Following in the footsteps of the Bing Maps app for Windows Phone, Microsoft is providing a similar app for Windows 8. Available now in App Preview form, Bing Maps for Windows 8 offers location and directions services.

I presume the primary use case for this is as it is on a phone, though with a tablet or larger device you’re less likely to be walking around a city and more likely to be driving. Which may explain why the directions services only provides automobile instructions.

And Bing Maps is somewhat unique among Windows 8 apps in that its app bar behavior is reversed:  The app bar is visible by default and onscreen unless you dismiss it. (You do so in the same way you’d normally display it: Type WINKEY + Z, right-click, or tap and hold.)

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Maps works much as expected. You can swipe around onscreen to move the view in various directions, or, on a mouse-based system, simply “grab” the map with the mouse cursor and then move the mouse in any direction to achieve the same effect.

For keyboard users, there’s a neat navigational shortcut that’s not immediately obvious. Simply tapping the arrow keys does nothing. But if you hold down the CTRL key and then tap an arrow key, the map will navigate one-half-screen’s worth in that direction. Type CTRL + LEFT ARROW, for example, will navigate a bit to the west.

On touch-based systems, you can pinch to zoom in and reverse-pinch (or double-tap) to zoom out. Mouse users can access the onscreen zoom controls that appear in the lower-left corner of the screen. Keyboard users can zoom with CTRL + - (zoom out) and CTRL + ‘+’ (really, CTRL + =) for zoom in.

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Not my real location

If you get lost, you can always find your current location by selecting the My Location button on the app bar.

You can change the look of the Maps presentation in two ways: Show Traffic and Map Style, the latter of which provides your choice of two display styles, Road View, which is the default, and Aerial View.

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Traffic on and Aerial view

To find a particular location with Bing Maps, you use the search box in the search bar at the top of the screen: simply type a location name into the search box and press Enter (or select the Search button). Given the excellent Bing backend, you might think this would work well. But it’s surprisingly unhelpful. Search for las vegas, for example, and Bing Maps will zoom right to Las Vegas, Nevada. Oh, did you mean Las Vegas, New Mexico? You’ll need to be more specific. Or you can use the More Results button that appears after a search instead.

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This is not the Las Vegas you're looking for

Where Bing Maps does shine, however, is in its ability to help you find your way. If you want get directions, click the Directions button in the search bar to change the display. This works much like any other mapping solution, with current location and destination boxes.

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Bing provides an attractive, full-screen driving directions interface complete with step-by-step directions.

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While I’ve been pretty critical of many of the App Previews in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, I see Bing Maps as more of a sample app that others will build off of. After all, Bing Maps has its own APIs, and I’m sure we’ll see plenty of Metro-style apps down the road that expand on what we see here and offer mapping capabilities in completely different scenarios.