While Google Earth remains one of the most incredible programs you can download for free, it’s odd that it’s taken this long for the best features of one of its sister services – Street View – to be included.
With this version it’s finally there, and the difference is incredible. It’s always been a useful app, but now it’s a fully-fledged world in its own right.
With Street View, it’s the full package. Zoom down to ground level in previous versions of Google Earth, and while a few landmarks and big cities were blessed with 3D models courtesy of Sketch-Up artists and other collections, most of the world felt like a blocky wasteland. You could bring up users’ photos, which compensated for this a bit, but now you can actually get the full picture.
The one thing you can’t do is play a Tour while in Street View mode, which is disappointing, but being able to pause it and leap in and out, checking the scenery and watching out for sites of interest, is a much better way of checking the route than driving through the 3D view or trying to extrapolate from a top-down shot.
It’s also amusing to note how the view changes between the actual photos and the supposed ‘photo-realistic’ 3D models and images you have access to. Graphics technology has a fair way to go yet.
A new leaf
The other big new feature in this version is the addition of 3D trees, although this isn’t desperately impressive. It’s only activated in certain places, like San Francisco, and trying to track down foliage closer to home just gave us the same green blots on the landscape as before. At least you don’t need to worry about it spoiling the view.
Like all Google Earth features, it’s provided as a layer that can be switched on and off. It joins Oceans, Historical Imagery (now more prominent when you search) and Flight Simulator mode as interesting, but ultimately fairly gimmicky additions.
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