Application Name: Topo Maps (aka Gaia GPS)
Description: Topographic maps, OSM maps, GPS navigation.
Publisher’s website: Gaia GPS
Cost: $7.99; Free limited Lite version available (with ads)
Version/date reviewed: v. 1.4 / 8-17-10
Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2
This is a port of the iPhone application Gaia GPS; the Android app is labeled “Gaia GPS”, but it’s listed as “Topo Maps” in the Android Market.
This application lets you upload and view USGS topographic maps and OpenStreetMap/CloudMade imagery in both online modes (loading map data on the fly), and offline modes (where you select map areas, and the imagery is cached for offline use). Map data loaded in online mode is also cached on the fly for offline use (up to 1000 tiles), so if you’re in an area where connectivity drops in and out, you won’t lose the map view. The Lite version limits the number of cached tiles to 50, which can cover a surprisingly large area; it also comes with ads. The full paid version lets you cache up to 10,000 tiles, which can cover a huge area. It also does GPS tracking, saves waypoints, and comes with a digital compass heading readout.
Map types available for download currently include:
- USGS topo maps from MyTopo.com; these are terrain-shaded, and look very good. But don’t expect road data to be fully up-to-date on these; some of these maps haven’t been updated in 30-odd years. In US National Forest areas, the update USFS topo maps are used, and these were updated as recently as 10 years ago. You’ll see a sample of this in the descriptions below.
- Five different map styles all based on OpenStreetMap data, which should have more up-to-date road data than the MyTopo maps. Because they’re all generated from the same data, it’s likely that you’ll only wind up using one or two of these on a regular basis. Unlike the MyTopo maps, which never had a problem download success with these CloudMade/OSM maps was spotty – sometimes they downloaded quickly, other times they took a while.
Figure 1: Samples of OpenStreetMap data. An alternate type of imagery, like USGS aerial photography or Google Maps views, would be a nice option to have.
Figure 2: You can set up the interface to be completely open and clutter-free, which is a nice touch. After you get a GPS lock, the orange arrow will show your current position.
Figure 3: Tap on the screen, and zoom in/out buttons will show up at the bottom. You’ll also get green arrows; tap on those, and you’ll have the option of displaying both your current coordinates at the bottom, and additional controls at upper right. To get rid of those again, just tap on the screen, then tap on the green arrows next to those on-screen displays. Coordinates supported include latitude/longitude, UTM, and MGRS, all in WGS84 datum.
The on-screen controls at upper-right will:
- Switch you into tracking mode (the bullseye pattern), where your position stays in the center as you move, and the map scrolls to keep you there. You can scroll the map manually by dragging, and this disables tracking mode until you press that control again.
- Set waypoints with the flag icon (more below)
- Choose the map type to display with the map icon; you’ll get a radio button list of available map types.
Figure 4: The latest version adds a digital compass bearing readout to the screen, which is a nice addition; you can turn this off in the Settings section if you want. It works best when you’re standing still; when you’re moving, the direction reading can become very unstable. The ad-supported Lite version blocks a fair amount of the screen at the bottom, though the coordinate display is still available.
Figure 5: Pressing the waypoint flag icon brings up three choices:
- Drop Pin – you scroll the map until the pin is where you want it, then set it at that position.
- Drop Pin Near Me – drops a pin at your current location, and lets you set a name for that waypoint
- Save My Location – Similar to “Drop Pin Near Me”, but saves a waypoint labeled “My Bookmark” with the date and time automatically appended, instead of you having to name that point.
Figure 6: From the menu, you can access the Download Map section to cache map tiles for offline use. This is available for all map types except Cloudmade Topo, which is a shame – that would be a useful type for areas outside the US where topo maps are hard to come by. You select the area you want to cache maps for by tapping and dragging; you’ll also need to select the highest zoom level you want maps for. Higher zooms mean better detail, but also require more map tiles to be downloaded.
Once an area is selected, you’ll enter a name for that downloaded map area, and optionally some notes. If you don’t need the map in the future, you have the option of deleting it, as well as deleting all map tiles cached during online use.
The porting over from the iPhone version is still going on, and there’s a list of features that will be added in the near future on the website. You should check this to see whether any features you need will be added soon. For me, the major features still not in place include no track recording and no track/waypoint import or export, which severely limit this program’s utility.
I didn’t have any issues with program crashes or force-closes. However, sometimes the program will stop tracking your position on the map. Choosing the “My Location” mode from the menu, or turning tracking mode off and on will bring your screen position icon to the right spot, but the program sometimes doesn’t resume tracking after that; the only option is to exit and then re-start the program. Hopefully this will get fixed soon. As I mentioned above, MyTopo map tiles always downloaded reliably, but CloudMade and OpenStreetMap tiles wouldn’t always download as quickly. I also find it annoying that, like some other programs, Gaia GPS insists on loading itself into system memory on startup. As far as I’m concerned, unless it’s some kind of utility that needs to run continuously, no program should load itself into memory until the owner manually starts it up; when it exits, it should unload itself completely.
I like the program’s clean interface, and generally it works well. The current feature set is a little light to justify its current high price; I’d like to see the authors price it more reasonably now, and increase the price as the feature set improves. There are free programs that can do similar things, and I’ll be covering some of those in the near future. But those free apps usually require quite a bit of work to prepare topo maps for offline use, and Topo Maps / Gaia GPS simplifies that process tremendously. Overall, I would recommend at least trying out the free Lite version, and keep track of additional features being added. Personally, even though I have a full-featured demo version supplied by the publisher, I expect to buy a copy of this program in the near future for my own use.