Spare time, I had, and wanted to see where someone was physically located in China. The place is a small town on the border of Shanxi and Inner Mongolia, on the Yellow River. What were the odds that I could find her exact location and get a satellite photo of her building?
I started using Google Maps, which was pretty helpful. Considering that Google is not allowed in China, they still had maps of the small city and specifically the 1km section of road that interested me. The sat photo showed great detail, as you can see, but the roads from the diagram did not coordinate very well with the sat map. In fact they were really so far off that some roads went underwater, like tunnels.
The test area is in China, on the Shanxi side of the Yellow River, the other side being Inner Mongolia. I don’t know the population of the city and cannot find it on Google or Baidu, but at the county level it is about 150,000 people. The test map is one long street about 1km long. I’ve cut down both the Baidu and Google maps to this specific 1km, scaled them as best I could, and put them side by side in a single graphic. The results are interesting.
Both Baidu and Google have roughly identical street layouts, which makes it much easier to compare them side by side. Google has more colour contrast in their maps than Baidu, making it slightly easier to read. While Baidu has Chinese only streets and landmark names, Google is bilingual, providing both Chinese and English. When you zoom in to only a 1km map, Google only provides street names in English.
Both Baidu and Google use icons to tell you the purpose of a landmark. For example for an eating place Baidu has a small bowl with chopsticks, while Google has a knife and fork. Both use a small lady’s handbag to denote a small store. As Baidu has more places of interest, they also have a wider variety of icons, marking large buildings, differentiating between small shops and malls, hotels. Baidu also has some landmarks that have no specific icons and are only marked by a small dot.
From the start you can see that Baidu has much more detail in their maps. There are elementary and high schools, colleges, factories, a library, banks, eating places, a hotel,a public square and a computer store. There is a landmark for the public washroom, something that is very handy for tourists. The neighbourhoods are also named.
Baidu’s map has so much more than Google’s map. From Google’s map you would think that this is a tiny town, until you see Google’s satellite map. Google does map out a couple banks not on the Baidu map. The only landmark mapped by both Baidu and Google is the Agricultural Bank of China in the south part of the map.
Google does mark out the post offices, important because the post office also does money transfers between people in China. Baidu’s maps do not have the post offices. When you zoom in Google does add a couple of book stores and a computer store.
If you needed help from a local, the Baidu map has all the streets in Chinese. There’s no point in showing a local Chinese person a map with English street names, as they could not help you.
Google vs Baidu Maps: A small town in China on the border of Shanxi and Inner mongolia, on the Yellow River, 1 km long
百度比谷歌地图：在中国一个小市，山西和内蒙古中间，靠黄河，一公里长。Maps by Baidu and Google. Map cutting and sewing by Don Tai.
The satellite map is where Google really outshines Baidu. Actually Baidu only has sat maps for their larger cities and nothing but line maps for the smaller places. You can clearly see that this small city is actually quite large, with a huge number of buildings built chock-a-block beside each other. It is difficult, even with the line maps in front of me, to see most of the side streets.
Google vs Baidu Satellite Maps: A small town in China on the border of Shanxi and Inner mongolia, on the Yellow River, 1 km long
百度比谷歌卫星地图：在中国一个小市，山西和内蒙古中间，靠黄河，一公里长。Maps by Baidu and Google. Map cutting and sewing by Don Tai.
While Google is worldwide, Baidu is China only. Yet if you are in China this makes a huge difference.
A friend who travelled to Wuhan used an Android app Map.me, available for Android 4.0+, which uses GPS coordinates and does not need wifi. You can walk around with your phone and navigate. It is available on Google Play and Amazon. I do not know if Maps.me would work in this tiny city and have no way of testing this.
Why You Can’t Trust GPS in China