When Google Maps Has Trouble, Citymapper Comes To My Rescue

citymapper side by side google maps on phone 1

Calvin Wankhede / Android Authority

Most of us have probably found ourselves in a bustling, bustling city at some point in our lives. The last time I did, I was on vacation in Hong Kong, completely unfamiliar with the city’s maze of transport options that ranged from trams to ferries. While I intended to rely on Google Maps for travel, a friend also recommended that I mix it up with Citymapper. Looking back now, that recommendation was worth its weight in gold – I don’t think Google Maps is the best app for getting around a big city anymore, especially if you’re on vacation.

Despite what my praise for the app would have you believe, I had never heard of Citymapper before this trip to Hong Kong. It’s not hard to see why, though. The app doesn’t do anything unless you’re in a supported city, and these are especially hard to find in Asia. Coverage is largely absent outside major metropolitan areas like Singapore and Tokyo. That said, the app works in most of the US and Europe. Still, if you’re from an unsupported city, you wouldn’t know how to use it unless you got a helpful tip like I did.


More options: The best public transport apps on Android

Limiting coverage to major cities is intentional, however. Citymapper doesn’t offer driving directions at all, so it’s pretty much useless if you’re using a car to get around. Instead, it focuses on just one aspect of transportation: public transit. Think of it as the opposite of Waze, but just as effective.

Citymapper’s exclusive focus on public transit makes it perfect for big cities, but dubiously useful anywhere else.

The single focus of the app is probably why it managed to offer better transit data than Google Maps almost every time I used it. I’m not alone either – my colleague Rita recently mentioned that while Citymapper was aware of a temporarily relocated bus stop in Berlin, Google was completely unaware of the change. And unlike the latter, which often flip-flops between displaying and thrashing transit data in small towns, Citymapper works reliably and consistently.

Reliability and consistency are not the only advantages of Citymapper, however. The user interface of the app is a big reason why I prefer it to any other mapping service. Sure, it doesn’t meet the latest material design guidelines, but I’m more than happy to overlook that considering how functional everything is. Let me explain the use of Google Maps as a point of comparison.

Open the Maps app on your phone and you’ll be presented with a fairly familiar interface. You get a search bar at the top, a full-screen map view of the area you’re currently in, and a few buttons to find nearby restaurants or parking spots. Citymapper, on the other hand, offers transit buttons and absolutely nothing else. You can’t access a business for more information, browse restaurant menus, or get any form of personalized recommendations like you would in other mapping apps.

This alone highlights a key distinction between the two apps. While Google pushes you to discover new places and see what’s around you, Citymapper cares about none of that. In fact, the only thing it can do is get you from point A to point B.

Google Maps often requires an extra click or two to see the information Citymapper presents in the foreground.

For example, once you select your destination, Google Maps requires you to laboriously navigate to Itinerary > Transit. Citymapper, on the other hand, will show you virtually any method of public transportation right away. It’s a small thing, but the latter’s interface is much more convenient if you already have a destination in mind (and I usually do this in a foreign city).

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Citymapper also manages to be much more informative than the competition. As a tourist in a new city, I often don’t know what to expect. How much change do I need to stay ready for my next bus ride? Will it be faster to rent a bike or moped nearby? Do any ride-sharing services operate in this city? Citymapper shows you all this information on a single screen. Just look at the staggering number of options in London, most of which are missing from Google Maps.

To Google’s credit, I’ve found that Maps has acquired many of Citymapper’s best features over the years. But even then, some implementations feel like an afterthought.

Take the subway’s entry and exit recommendations, for example, which ensure you don’t have to cross a busy street at surface level. Even though Google Maps matches Citymapper now, the information is buried deep in a wall of text. I don’t need to describe how much clearer Citymapper is in this regard; just take a look at how both apps present the same information:

A similar degree of attention to detail also extends to many other aspects, which you are likely to appreciate whether you are a local or a tourist. For example, the application realistically takes into account level crossings and walking times on platforms. In other words, it doesn’t expect you to teleport onto a train as soon as you reach the station. It even tells you which section of the train you should enter so that you are closest to the exit when you reach your destination.

citymapper best section

And I haven’t even had a chance to talk about auxiliary features outside of the main navigation screen yet. The ability to share your live location along with the exact route you’re taking is really handy, as is the “Major Roads” feature which lets you walk, you guessed it, major roads.

How long it will take competitors like Google and Apple to catch up in these areas remains to be seen. However, it’s clear that Citymapper currently holds a definite lead in the non-driver navigation space.

Praise aside, I’ll admit that Citymapper isn’t a full-fledged replacement for your current mapping app of choice. It is also worth acknowledging the possibility that someone has had the opposite experience to mine. Google Maps or another app could very well provide more accurate public transport information; I just haven’t seen that happen yet.

Have you used Citymapper in public transport?

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Nor can you use Citymapper to decide where you should spend your evening. Google will be happy to direct you to dozens, if not hundreds of bars in your neighborhood. And more importantly, it can provide reliable turn-by-turn navigation when you have your own vehicle. That said, if you’re committed to public transport and have never tried Citymapper on your travels, I highly recommend giving it a try on your next trip. It may very well save you a lot of confused wandering and frustration.

More alternatives: The best GPS apps and navigation apps for Android

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