associated driving mode as of late.

I won’t bore you with a recap of all the silly-seeming changes, but just know that at this point, Maps has a built-in driving mode that pops up anytime you actively start a new Maps driving navigation and shows you where you’re headed.

And — oh, yes — with a few fast tweaks, you can make it even more useful.

First, head back into the Maps Android app’s settings area and once again select “Navigation settings.” Then:

  • Tap “Google Assistant settings.”
  • Flip the toggle next to “Get messaging help while driving” into the on and active position.
  • If you see a prompt asking you to allow Google to access your notifications, tap “Allow Access,” then follow the steps to finish that process, make your way back to the Maps menu, and flip that same toggle one more time to turn it on.
  • Beneath the line that says “Choose messages alert,” change the option to “Hear entire message” if you want all incoming messages to be read aloud. (If you aren’t able to select that, back out of that menu into the main Assistant settings areas and then make your way back there once more — and it should then work.)

Now, one more thing:

  • Back in the main Maps “Navigation settings” menu, scroll down to the bottom and look for the line labeled “Driving notifications.”
  • Flip the toggle next to that into the on and active position.

That’ll cause your Maps driving genie to give you ETAs to your destination anytime you’ve got your phone connected to your car’s audio system — as well as allowing it to be more proactive with reading aloud your messages, via that first change we made.

And one more tip to keep in mind: If you ever want to summon driving mode on your own, you can always activate Assistant (by saying “Hey Google” or using whatever Assistant-summoning command you prefer) and then saying “driving mode” — or you can give yourself a one-touch button for launching the mode by long-pressing on your home screen, selecting “Widgets,” then scrolling down to the Maps section and touching and holding the “Driving Mode” widget to place it anywhere on your home screen.

Google Maps Android trick #3: Faster paths

Here’s an interesting one that I only learned about recently by way of some chatter in my Intelligence Insider Community: By default, Maps now gives you directions based on the most fuel-efficient path to your destination.

That’s great if you’re trying to save on gas, but when you’re really in a hurry, you may just want the absolute fastest path possible — even if it potentially costs you a few extra pennies.

If so, do this:

  • Speed your way back into the Maps Android app’s settings and again head into the “Navigation settings” area.
  • Scroll down to the “Route options” section of the screen.
  • See the line labeled “Prefer fuel-efficient routes”? Tap the toggle next to it to turn it off.

And if you would rather stick with the fuel-efficient path, there’s still an option in that area you’ll want to adjust:

  • Within the “Navigation settings” area of the Maps app’s settings, tap the line labeled “Engine type.”
  • Select the type of car you’re actually using — gas, diesel, electric, or hybrid.

That’ll help Maps better select routes based on actual fuel (or energy) use for your specific vehicle type, if that’s the navigation approach you’d prefer.

Google Maps Android trick #4: Smarter searching

I don’t know about you, but I tend to be a semi-obsessive planner. And part of that, erm, condition means a burning need to know, anticipate, and — well, y’know, plan things out ahead of time.

Maps has a splendid system for this sort of in-advance organization. The next time you’re looking at directions to a specific spot, try this:

  • From the directions screen within the Android Maps app — the first screen you see after tapping the Directions button for any given destination — tap the three-dot menu icon alongside the starting location, at the top of the screen.
  • In the menu that pops up, select “Search along route.”
  • You can then type any term into the box that appears to seek out a specific place along the way or look for, say, restaurants, gas stations, or any other type of business imaginable.
Google Maps Android: Search along route JR

Searching along a specific route is one of Maps’ most helpful hidden options.

If you’re already in an active navigation, you can find this same feature by swiping up on the panel at the bottom of the screen.

Google Maps Android trick #5: Better suggestions

Browsing through the Maps app is an underrated way to find something tasty to eat, whether you’re planning to go somewhere on the way to a meeting or just placing an order for a midday office delivery. But navigating your way through the maze of culinary options in your area can get overwhelming fast, especially if you have a specific sort of nourishment in mind.

Well, take note, you hungry, hungry hamster: After tapping the “Restaurants” option at the top of the main Maps screen, you can actually narrow down the types of places that show up as suggestions. You can pick from a sprawling range of variables, too — everything from the establishment’s hours, ratings, and whether it delivers to what kind of cuisine it serves. You can even filter based on whether you’ve visited a place before and whether it’s kid-friendly or vegetarian-prepared.

