Swoop around the globe like a superhero

With its new 3D capabilities, Google Earth offers more-realistic-looking renderings than ever.

Think of Google Earth as a sort of souped-up version of Google Maps, but with more of a focus on lifelike renderings of locations, rather than typical road maps. With Google Earth, you can virtually fly to pretty much anywhere on the planet, zooming in and out of cities and streets to your heart's desire.

While Google Earth lets you manually navigate to an area of interest (via zoom and swipe), the more precise method is to use the search bar. Here, you can type in a full address, just a city name, business name, or even a keyword (like "pizza"). In any case, Google Earth does a great job at returning relevant results. For instance, searching for "pizza" adds map pins to the pizzerias (and other relevant results) in your area. Just as easily, typing in your address pulls up a bird's-eye view of your home. And these satellite images allow you to zoom in pretty tight.

Like Google Maps, Earth also includes optional layers of information, which add a lot to your browsing experience. You can overlay places, businesses, Wikipedia entries, Road information, and more. The most interesting layer, of course, is the 3D buildings. Available now for select major metro areas, the 3D buildings layer uses images gathered by airplane to give you stunning 360-degree views of cityscapes. Admittedly, the images are not perfectly sharp, but in most cases they are sharp enough. Still, the 3D views are amazing to see, and the good news is, they will only get better.

Google Earth for Android also supports Keynote Markup Language (KML) files, so you can click on any Earth file from around the Web to display custom elements like place marks, image overlays, and text descriptions on your Google Earth screen. With that, the app can tap into the Google Earth Gallery, giving you access to a collection of custom maps from all over the Web.

Lastly, with a tap on the small tab at the bottom of the screen, you can bring up Earth's tour guide. It's a nifty little addition, offering a selection of virtual tours of landmarks from around the globe.

With its smooth swiping and zooming and stunning 3D rendering, Google Earth is certainly a sight to behold. But more than that, it integrates Google's powerful search capabilities to give users a rich virtual travel experience.

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