In the summer of 2013, Nokia made its stock mapping app, Here Maps, available for download in the Windows Phone app store. Before that, only those with Lumia phones could get their hands on it to search for directions and navigate.
Since Here Maps is hardly the only mapping app for Windows Phone owners, I took it for a spin to see if it's worth using whether it comes with your phone or not.
Here Maps has a basic, no-frills design that's similar to Here Maps on iOS. The main screen shows a map, a few buttons, and a small pin that marks your current location, with the neighborhood (if applicable) and approximate address.
You swipe your finger to adjust the map view, pinch to zoom out, and double-tap to zoom in — pretty standard controls for touchscreen maps these days.
If you tap and hold the map, it will drop a pin and show the location's approximate address. If you move the map or zoom out, the pin won't stay put — instead it moves with the map and will change to a new location. That was a huge pain when I needed to adjust the map, but wanted to keep a fixed point of reference.
At the bottom left of the main screen, there's a small button that will jump the map back to your current location when you tap it. That button also has a little arrow that points toward your current location when it's not in view. That's a nice detail and is helpful if you're trying to orient yourself.
When your location pin is visible on the screen, you can tap that same location button to turn on the compass (if your phone has one). Once it's on, the map will rotate to match the compass, meaning if you point the top of your phone due west, the map will point west as well.
This feature only works when you're outside or have a strong GPS signal. You don't need to have a data or Wi-Fi signal for it to work, you just can't be inside a building that interferes with the GPS satellite signal -- such as CNET's office building.
Here Maps comes with four map options: a regular map, and ones with satellite, public transit, and traffic overlays. Just tap the icon on the main screen that looks like a stack of paper to get to the different maps.
The regular map shows streets and highways, plus major parks, wilderness areas, and bodies of water. The map has enough information on street names and landmarks to be helpful, but not so much information that it's cluttered or hard to read. On the basic map, major skyscrapers in urban areas show up in 3D.
Next up is the satellite map view, which shows satellite images with street and highway outlines to help you navigate. In some places, the satellite map took a long time to load a detailed image even over a strong WiFi signal, which was annoying. I was often left looking at a fuzzy picture while it loaded, especially when I zoomed in.
The transit map shows major public transportation stops nearby and colored transit routes. In San Francisco, the map only shows routes for our local subway system, regional transit system (BART), and the cable cars. Unfortunately for surface-level commuters, there are no bus route lines.
You can tap on the small bus icons on the map with stop names to pull up more information about which lines serve that stop, which is helpful.
Last is the traffic map. Traffic congestion and incidents show up on major highways and heavily used roads in large urban areas. In more rural areas, you'll only see traffic on freeways. Like other major mapping apps, Here Maps uses colors to indicate levels of congestion; red means there's heavy backup, green means traffic is moving freely.
In every map view (except traffic), you can see Nokia's venue maps. These are maps and directories of shopping malls, sports arenas, airports, and other large indoor public spaces.
For indoor spaces, there is a small building icon above the venue that you can tap to view a directory of shops, restaurants, restrooms, and other services. At airports, the maps show gate locations, and at sports stadiums, you can see seating sections.
Nokia also created venue maps with shop names for outdoor shopping areas that aren't part of a mall, such as in San Francisco's Union Square or New York's SoHo shopping district.