Five Things- The Top Android Mapping Apps

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With the recent acquisition of both a smartphone that works and a net book running Android, a whole new world of apps on Android is available. This isn’t necessarily a good thing unless you can separate the wheat from the chaff. Essentially, I’m looking for something that does exctly what a GPS does by giving me my current location along with a dashboard of other information that may or may not be useful. It should show this on a map that is sufficiently detailed to be useful and include a grid reference option. I need to be able to plan my route on there as well, or at the very least import a route painlessly from my PC. I’ve looked at paid apps here as well, as most need some sort of investment. Neither do I want to have to mess about with map sets unless the benefits reallty do outweigh the hassle.

If you think we’ve missed one out – let us know! Here’s the run down (in no particular order) of what we thought. Each one was tested on the hill or bike for a trip or a few more, and ….

1 My Tracks (free). This is an offering by Google, so at the very least you’re going to expect more for your money even if it free. It’s slick and it feels good from the offset. Then it goes downhill. It’s essentially just a logger with limited features. You can’t edit the route and while you’re meant to be able to import gpx files, it didn’t like the few we put in the directory to import. What’s more, you’ve only got Google Maps ‘regular’ maps without the option to topo or use OSM – it does though have decent aerial coverage. The trip computer is decent, and as it’s open source, and this interface reappears in some other apps below. Falls down as a GPS as it only provides location data in lat/lon.

[Rating:2]– limited in value if you’re going in the wilds. Basically no more than a trip computer and GPS logger, buggy when you try and import and no grid reference options. Needs the network in order to work as well.

2 GPS Essentials FREE– essentilly a GPS – with bearing, distance, etc… Does a simple job – moonphase, etc.. can see route on map but not plan it… store tracks and view profile. Reminds me of an old skool Garmin GPS… The biggest issue is that you can’t download a route into it like a gps. I can get past the fact you can’t edit your route.The only use for this app is if you want to log a route, keep an eye on your stats but you won’t know where you are in the UK as it provides lat/lon positioning only rather than National Grid.

You may find it useful for logging your route and the dashboard on it is excellent (possibly the best of the bunch), but otherwise limited and marked down for lack of Grid Ref information. [Rating: 2]

3 Back Country Navigator(£6.99) Can import GPX easily from card. Mapping it displays are OS tiles – from 1:50k to 1:25k! The only downside is that you need a signal to download them but has a nifty map downloader so you get all the mapping you’ll need stored offline! How does this work in practice?

Well I found the downloading process rather fiddly, but just by using it you download the tiles you view and they’ll be there for you when you’re on the hill and offline. It took a while to realise it did more than just show pretty good maps – a very well hidden icon in the top right of the screen brings up the usual GPS map computer etc.

For less than the cost of one new OS map, then you do end up with a basic but full OS mapping GPS and they’re also more up to date than my paper maps, showing Carnedd Uchaf with it’s now royalist alternative name. However, while it looks impressive at first, you soon realise that it’s rather limited in function. The icons used are a little small and it’s not always clear how you get anything done. There’s no plotting function, and while you can import a gpx route file, it’s not clear if you can do anything with it afterwards.

The mapping is second to none for the price, but you can’t create a route on the app. You can easily plan a route on your desktop and copy that into the memory card. The best use for this if you want to quickly see your location on a high quality 1:25k map, but beyond this is rather limited. [Rating:2.5]

4 View Ranger Full – (£15 upwards). This is the premium offering and everything that holds for View Ranger Open holds for this and more. You can pay for OS maps of whatever scale you want, with 1:50,000 being economical; all the uk national parks or all of Wales for £15 has to be a bargain. The 1:25k maps i’ve found to be prohibitive at £40 for Snowdonia as compared to the paper equivalent of under £30.  You can download tiles on the move as well. Plotting a route is easy on here, even offsetting your waypoint away from your finger for pinpoint accuracy. There’s a proper GPS type display, and this is the closest to a GPS you’ll get on your mobile…

