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Google Earth Plus – Do You Really Need It?

Now that Google Earth is finally out of beta, here’s a question: is it worth coughing up an extra twenty dollars every year for Google Earth Plus? Before, the drawing tools almost made the answer yes by themselves, but now they’re in the free version of GE as well. So what does your twenty bucks get you? And more importantly, can you get the same capabilities for less, or even for free?

According to Google, this is what Google Earth Plus offers over the free version:

  1. Enhanced Performance – Not specified, but presumably means you get priority in downloading data, so it might go faster. Possibly worth paying for, but the free version works fast enough for me.
  2. Printing – A 40% improvement in printing quality (1000 pixels versus 1400 pixels) – This might be worth it. There are ways you can actually do the same thing for free, but they’re time consuming and may be a violation of the Google Earth Terms Of Service.
  3. GPS Data Import (read only) – Hook up your GPS and download waypoint, track and route data directly into GE. Now that GE recently added support for NMEA, in addition to the standard Garmin and Magellan protocols it already supported, this is a lot more useful than it used to be. But there are other options for bringing GPS data into Google Earth that are free, and offer more flexibility. Not worth it.
  4. Real-Time GPS Tracking – Puts an icon in Google Earth to mark your current position as measured by a connected GPS. A new addition, and reasonably cool, but there are better solutions for this that, if you’re lucky and have the right hardware, are free or cheap.
  5. Spreadsheet Data Import – Allows you to import a .csv file with coordinates into Google Earth, and will do address coordinate lookup (geocoding) as well. But there’s a limit of 100 points in the Plus version, while free tools are available to both convert .csv files with coordinates into the .kml format, and to geocode address files and convert them into .kml files as well.
  6. Advertisements – Mandatory in GE, optional in the Plus version. I could care less (or, I couldn’t care less).

So of the 6 additional capabilities you get with the Plus version of GE, there are free (or cheap) ways to get better results for three of them: GPS data import, real-time tracking, and spreadsheet import. And for GPS data, there are free tools that will allow you to export GE points and paths to your GPS as waypoints and tracks, something GE Plus can’t do. Even if you cough up $20 for the other three (enhanced performance, better printing, and no ads), it’s worth using free tools as a replacement or augmentation for what you get with GE Plus. And it’s those tools I’ll be covering in the first series of posts.

Addendum: This website is unaffiliated with Google. If you’re having any problems with your purchase or activation of Google Earth Plus, I can’t help you; please contact Google directly.

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27 Responses to “Google Earth Plus – Do You Really Need It?”

  1. 1 Nick

    Google Earth Plus is undoubtedly “worth it”. You fail to take into account the effort that is required for most users to find, download, insall and then figure out how to use all of the tools that would be needed to achieve what Google bundle into one package. For most users of GE+, $20 will equate to one or two hours of their time. If all they want is the functionality the GE+ offers, they will not want to spend more than 2 hours per year discovering free alternatives.

    The real issue here are the fundamental limitations of proprietery software, the lack of extensibility, the inability of the user to customise and the often slow release cycles. The success of GE+ will rely on its ability to predict the needs of its clients more accurately and timely than its various FOSS counterparts.

  2. 2 Leszek Pawlowicz


    Thanks for your comments. You certainly have a point – for many people, having a pre-packaged solution like Google Earth Plus for these issues that costs $20 might well make more sense than using a bunch of free alternatives, especially if it meets their needs. In a sense, though, I’m making the argument that Google Earth isn’t worth $20 to the readers of this blog, an audience that is likely more inclined to explore free alternatives. Particularly if these alternatives offer advantages to what Google Earth Plus offers in its current state. If you cough up $20 for Google Earth Plus, and find out that its functionality doesn’t meet your needs, you’re going to have to look at some of these alternatives anyway (or spend $400 for Google Earth Pro).

    Your argument about time is also to point, but I might add that:

    a) It also takes time to learn the features of Google Earth Plus
    b) The posts in this blog series should reduce the amount of time it takes to hunt down and learn how to use the alternatives :).
    c) For many people, it will take less time to learn the free and more capable alternative from the start than it would to start with Google Earth Plus, find out that it doesn’t do what you want it to do, and then have to learn the free alternative anyway.

    Sure, there are going to be limitations with proprietary software. I don’t think the release cycle has been a big problem with Google Earth, seems like they’ve been releasing updates and bug fixes pretty frequently (more frequently than some FOSS geospatial software I could mention). The Google Earth API, along with the open specifications for KML, also allow for at least some measure of extensibility and customisability. But there’s nothing to stop Google from changing the terms and conditions under which you can use the GE API, or even shut it down completely. AFAIK, there’s really only one FOSS counterpart to GE, WorldWind, and even WW is changing the rules by which people are allowed to contribute to it.