The trick is to tap the little control panel icon in the upper-left corner of the restaurant search screen and then go to town on selecting whatever filters seem right.

Google Maps Android: Restaurant filters JR

The Maps Android app’s out-of-the-way filters make its restaurant recommendations much more catered to your specific needs.

A delectable level of control, no?

Google Maps Android trick #6: Pinned places

Find yourself meandering to the same places or making the same extended drives often? Save yourself some time by tapping into Maps’ easily overlooked trip pinning system. It lets you save common trips and then pull ’em up quickly for on-demand, hassle-free navigation whenever you need it.

You can pin a trip from a couple different places within the Android Maps app:

  • When you’re searching for a specific destination, look for the Pin command at the bottom of the screen after you’ve tapped the button to bring up directions.
  • From the main Maps screen, tap the Go tab at the bottom and then look at the app’s suggested places based on your recent activity. If you see the trip you want there, tap the pushpin icon alongside it to pin it.

Whichever way you go, anything you’ve pinned will always appear at the top of the app’s Go tab from then on out — and starting a new navigation to that destination will only be one more tap away.

Google Maps Android trick #7: Location collections

One of the Android Maps app’s most underappreciated features is its ability to let you create collections of places and then revisit ’em or share ’em with other human person-people later. It’s like a super-specific sort of bookmarking service that’s all about locations and connected directly to your favorite navigation companion.

And it’s super-practical, too, whether you’re looking to get organized ahead of a Very Important Business Trip or even just to plan around a drive to a different part of town for some manner of work-related meeting.

To take advantage of the system, tap the Saved tab at the bottom of the Maps app, then look for the section labeled “Your list.” Tap the “New list” command within that area of the screen, and you can then give your fancy new list a name and a description and decide whether you want it to be private, shared only with specific people, or public for anyone to find.

Google Maps Android: Location lists JR

Location lists are a lovely way to save related places for future reference — for yourself or for a group.

With shared lists, you can even opt to let other people edit and add their own items into the mix — an easy way to collaborate with colleagues, cousins, or chinchillas on a list of lustworthy lunch spots or business supply stop-bys.

Google Maps Android trick #8: Spot saving

Remember way back in the early days of Android when one of the most popular apps was a simple little tool called Car Locator? No? Well, I do — but then again, I’ve been writing about Android for approximately 973 years now. (Related: I may or may not be a wise, if somewhat shriveled, tortoise elder.)

These days, that app is long gone — but little-known fact: Maps itself can do exactly what it used to do and save any location you want, then help you mosey back to it later.

The next time your noggin needs a memory aide, just open up Maps and tap the blue dot that represents your current location. That’ll pull up a big honkin’ menu, within which you’ll see the incredibly useful “Save parking” option — inside a horizontally scrolling bar of buttons toward the top of the panel. (And don’t let yourself be fooled: While its official purpose may revolve around parking, you can just as easily use the feature to save any kind of location for any reason you want.)

Tap that option, and that’s it: Your current location will be burned into Maps’ memory. If you want to add extra info to help your own mushy mammal brain later, swipe up on the bar that says “Parking location” at the bottom of the screen. You can then enter notes about your saved location (what level you parked on, how many oatmeal-serving establishments were in the vicinity, and so on), attach photos (you making silly faces in front of various passersby, etc), and create an alert to remind you about the location after a certain amount of time has elapsed.

Google Maps Android: Location save JR

Saving your location may be the best way you put Maps to use, ever.

When you’re ready to get back to your car — or whatever sort of spot you’ve saved — all you’ve gotta do is tap that same “Parking location” bar at the bottom of the Maps app or look for the “Parking location” notification from anywhere in your phone.

Google Maps Android trick #9: Shared places

Next up: Help someone find you — or maybe just give ’em an update on your whereabouts and progress — by tapping the blue location dot within the main Maps screen and then selecting “Share location” from the menu that comes up.

That’ll let you send anyone a link to follow your location in real-time on a map for a specific amount of time or until you turn the feature off. You can even beam the link directly into another app or service on your phone to get it wherever you need.

Alternatively, if you’re in the midst of a navigation, swipe up on the time estimate panel at the bottom of the Maps navigation screen. There, you’ll find a handy hidden “Share trip progress” option that’ll do exactly what you desire.