The original app and the standard to beat. The only thing missing is the viewranger peak identifier as available on other platforms, with that and cheaper 25k mapping, this would be close to a 5 out of 5. [Rating:4.5]

5 ViewRanger OPEN (£1.99) Basically the same as the Viewranger app using only open street mapping. Only costs £1.99 and you can download OSM tiles to use when you want. There’s no OS option on this version, you’ll need the full OS version in order to do that, starting from £15 for All the UK National Parks in 1:50k (bargain)! You can plan, it’s been around for a few years, so it’s stable.you can plot your route, import, export and follow tracks. Anything you can do with a GPS you can do with Viewranger, and a bit more besides! The OSM just lacks that detail for route planning. [Rating: 4]

5 GAIA GPS (£7.98) The full version is expensive but Lite version is available free with the number of map tiles you can view offline being the only limitation. Again, you can use OSM mapping, When recording you get a basic dashboard for stats and an elevation chart. For the price, i’d expect some way of importing GPX (it’s on their roadmap according to their AM page) and that lets this down. and you can’t view your location in National Grid, so a bit useless in the UK. It’s not bad, but there are other more fully featured apps that cost a lot less than this, though you do get a fully functional app for nothing in the lite version with the limitation being the amount of mapping you can download. [Rating: 2.5]

6 AlpineQuest GPS Hiking (£3.48) Once you get over the icons, it’s easy enough to use. You can choose from OSM and Google, so can store the aerial images in memory. Paid up, you can create a route on the device, and load them up, but it isn’t the easiest app to use as the function of the icons isn’t immediately apparent and to record a track requires navigating deep into the menus. Couldn’t find a trip computer either. [Rating: 3.5]

7 MM Tracker (£6.00) Memory map, along with so many other similar desktop mapping providers, could make the decision of what app to get much easier if they provided an app to use the maps you’ve alredy paid for on your mobile. While Memory Map provide this for the iPhone, they don’t for Android (though there is one in the pipleine). Using maps you’ve already paid for is appealing, rather than having to invest in a new set of identical maps to use on your mobile device. Well MM Tracker allows Memory Map users to transfer their maps over to their phone and do just that. Priced at less than the price of one paper map, this could be a cheap option if you use MM on your desktop. You can plan a route on the app or download from your PC, but you’ve not got the  [Rating :4]

8 RMAPS (free!) Another implementation of the Google app. There’s a wider choice of maps, including OSM, but that’s really about it. It will display your location on the map, and record it, but does little else.Not much use for the outdoors user when compared to the other apps out there. Would have given it a 1.5 but didnt want to be mean. [Rating: 2]

9 Ulysse Gizmos (free!) This really is a collection of gizmos that uses GPS features. There’s a compass, inclinometer and a satellite gizmo that could be useful for troubleshooting. You can view the map, find your location and even navigate from one point to the next on a bearing, but very little else in the way of routes and tracks. As a mapping app, it’s not that good, but it’s fair to say that it’s an app that does more than that. Definately worth installing, but not for the mapping and to be fair that’s not the main purpose, so we left this one unrated to be fair.

Summary

There’s little doubt here that Viewranger and MM Tracker stand head and shoulders above the others in features and useability. I think the choice is pretty clear. If you already have Memory Map on your PC, or are considering it, then the MM Tracker is the more logical and inexpensive option, especially if you want 1:25k maps. Other than that, Viewranger Full would be our app of choice, with the only gripe being the cost of 1:25k mapping, but that’s like blaming petrol prices on your car manufacturer. Viewranger has the more intuitive interface, route plotting is a breeze with the waypoint offset and it has the best GPS computer of the lot.

Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts founded Walk Eryri in 2004, with the aim of providing routes that are off the beaten track. Walk Eryri is now part of Mud and Routes which continues to provide more off beat routes and walks in Snowdonia and beyond. Dave has been exploring the hills of Eryri for over thirty years, and is a qualified Mountain Leader.
Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.

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