I’ve been a keen user of digital maps ever since I bought the whole of Wales in 1:50k mapping from Tracklogs over ten years ago. That really got me hooked, but only to a certain degree as ‘proper’ 1:25k mapping was simply too expensive. I’m fully used to the way Tracklogs works, having tried out all the other desktop packages and finding that Tracklogs was the only one that had a user friendly drag and drop editing of routes. Most of the others involved a number of steps to insert a new waypoint, whereas Tracklogs simply involved clicking on the route and dragging – simple. Tracklogs can even claim to be the reason I’m still using windows rather than porting over to Linux, there was just no way I’m giving up my mapping.
So when I was given a free year’s subscription of OS Maps, I expected to give it a cursory glance and then return to my old ways. However, I found that it was initially a useful way to browse the entire UK in 1:25k or 1:50k mapping, and as an utter map geek, that in itself was cool. It also provided me with the full map access on the OS Maps app, which has been improving in leaps and bounds since we reviewed it here.
Plotting a route – This is reasonably straightforward, and allows you to select an activity type and add descriptions and so on. You can add more waypoints by right clicking on the route section, and then drag that point to where you want it. I’d prefer the click and drag, but this is something I can live with.
Click to Route – This feature, we have to admit we love. It only works in National Parks, but you can click on one end of a footpath, and plot the next waypoint on the route and it automatically creates the route. We clicked on Rhyd Ddu and the summit of Yr Wyddfa and it plotted the Rhyd Ddu path out for us. We obviously would have preferred the South Ridge! We look forward to this being available nationally as it would be exceptionally useful for plotting legs on the Wales Coastal Path for instance.
Importing from GPX – This is essential – though I really wish there was a better way to get my route from my cheap refurbished Garmin watch into the software as I’m yet to be convinced of using an app on my phone to record proper long routes. Runs are fine, but anything longer than a few hours will more likely than not kill your phone battery. You can also export the files to GPX.
Cloud access to routes – As I’ve been using a number of devices recently, I found that I had access to all my routes in one place. This also allows you to access the route you’ve plotted via the app, and vice versa. I’ve plotted a few route ideas on the app while bored, and being able to open them up on desktop is useful.
There are loads of routes available via search, though we found it best to select the ‘premium’ routes only as the user submitted routes have so many poor routes, though still worth looking through. These premium routes are by the likes of Trail and AA, and have a brief description to the side, though we think a link to a full description would add to this. However, the user submitted routes are useful to share your route with others. As an added bonus, you can also find nearby pubs and points of interest.
Printing – This is another plus point, as it prints in A3. A4 is a bit too small for a usable 1:25k map, but A3 is getting there. As we’ve an excellent A3 printer in the Mud and Routes office and loads of paper, this is a real selling point for us.
Pricing – This has to come at a cost right? Well yes, but that price is the digital mapping equivalent of a peppercorn rent. If you go for the auto-renew option, it’s £19.99 annually, with a £3.99 monthly option available for dipping your toe in the water.
It can’t be that good can it? Well there are a few things we don’t like. The aerial mapping is ropey, with some areas being quality and others a blurry mess. I’d really like to see high quality aerial images as you can often spot paths on these that aren’t recorded on the maps. The route plotter is rather limited as well, with features such as a ‘point filter’ and adding main checkpoints on the map to create a usable route card. You can sort of get around this by using the Snap to Route. I’d also like to be able to modify the Naismith rule – as I find that a slower speed gives you a better estimate once you consider stoppages and so on.
We also think that the routes should display the user name – as the premium routes do – as it would make it easier to find the users who add good routes as opposed to those who think that five way-points make a route. A star rating might be an idea as well.
It’s also going to become frustrating quite quickly without a filing system for the routes. I’d like to be able to tag and put them in a folder. My list is already unmanageable and this is going to be the most challenging part of using OS Maps. At the moment, you can view them all on a map – which we really like, but would like a folder or tag system to keep our Wales Coastal Path routes together in one place. We’d also like it to allow us to share that folder with other users.
For the price, we’ll be dumping the desktop app and shifting over to OS Maps for all our Mud and Routes route planning from now on. We would like to see the file management improved, but for this price we can live with that.