Google has updated its Maps application for Android smartphones to add two major new features. Google Maps 5.0 not only brings offline access to maps (for times when you don’t have an internet connection), but also a new 3D mode that gives an isometric perspective on over 100 cities around the world.

Since it doesn’t store any map data (unlike a dedicated sat-nav device, for example), Google Maps needs a constant internet connection to download new areas as you move around. This hasn’t changed for Maps 5.0, but this new version now saves previously downloaded map data for the areas in which you use the app most often. So, if you regularly use Google Maps to get around your home city, you’ll be able to do so without a 3G connection.

This approach does seem a little counter intuitive, since you’re more likely to need Google Maps assistance for areas that you’ve never been to before, but it’s early days for this new feature.

The new 3D mode makes it easier to get around cities by tilting the view to show the building skyline as it really is — identifying a landmark is much easier when you can see it’s shape, rather than just a top-down outline.

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This new mode makes use of vector graphics rather than tiled map images, which opens up a whole new world of interesting mapping possibilities for computers and smartphones. You can read more about the potential behind this over at the Google Mobile blog.

Google Maps 5.0 for Android 2.0 or later is a free download from the Android market — here’s a direct link if you’re reading this on an Android smartphone. There’s no news on if/when these features will make it into the iPhone version of Google Maps, though.

[Google Blog]