Google Maps Android trick #10: Traffic tracking

Did you know Maps can show you live, real-time traffic info as you’re navigating with your phone? All you’ve gotta do is tell it you want that info — a feat that’ll require approximately seven seconds of your time.

The next time you’re in the midst of a navigation within the Maps app on your phone…

  • Swipe up on that time estimate panel at the bottom of the screen.
  • Flip the toggle next to “Show traffic on map.”
  • Perform a spritely little jig to celebrate whilst whistling the tune of Tom Cochrane’s timeless 1991 hit song “Life Is a Highway.” *

* Jig and whistling optional but highly recommended

Google Maps Android trick #11: Incognito mode

On your way to a secret lair? Well, look at you, Bruce Wayne. Pin this bit of info to your amygdala: If you tap your profile picture in the Maps app and then select “Turn on Incognito mode,” Maps will temporarily stop saving your location and using it for any future purposes. And no one — not even Google — will know where you are.

Not to worry: Your secret’s safe with me.

Google Maps Android trick #12: In-app media controls

Why swipe around to control your music when you can do it right from the main Maps interface? Maps has the ability to add audio controls directly into the app so you can see your currently playing tunes and shuffle around as needed within a prominently placed bar in the app’s navigation area.

To get started, open up Maps’ settings, select “Navigation settings,” then tap “Assistant default media provider.” Pick from one of the available options, and whatever service you choose will show up within your navigation interface and also respond to any spoken commands issued to Assistant about audio playing.

Google Maps Android trick #13: Locked orientation

Sometimes, it seems like it’d be easier to understand a map if north were always facing up. Well, good news, my fellow orientation-obsessed organism: You can actually tell Maps to keep a consistent, locked orientation with north at the top whenever it’s navigating.

Just look in the “Navigation settings” section of the app’s main settings and find the option labeled (rather appropriately) “Keep map north up.”

Activate the toggle and then rest easy knowing you’ll never need to do that awkward head-pivoting, trying-to-figure-out-which-way-you’re-facing maneuver again.

Google Maps Android trick #14: Permanent dark mode

In that same “Navigation settings” section of Maps’ settings lies an understated option anyone with sensitive peepers will be pleased to uncover: the ability to set Maps’ color scheme into a permanent dark mode whenever navigation is active.

By default, Maps manages this setting on its own and switches between a light and dark scheme as it sees fit. If you’d rather avoid glary distractions all the time, look for the “Color scheme” setting and switch it from “Automatic” to “Night.”

Google Maps Android trick #15: A quieter voice

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had Maps navigation going and music playing from my phone at the same time — and then jumped in my seat when that jolly genie’s voice cuts in and somehow seems 7,000 times louder than the song behind it. 

If you, too, suffer from this awkward aural occurrence, take heed: There’s an easy fix.

At the very top of the “Navigation settings” section of Maps’ settings sits an option called “Guidance volume.” Try changing it to “Softer” — or “Louder,” if you dare! — and see how that suits your ears.

Google Maps Android trick #16: Voice commands

Last but not least, you’d be forgiven for forgetting — or maybe not ever knowing — but Maps has its own custom set of voice commands that work whenever you’re in the midst of a navigation. All you’ve gotta do is say “Hey Google” or activate Assistant in whatever manner you prefer, and then shout out the command in question.

(And note: These commands all work with the traditional Google Assistant on Android. If you’re using the newer, experimental Gemini Android assistant — as with most practical considerations related to that service — don’t expect much success.)

So buckle up — here are some of the more intriguing possibilities:

  • “How’s traffic ahead?”
  • “How’s traffic home?”
  • “Show the route overview.”
  • “Show an alternate route.”
  • “What’s my ETA?”
  • “What road is this?”
  • “What’s my next turn?”
  • “Navigate home.”
  • “Avoid tolls.”
  • “Avoid highways.”
  • “Find a gas station.”
  • “Take me to Best Buy.”
  • “Find a restaurant.”
  • “Find me somewhere that serves oatmeal, gosh darn it.”

That last one may or may not work, but hey — it’s always worth a shot.

Go beyond Maps and get even more Android shortcut knowledge with my free Android Shortcut Supercourse. You’ll learn tons of time-saving tricks for your phone!

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