(Credit: Screenshot: Download.com/Tom McNamara)

With Google's releasing the new Measure app for Android, and Google Earth getting updated with distance estimation tools, perhaps the company's Maps app was feeling left out. The good news is that it didn't have to wait long -- Google Maps' redesigned Explore feature starts rolling out today, and we've taken this refreshed feature for a spin.

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As its name implies, Explore is like a tour guide within the Maps app, and it lives on its own tab accessible by tapping Explore in the bottom left-hand corner of your screen. This will make a card pop up partway, where you get four shortcuts: Restaurants, Bars, Events, and "More." You can tap one of these four buttons to refine your search, or you can drag the card up the rest of the way to see themed categories for restaurants, such as "rooftop restaurants," "Where the locals drink, "Dim sum restaurants," and "Romantic restaurants."

Below this themed row, we had a card titled "The Foodie List," which was pre-filtered for our East Cut neighborhood of San Francisco -- though we could tap "San Francisco" right next to it to see citywide recommendations. On this card we got a top 5 list of places to eat, with star ratings, the number of ratings, the type of cuisine, and a thumbnail.

Tapping "See full list" opens up a new screen in the app with bigger images, a shortcut to view the place on your map, and the option to tell Google that you've been to that particular place before. There are also Follow and Share buttons at the top. Right below those buttons is what looks like a progress bar, labeled "Visited 0 of 6 places" in our case.

(Credit: Screenshot: Download.com/Tom McNamara)

And that's just the featured list. Google Maps' Explore tab listed five more, with a "See more lists" link below that, an Events section further down, and Activities at the very bottom. There's quite a lot to dig into, and it looks like Explore is set up for both locals and visitors.

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With all the things that Google Maps is becoming capable of, one wonders if the competition can catch up at this point. In addition to the fresh coat of paint for Explore, Google Maps also got a "For you" section that makes suggestions for multiple regions around where you are -- here in San Francisco, we saw sections for SF, Berkeley and San Rafael, and you can add more manually. This section provides a hybrid of a recommendations list and a news feed about places to go. Directions using an augmented reality overlay are also in the works.

However, if you're on iOS and feel that you're stuck with Apple Maps, Apple announced recently that it's opening up Apple Carplay to more third-party developers -- explicitly calling out Google Maps as a potential partner. Though it's not clear yet how Siri and the Google virtual assistant will juggle duties when you're driving.

The takeaways

  1. Google Maps' revamped Explore function feels good for orienting both locals and visitors to what's good in the area. This should save a lot of time for people who prefer not to plan too much when taking a trip or grabbing a meal.
  2. Google Maps is getting so good overall that getting it for free is starting to feel like a crime.

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Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at Download.com.