Google Earth 5 review

Google Earth applies satellite imagery and topographical data to a 3D globe. You can enhance these maps with a smorgasbord of relevant data, including photographs, Wikipedia entries, and YouTube videos. Learning the basics is easy, but for anything more complex, you’ll need to brave Google’s sprawling online user guide.

Bored with Earth? Google Sky offers a map of the heavens packed with Hubble Space Telescope imagery. Google Mars lets you explore the Red Planet, where you can follow the paths of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, or converse with a Martian chatbot.

The major new features in Google Earth 5 include ocean views, historical imagery, and tours. The Ocean view adds various nautical layers, including shipwreck sites and YouTube videos from National Geographic, the BBC, and Jacques Cousteau. The videos are entertaining, but the ocean floor looks surprisingly boring and flat.

Historical imagery lets you slide back and forth on a timeline of available aerial and satellite photography. Older images can be impressive, but for now, they’re scarce.

Tours let you share journeys with other Google Earth users, either by following a predetermined route, or recording what you see as you zip around in real time. You can add audio, text, and images to explain different landmarks. When we tried recording audio Google Earth consistently cut off the first few seconds of sound; according to Google, the program needs a few seconds to load audio drivers before it can begin capturing sound.

The program has a few bugs. Descriptions in the Places window sometimes illegibly displayed text atop other text. When we created a placemark, Google Earth wouldn’t save location names more than one word long unless we added a description. When attempting to share a placemark, we were taken to a bare-bones web page saying that feature had been temporarily disabled. Google says it’s aware of the issues and is working on fixes.

Some may also object to Google’s Update Engine, which installs with Google Earth and can’t be deactivated or removed on its own. It checks for updates every day, rather than when just Google Earth is opened. Google says it’s heard users’ concerns about the updater, and is working on a better solution.

OUR VERDICT

Google Earth 5 offers a wealth of educational information in a fun package and the price – free – is definitely right. But it’s often so eager to be useful that it can be unusable. If you don’t object to the updater and the minor bugs, it’s well worth a download, though.

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