Navigating the Underworld: Best Metro Map Apps in China

You don’t have to be Einstein to find your way around the metro systems of China’s major cities, if you have your route mapped out for you that is. The problem is that there is a surprising lack of metro maps within the actual metro stations to help you plan how to get to where you’re going. Often the first time you encounter a metro map of any description is inside the train itself, which can lead to delays if you just got onto the wrong line, or the right line going in the wrong direction. The best way to get around this problem and make navigating the underworld of China easier, is to use metro map apps. With said apps being so plentiful, which ones are the best for the major cities in China?

Subway, Metro map apps
Part of the Beijing Metro Map

Best metro map app for all major cities – China Subway by PEKALL

If you do a lot of traveling within China, whether for business or tourism, then there is one all encompassing app which provides metro maps for 12 major cities in China; Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Changchun, Chengdu, Chongqing, Nanjing, Dalian and Xi’an. The China Subway app is user-friendly and easy to navigate. The downside of this app is that you do a need a very basic understanding of Chinese to get full use of its multiple functions. For example: to enter a start and end point for your journey you have to click on ‘起’ for your starting station and ‘终’ for your final station. The directions for your entire journey are also given in Chinese but you can merely look at the route given on the map so this isn’t too much of a hindrance. Once you get a hang of this app you can delete all your other metro map apps to save you space on your phone or tablet.

Price: Free
Link: Android

Individual city metro map apps – Explore vs. Alaris Studio

There are many, many individual apps for the metros in the major cities of China and all of them have pros and cons. The two competing brands who both have apps for most of these cities are Explore (Insert city name) Metro, and (Insert city name) Metro by Alaris Studio.

The most popular app is the Explore Beijing App but it has one major downside – adverts. This is a big annoyance as adverts are constantly popping while you try to find the best route for your trip. This is particularly irritating if you’re in a hurry and you accidently open an advert which directs you away from the app and eats up valuable time. Attempting to upgrade the app to the VIP service which allows for advert-free use leads to a screen that says, ‘This item is not available in your country,’ which is disappointing because the app, free of ads, would be one of the best.

When using this app you merely have to select your starting station, then select ‘plan route’ and then, finally, select your destination. The app will then plot out the quickest route for you, tell you how long it takes and how much it will cost. You can also select a station and check what time it opens and closes and also see a map of the area surrounding the station for when you exit.

My preferred app would be the Metro App by Alaris Studio. It is the easiest app to use, with a clean interface and very clear instructions. You can enter your start and end point quickly, using a ‘point A’ and ‘point B’ system, then see the route on the map or click on the ‘directions’ button for clear instructions. Whether you’re a local or just visiting, this app can aid you in getting around the extensive metro systems of major cities with ease.

So there it is, the two heavy weights of metro map apps in China have slugged it out and the winner, on a technical decision, is the brand designed by Alaris Studio. If Explore could get rid of the ads or make it more accessible to upgrade (which most people are not willing to do) then it would leapfrog the competition to the top. For now, though, your best bet would be to go with the Alaris range for all your metro map app needs.

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