Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) maps have always been a bit more reliable that Google's when it comes to China (never underestimate the importance of home field advantage). But until now, they've lacked one of Google's coolest features, the satellite view. Not anymore! The service, which is accessible the same way Google's is -- you click a link that says "Satellite" in the top right corner of the map -- works quickly and features some impressively up-to-date images. Based on the status of construction projects, we'd estimate that at least some of this imaging is only 2-3 months old, which puts it a fair ways ahead of Google's images here, which are at least a couple years old.
It's also got pretty impressive coverage, based on my highly unscientific tests. In cities, you can zoom in as close as you like, and while coverage in rural areas is still limited, you can still get fairly close. For example, here's a bit of the Forbidden City in Beijing, zoomed in as close as possible:
To compare, I picked my wife's hometown, which is in a very rural part of northeastern China. Here's a wider shot for comparison (that yellow line is the border with Russia):
And then here's that area, zoomed in as close as you can get before the image disappears and you get "no image available": As you can see, it's not nearly as close to the ground as you can get in a major city like Beijing, but still, not bad! Of course, this sort of service tends to be used mostly for fun, and in cities, it's actually easier to get the feel for a neighborhood if you use Baidu Maps's 3D feature, which provides a neat 3D model of some cities to explore.
Still, it's always fun to play around with satellite images, and just see what things look like from a bird's eye (or astronaut's eye) view. Now you can do that on Baidu!