Review of Google Earth for Android Version 8

As mentioned in my previous post, Google recently announced a new version of Google Earth for Android. This version ( is a complete re-write of the underlying Google Earth 3D model, and now has access to unified mapping data used by Google Maps and this new version of Google Earth. This means the most current available mapping data can now be viewed in this version of Google Earth (Google Earth version 7 on all the other platforms is based on less current data). Version 8 also adds some enhanced 3D rendering and improves some aspects of KML support. These things are good news for what they portend for future releases on the other platforms. So, although this release is not everything we hoped for (see below), we are happy to see this new version released.

We can understand why Google would want to start development of Google Earth version 8 on Android first. The mobile version of Google Earth has far fewer features than the desktop versions, making it easier to develop a smaller set of features. None of the power features that allow you to create your own maps on the desktop version are available on the mobile version. Similarly, the more powerful KML features such as time animations, network links, GPS tracks, and many others are not yet supported on the mobile platform. This is true on the new version 8 release as well. Not only that, but this new release is missing a few important features from the previous release on mobile. It seems Google rushed this new release out as there are a number of bugs.

This review will show screenshots of the previous mobile version next to the new release. Version 7 will be on the left, and version 8 on the right in most cases. My two devices used for testing (a Samsung Galaxy S4 for version 7, and a Nexus 7 for version 8) have different aspect ratios, so they will look somewhat different.

Atmospheric effects

The new version 8 includes a stronger rendering effect for the atmosphere similar to the one on the desktop version of Google Earth introduced several versions ago. While this gives a more realistic effect in some ways, Google needs to add an option to turn it off. The reason is that you can’t view data clearly, especially while viewing more horizontally. Also, the colors of the imagery are subdued because of the atmospheric effect and they look dull and “grey”. I see the atmosphere effects as a “gee whiz” effect that distracts from the important map data. In real life, the atmosphere gets clearer or more hazy depending on weather. Lets give the user that option. See screenshot comparison of version 7 (left), version 8 (right).


Atmosphere (7 left, 8 right)
(click for larger)

New 3D model of Earth

Since Google Earth was first released, the rendering of the geometric model of the Earth had a flaw when viewing the poles. It was particularly bad when Google Earth was first released, but Google made some improvements in later versions. Google Earth’s developers told me years ago they hoped to someday re-write the model so you could view the poles. The new version 8 does address this and the renderings are free of visual anomalies. But, there is still some weirdness to how you zoom in and view the poles with the current interface. You can’t zoom straight down to the poles, you have to tilt your view and zoom towards them to see them. But, overall it is a much more pleasing view of the poles and proves this is a new geometric model for Google Earth. The south pole has a strange white spot (I guess they have no imagery there), but the north pole is fine. In version 7 you see lots of rays shooting out from the poles, but the new version shows the imagery fine. Unfortunately, the screenshots of the south pole are hard to make out due to lack of contrast with all the ice.

South pole

South pole

Layer choices

Version 7 of the mobile version of Google Earth had already combined the layers of Borders and Labels into one choice. In version 8 they have gone a step further and combined Road, Borders and Labels into one choice. This is a mistake in my opinion because the user has less control over their mapping data. Not only that, but the vectors drawn in version 8 are not yet optimized when compared to version 7 and draw and/or load slower. This is especially obvious when zooming in and out. Also, the new borders and labels in version 8 coming from the Google Maps data are black and white and do not provide as much information as the Google Earth borders and labels. Google Earth 7 border layers show more data, and different colors, for things like oceans and sea names, country names verses states and cities, etc. The new version 8 labels are pretty much plain white and not as informative. However, they are more consistent with the Google Maps platform (which I also don’t like). A very important missing layer in version 8 is “3D Buildings”. You can’t turn them off in version 8, which is a mistake. The 3D buildings layer loads a lot of data which, if you are on a limited 3G bandwidth plan, means it could cost you if you use Google Earth to view cities with 3D data. It also could slow down your view when you just want to view the imagery or Street View data for that location. Other missing layers include: Ocean, Places, and Businesses. The screenshots below compare the labels and border data between the two versions.

