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Review: Google Mobile Maps Goes In A New Direction

Google's mission is to organize the world's information -- and when you're driving in a crowded metropolitan area, knowing your way around and what traffic conditions are can be very important information indeed. A new free service from Google lets you get directions and immediate traffic information from Google -- assuming you have a cell phone that can accommodate it.

The newest beta version of Google Mobile Maps works with several dozen cell phones from most U.S. carriers. If your phone supports it, you can download Google Maps using your phone's Web browser. You then use the keypad and arrow keys to display a map that shows traffic directions and conditions in your area. Although Google doesn't charge for the service or its data feed, there could be charges from your cell phone carrier.

I tested the Google Maps service on the Sprint network using a Samsung SPH-A940 and on Cingular Wireless using a Blackberry 8700c. You can also test-drive the service from a PC with live traffic in an interactive tour that's pretty much like the experience from a cell phone.

When you load the service, you get a menu that you can use to find a business, find a location (by full address or just zip code), get directions, or see a satellite view. Traffic data works by color coding: Roads that are green are running at the speed limit, yellow designates some congestion, and red indicates a traffic jam. By default traffic data is turned on, but you can turn it off.

If you simply select a location, you'll see the general area around that location, but you can easily scroll out to see a larger portion of the area. You can also use your phone's arrow keys to scroll around the map. It takes a bit of getting used to on a cell phone, but on my Samsung phone I was easily able to scroll around the entire San Francisco Bay Area.

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