Google Earth Lets You Travel the 3-D World on Tablets

Google(s goog) launched a tablet-optimized version of its Google Earth software for Honeycomb tablets on Thursday. Available for free in the Android Market, the new software takes advantage of both potent processors and larger displays by adding functionality over the mobile handset version for smartphones. On a tablet, Google Earth offers a visual layer with textured, 3-D buildings and content pop-ups to provide venue information alongside the landscape.

I’ve already taken the new Google Earth version for a spin on the Acer Iconia Tab A500 tablet I’m reviewing and I can easily see myself wasting the day away by navigating around the planet. The application is well designed, makes excellent use of the tablet hardware and is just downright fun. In my limited testing time so far, I can safely say Google successfully brought the desktop experience of Google Earth to mobile tablets — yet another activity that tablets will steal away from traditional computing devices.

The 3-D building view is most impressive: I’m very familiar with Philadelphia, which is the nearest city to me, and it feels like I’m right there in Center City when using this app. With the new pop-ups, it’s easy to see information about landmarks or view user-contributed photos from Panoramio. The 3-D rendering isn’t quite as fast as you might find on the desktop version — depending on the specs of your desktop, of course — but it’s certainly not a painful experience either. All Honeycomb tablets to this point use dual-core processors with advanced graphics, which is an enabler here.

If you have a Honeycomb tablet, Google Earth is well worth the free download, even if you aren’t into maps or navigation. The software shows off how good a tablet-optimized application can be for Honeycomb, and there’s been a shortage of such examples. Besides, even though I know Philadelphia really well, I’m already learning new things about some of the old landmarks thanks to Google Earth.