Borders and labels

Borders and labels

KML Support

Previous versions of Google Earth for mobile were difficult to load KML. However, we recently discovered that recent versions of Chrome for Android now allow you to load KML from web links (like those found on GEB) directly from the browser into either Google Earth 7 or the new version 8. The new version also gives you the new option to load KML from Google Drive, in addition to the options from Maps Gallery, Maps Engine (which will be the new My Maps), and your Google+ photos (that have been geotagged). Some of the Google Maps Gallery choices do not work properly because of limited KML functionality support on the mobile platform. KML support in version 8 is also a bit buggy at this point. I found many KMLs that should work to have errors (which have been reported, and Google says they will work on them). One particularly annoying bug is that KML lines go transparent when you tilt the view, so in an example of GPS tracks of a ski vacation much of the tracks are not visible in version 8, whereas version 7 shows them fine. See version 7 above version 8 in the screenshots below.

Ski tracks KML

Ski tracks KML

In Summary

Google Earth Version 8 for Android is based on a new geometric 3D model of the Earth, and accesses the more current and more accurate data of the Google Maps databases. According to Google, this new version is the first overhaul to Google Earth’s 3D model in 10 years.

Version 8 does make it easier to load KML, although the limited support of KML features and rendering is disappointing. This version has fewer options to turn on/off mapping layers than even version 7 for mobile, so the layer features are a bit of a step backwards. But, hopefully Google will continue to advance the technology behind the mobile version and add new features and layers as it evolves.

We also sincerely hope Google puts even more effort behind the development of the desktop version 8. The desktop platform has suffered from the lack of access to more accurate mapping data improvements, and other development and bug fixes which is not good considering Google Earth is one of the world’s most popular applications. The desktop version of Google Earth also provides much more powerful features of KML, user data, map creation, APIs for developers, and much more. And lets face it, Google Earth looks awesome on the larger screens we use on non-mobile platforms!

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. With now in a battle with Google and said first company now pushing ESRI exclusively we are going to see more ongoing battles of the earth mapping programs to come. Google Earth Desk Top is far superior in workability to ESRI all the day long though. ESRI is basically FLAT.

    • My android “DOWNGRADED” TO Google Earth 8.
      Very disappointing. 3d CaD buildings were gone. No more individual 3D buildings. Its all 3D or nothing. No more 3D outside US,Canada, Europe and north Asia.

      I could no longer pan my view on the wider horizontal screen. I had to hold phone vertical to get an unstable paning feature.

      It also kept “Encountering a problem and needed to close”! That was the last straw.


  2. Here in Denmark no update of GE available yet.

  3. The one really unique killer feature about the desktop version of Google Earth is the historical timeline for satellite imagery. That has been the single biggest advance since the launch of the original Keyhole Earth. It was a real tour de force and is the one thing that sets GE apart from all other digital atlases/virtual globes, even GE on mobile platforms. If this ever disappears as a feature in a future update, that would pretty much end the reign of Google in the mapping space. I can live with the worsening usability of the Google Maps UI as long as GE has imagery history…

  4. KML that shows correctly as per the desktop version in G.E. Mobile ver 7 now shows only white boundary with backfill. I wish it will show correctly in the next update.

  5. The simplification of the settings menu in GE 8.x for Android means you can no longer add a database created in Google Earth Enterprise/Fusion. The “database” menu item has been removed. Very disappointing. We have hundreds of clients accessing our government open data via GEE database globes in the field on mobile devices. I really hope this omission is an accident and not intended.

    • Yes I would love to be able to import Fire Perimeter Files from GeoMAC but that sounds like that is not going to happen in the new version.

    • Tony, just realised I’m one of them (DNRM surveyor). 🙁

      • I’m no rocket scientist but I’m staying with G.E. Desktop until it dies totally. I feel it is far superior in all venues to ESRI and ArcGIS at the Beginner to Expert level. I even have a group on Facebook helping others to learn about G.E. for tracking Wildfires called Google Earth Fire Watch Plus. I also share the articles here to that group each time a new article is released.

