Waze screenshot 1If you’re traveling for the holidays, then you’ll want to take note of one of my favorite smartphone GPS apps available today.

Waze is a social or community-based traffic and navigation app. The best part? It’s free for Apple and Android smartphones!

So what exactly does a community-based navigation app do? It does everything Google Maps or Apple Maps does, and so much more. You get turn-by-turn navigation, real-time traffic updates, live road events, and even gas prices. All of this is updated to the minute.

How It Works

When you open Waze, your smartphone is automatically sharing information with the other Waze users on the road. For example, your cruising speed helps show where traffic is, and reroutes you and others around potential traffic jams along a particular route.

Surprisingly, I found that the traffic information provided by Waze was far superior to that of Google Maps or Apple Maps.

In addition to traffic updates, information about live road events such as police activity, accidents, speed traps, stalled vehicles, and other road hazards is also provided.

My Experience

Today I was traveling from Long Island to Brooklyn. This 35-minute drive usually takes me about 50 minutes or even one hour with all the traffic I inevitably hit.

But not with Waze.

I was skeptical at first, but after five minutes of being on the road, I saw how powerful the app can be. First, as I entered the highway, I was immediately alerted that I was being rerouted because of traffic. It took me to an alternate highway with no traffic at all. I would not have considered that route without Waze intervening. I’ll admit I was already ecstatic.

The second thing I noticed was an alert, both visually and verbally. “Caution! Stopped vehicle on right shoulder one quarter mile ahead.” It couldn’t be correct could it? It was! Precisely where Waze told me the car would be, there was a vehicle stopped on the side of the road. This type of notification alerted me four times along my route: three times for stalled or stopped vehicles, and once for police activity. All were accurate.

For a skeptic, I was very impressed and slowly becoming a “Wazer.” Once I arrived at my destination in 40 minutes flat, I was converted. (Sorry Honda Pilot, your built-in GPS no longer reigns supreme in my book.)

User Interface

At first, I wasn’t a fan of the bubbly and child-like interface, but after seeing how easy it is to use, and how effective the controls are, I got over the cute graphics.waze-screenshot 2

When you first open the app, you are brought directly to the map. There’s no confusing main menu with countless buttons; you have two button options in the bottom corners. The left side is where you input your destination, view road reports and incidents, and even see where your friends are (if you have previously connected with them through Waze).

The button on the right side is where you contribute to the Waze community. If you see an incident that you were not alerted to, you can click that button and report things like traffic jams, police activity, accidents, speed cameras and red light cameras, cheap gas stations and countless other road hazards. I did not contribute at all during my first route, yet the app was still extremely effective.

The effectiveness is likely due to Waze’s active prompts as you are driving. When you pass a live road event such as an accident, a small prompt will show itself for a few seconds. You can confirm that the accident is still there, or tell Waze that it has been cleared. This makes the real-time information truly real-time.

You might be wondering, how can this app be safe? Simple: every essential feature that you can control with the touch of a finger can also be controlled by your voice.

Is It Worth Downloading?

If you haven’t figured it out yet already, I highly recommend Waze. It truly seems to effectively harness the power of social interaction, and values the ability of its community to create an unparalleled mobile navigation experience.

What do you think? Are you a Wazer? Will you try it out? Let me know what you think. Leave your comments below or tweet me @JaredMandel.