Feeling judgemental? Google Places makes it easy to search for nearby stuff and read other's people's damning reviews, as well as find out the gory details of opening hours and contact numbers.
Tells you where to go
Places is actually an update to the Google Maps app, so don't go looking for it in the app store under its own name. Instead, search for Google Maps and install the latest 4.4 version. But you may have problems if you're blessed with version 2.2 of Android, which is currently only available on the Google Nexus One. The installation failed for us on that version, but worked fine on a Samsung Galaxy S running Android 2.1.
Once Places is installed, you can get at the new features in two ways -- click the Places icon that's been dropped into your app menu, or search for what you're looking for directly in Google Maps.
If you use the Places app, it's essentially a list of shortcuts to search Google's directory of shops, restaurants, pubs and other attractions. The results are delivered in a handy list, with a snippet of review for each. But we were confused with the order of results, which didn't seem to be sorted in distance or alphabetical order. We also disliked the fact that all the distances where shown in Imperial units, with Americanisms such as "gas station", and no option to change these.
On the other hand, we did like that we could add our own search shortcuts to the Places app, so local chemists and donkey sanctuaries were at our fingertips.
Places and spaces
The listings for each location have been beefed up, including prices for restaurant meals, opening times for attractions and even links to menus -- all drawn from other Web sites, such as Zagat or Trip Advisor.
Because the details for each place seem to be gathered automatically, you should take them with a grain of salt, becauce they're not always accurate. For example, a search for restaurants near Crave towers reveals the Globe Theatre -- which does have an excellent restaurant, but the Places page, with its reviews and opening times, refers only to the theatre. Similarly, a search for attractions comes up with the Tate Modern, but the Places page talks about the museum's restaurant rather than its art.
Once you've found the place you fancy, four shortcuts offer the options to view it on a map, get directions with Google Maps Navigation, telephone or spot the location on street view. These are handy and really show off the strengths of the integration of Places with Google Maps.
Google's free app treats are one of the best things about owning a mobile powered by its Android operating system, and Places adds another sweet to the pile of goodies. But the automated nature of the results mean that the app doesn't always come up with the best info. However, most Google apps tend to get better with time, and it's free, so we wouldn't hesitate to upgrade.
To get the Places app, search for Google Maps in the Android Market or visit this link on your phone.