  6. I’m surprised there aren’t more outrage videos posted when changes like this are made. Maybe I don’t understand, but I’ll go ahead and say, the new version sucks. I noticed the icon changed into a dumbed down looking design. So, I open it to explore, and low and behold, my 3D buildings are gone. I live in a city where alot of community artists collaborated on building it up so I was happy Google didn’t turn it all to mesh a year ago when they gave 3D warehouse to Trimble.. But now, unless your city was updated to mesh, you won’t see it at all.
    It was sad when they took away the fun content creation publishing pipeline, but now you can’t even show anyone your buildings on mobile. Very disappointing.
    I also agree that the atmospheric haze gets in the way of insightful visualization. To that point, I’ve been turning off roads and boarders lately to look at the pure geography. It’s great to discover new ways of looking at the world by having the option to turn layers on and off. Combining layers into a dumbed down mash up for design purposes is folly. It seems borderline political. As if an authoritarian DOT Government will now determine the borders and place names. Are they trying to make GE less of a learning and discovery tool, and more of an “Ok Google, navigate to Starbucks” app thing?? WTF.

    • My android “Downgraded” to version 8 . I deleted/uninstalled it! tried to get 7 back,no dice…..Forget Google Garbagearth.

  7. PurpleHaze says

    This crap is happening because the main industry thinks *Desktops PC’* are dead so Google is simply following what they think are *trends* in the tech industry so expect PC users to be given the shaft assuming they don’t cancel Google Earth all together for the PC.

    Go to any large electronic store and unless it’s a used computer store most of it will be I-phones and Tablets with some refurbished laptops in the background I mean notebooks which are (want to be) laptops sitting there with nobody buying them.

    In Wal Mart I have seen the same notebooks for several years slowly having the price slashed from 800$ to 600$ and last I look down to 300$ for a decent range notebook.

    Free Hint.
    PC’s are actually not dead but the industry is catering to the stupid crowd that grew up on Nintendo and Atari totally missed what computers are capable of because Windows 3.1 was rather lame if you didn’t know much about how computers worked.

    • Just like FM radios! As soon as the industry realized that people were choosing and downloading crappy compressed low bitrate music over buying high fidelity CD’s, the following happened.
      Manufacturers stopped making high quality AM/ FM receivers.
      FM stations stopped seeking the signal fidelity,opting to run music at low bitrate and over process the music to “cover up the low bitrate,resulting in loud tinny sounds.
      Top 40 means 10 songs an hour and the rest commercials!

      Now FM stations to trying to save $$ by re bradcasting online on low bitrate compressed signals on their open air FM signal!

      Same with computers. Once consumers settle for hi tech cheap thrills, Those of us who appreciate true innovation are left with fewer options as well as marginalized.

      • Another example… Imagine inventing the fastest car yet, you are restricted to 25mph…..Thats “HDradio”

        HD radio ,which I have is awsome….when it works.
        AM sounds like FM.
        FM subdivides into multiple channels Hd1,2,3 so on.
        Heres the problem…FCC restricted the HD signal to 1-2% of the analog signal. Despite that handicap,the HD covers 75% of the analog. At 100% of analog (analog shut off and a radio conversion)signal Digital actually extends FM outreach….yet people are too into their crappy compressed low bitrate you tube /I heart radio to care.

        Same with true performance muscle cars. Geeks in stupid asian road scrapping low riders will laugh at you….the fake fast and furious wannabees. Ok thats enough.

  8. PurpleHaze says

    One last post. By the time people did figure out the PC it was by Windows 98 time era so those who grew up on game consoles were firmly attached to them then migrated to phones.

  9. google earth is not working on my mobile.when i open it , it shows black screen n nthng else .. plz helppp..i really want this app in my mobile

  10. Like Aisha, I get nothing but a black screen when using Google Earth. That makes it a waste of disk space and RAM in my book.

  11. I am getting a black screen in Google Earth too, but only with my Galaxy Tab 4 7-inch. GE seems to work just fine on my every other Android device I own.

  12. Black screen here too

  13. I can’t view google with my android device

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.