  3. 3 Charles Maynard

    The primary reason I purchased Google Earth Plus was to be able to place paths imported from my Garmin V on the 3D view. I want to see the polygon on the map. So far, I have not found instructions on how to do that. Any help will be appreciated.

  4. 4 Leszek Pawlowicz


    I don’t know how to do it in Google Plus. For free ways to do it, take a look at the posts in my series on getting Google Plus’s features for free:

  5. 5 Ki

    Thanks for the commentary BEFORE I spent the 20.
    Agreed: the bundle is cool and makes life a little less effortless however, I like to be an educated person and not always depend on others to “provide everything for a price”. If the people of our Earth would carry the same attitude, it wouldn’t be long before we were living in a world of free enterpriZe, trade, and barter. I think I’ll muttle through for awhile and start finding all the free access you are mentioning. Any helpful links would be greatly appreciated!

  6. 6 Leszek Pawlowicz


    Poke around this blog, and you’ll find all the links you need (too many, in fact). You might start with this one:

  7. 7 jan van maar

    The sad true is that although most (if not all) of the listed programs are open source, none of them seems to provide GPS tracking for Linux. But even Google Earth Plus does not support GPS for their Linux version of Google Earth, they don’t say this anywhere on their webpage and one only finds it out once he buys it (so, is really Google not evil?). Thus, I am screwed both ways :)

  8. 8 Cody

    I downloaded the free version of GE about 6-8 months ago. I noticed the satellite images weren’t current by about 3 years for my area (Las Vegas, NV). Do you know if any of the udgrades (GE+) are current? Also, if you pay for the upgrade do you get a closer zoom?



  9. 9 Leszek Pawlowicz

    The imagery for all the versions of Google Earth (Free, Plus, Pro, Enterprise, etc.) are all exactly the same. So paying for Google Earth Plus won’t get you any newer imagery, nor a higher resolution that lets you zoom in closer.

    Google Earth does update its imagery, but it’s not on a regular schedule, and not announced in advance. So you’ll just have to sit and wait until the Las Vegas area gets updated.

  10. 10 untung

    I have GPS data (way point & tracking) at Central Java – Indonesia. How can up load to Google Eart for anyone used?

  11. 11 Leszek Pawlowicz

    You could start by reading some of the posts in the series that talk about importing GPS data into Google Earth; look at some of the titles in the series list at the bottom of the post.

  12. 12 Sam


    You saved me 20

  13. 13 JamesD

    “The imagery for all the versions of Google Earth (Free, Plus, Pro, Enterprise, etc.) are all exactly the same. So paying for Google Earth Plus won’t get you any newer imagery…”

    That’s the statement I was looking for.


  14. 14 Top Borneo

    I’ve never try to use google earth even the GPS software system but I really know “What’s this”
    But how it work?

  15. 15 Top Borneo

    May I learn to use this google earth w/o pay anything?


  16. 16 DENJK

    I have never try to use Google Earth before. But I use to used Garmin GPS in my daily activities.But how the Google Earth Plus work?

  17. 17 Leszek Pawlowicz

    If you haven’t used Google Earth before, the first step is to download and install it (; it’s free). That will make it easier to understand the posts on this blog.

  18. 18 Izaak

    thank god i didn’t spend that $20, but is there anything that could enhance the imagery? so i can zoom in a little closer

  19. 19 Leszek Pawlowicz

    Sorry, but no. Not unless Google improves the quality of the imagery at some point in the future.

  20. 20 Robert L

    For me, the free version of Google is just fine. Unless you are into all the other stuff mentioned, free is fine. The only thing I would like to see is, when you rotate the screen to lay almost flat, you would see the buildings in A 3-D popup style.This would look like you are driveing down the street between the buildings. Now,that would be a nice feature that I would use. And the screen could have a button so you could choose to use the 3-D popup screen or the flat 3-D screen.

  21. 21 Haris H Khan

    There is absolutely no need of purchasing GE + when such great tools are available free.

  22. 22 Emilio

    I hatted the normally google earth(the free one )and was really good, but I decide to pay 20USD thinking it was going to be better, but now I see nothing,imposible to see anything,incledible. if I click example madrid come a point in a map Putting up signs where is the city but nothing else.and what made me crazy is thar we can not contact with somebody I have send more email and no body answer.

  23. 23 Rahul Bhatnagar

    I want google earth software to watching india on net and circulate my bussiness

  24. 24 falak

    does ge+ gives more clear images of places?????

    waiting for a prompt reply :)

  25. 25 Leszek Pawlowicz

    No – All versions of Google Earth use the same imagery.

  26. 26 Iqbal Halani

    It appears somebody somewhere in GE has lost track of the truth !! Instead of spending some resources on removing clouds/getting cloudless satellite images in perhaps 6 % of GE images, they spent billions of man hours to give us stars, ocean bottom and Mars as well. STUPID !!!

  27. 27 rod

    weired but I can not get my gps attached or rather it will not interface with the google earth plus

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