There are few, if any, tools like Google Earth available to the general public - it has achieved something that remains largely unrivaled in the world today. For that, Google Earth, we salute you. If you’re looking for a bird’s eye view of our beautiful planet, a way to while away some time on the internet, or you even have a valid query that can be solved with the use of an interactive globe, then Google Earth is definitely where you need to be.
3D view of the world
Despite a few problems, Google Earth is still totally amazing
Google Earth is a classic Google program that renders the Earth in 3D based on extensive satellite imagery. It’s been around since 2001 and has seen many, many updates and a lot of new tech that make it the amazing tool it is today. The premise is simple - Google Earth is an online, 3D globe and you can use it for the exact purpose you might use a traditional globe - marveling at our planet, finding geographical locations, and getting a sense of the scale of the planet on which we live.
Obviously, all the power of the internet adds a few features, so when you tire of navigating yourself, you can click through to the Voyager section (indicated by the little ship’s wheel icon) to let Google give you some suggestions, games, and hints that will allow you to get more out of the tool. The arch-content creator that Google is, some of these interactive suggestions are truly charming and will definitely encourage you to stick around a while.
This being a Google tool, you’ll be able to get more out of it if you sign in with a Google account. If you’re logged in, you’ll be able to save locations and searches, upload your own coordinates, and better keep track of your interactions with the software. Like almost every other Google tool out there, there is extensive support documentation, help centers, and forums, and a Medium blog, to keep you updated with changes to the program. You’ll also be able to see how Google is using Earth to contribute to research and education, as well as accessing a number of secondary Earth tools (More from Earth…) that allow people to use it in a more practical way in their community or workplace.
We feel almost bad for picking holes in Google Earth but there are a few niggles that occurred to us while we used it. For a start, Earth isn’t exactly fast. Now, bearing in mind the massive job the software has to do to get the satellite imagery online, this isn’t exactly a surprise, but these days we’re used to speed online and waiting for longer load times can really test our patience.
Another con is that the controls aren’t always intuitive. Sometimes you’ll find yourself at a screen that looks like Street View and attempt to move as you would using Maps, only to find that it’s a 360º picture that you can only look around from. You then have to squint at all the little icons to decide what’s the next move. We’re sure you’d become more familiar with the commands over time, but for a first go, it was a little frustrating.
Finally, it’s hard to make a call as to how long Google Earth will keep you entertained. It’s very cool and perfect to while away an hour or two every now and again, but it doesn’t look likely the program will keep you coming back unless you’re using it for a very specific purpose.
Where can you run this program?
Google Earth is available online using a modern browser. There’s also an app for Android and iPhone, and you can download a more comprehensive version of Google Earth - Google Earth Pro - for Mac and Windows. Google Earth Pro, which is also free, allows you to create and manipulate maps using GIS data, but it recommended for users with advanced needs.
Is there a better alternative?
Google Earth has few, if any, freely available alternatives. There are a number of map apps and tools that imitate some of Google Earth’s features, but none that we know of come close to approximating Google Earth as an interactive, 3D globe.
Google Earth is a truly amazing piece of software, but there are a few niggles that make it a little less than stellar. We loved interacting with it and using the Voyager section to try and discover something new, but It seems unlikely that you’ll keep coming back to it or use it more frequently. For all its technology and cool features, we can’t help thinking that it’s a bit like an old, offline globe. Sure, you might use it for a project, or give it an idle spin every now and again but, in general, it spends most of its time in a corner, gathering dust.
Should you download it?
Google Earth is free and a really easy tool to dip in and out of, so sure, give it a whirl. For most users, accessing it via a browser will be more than enough.