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Topo Maps (aka Gaia GPS): Online/Offline USGS Topo And OpenStreetMap Maps



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

Topo_maps
Topo Maps (paid)
Android market link
Android Market (browser)

Topo_maps_lite
Topo Maps Lite
Android market link
Android Market (browser)


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.
cloudmadetopo
Cloudmade Topo
OpenStreetMapRoad
OpenStreetMap Road
cloudmaderoad
Cloudmade Road
cloudmadeshaded
Cloudmade Shaded
midnight
Midnight

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.

interface

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.

onscreen

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.

demo

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.

Waypoint

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.

download

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.

Other Issues:

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.

Final thoughts:

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.


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6 Responses to “Topo Maps (aka Gaia GPS): Online/Offline USGS Topo And OpenStreetMap Maps”


  1. 1 MikeB

    Excellent!

    I had been using the gvSIG mini 0.02.12 Android app for a few months trying to get it to download a WMS layer (which it says will do) of topo maps, but to no avail.

  2. 2 leszekp

    I’ll get around to reviewing gvSIG mini at some point; like you, I’ve been having major problems getting WMS layers to display. I’ll be reviewing BackCountry Navigator tomorrow, and will eventually get around to the other apps that let you create mapsets offline, and then upload them to your Android – there’s a whole bunch of them.

  3. 3 A Cardigan

    L – watch out! the free version of this app is a battery sucker and has access to reading/sending phone calls. It runs in the background but somehow evades the task killer and battery monitors. i usually get 14-hours out of my ERIS. after installing and doing nothing out of the ordinary, battery life is 7 hrs. Most of that time is shown as in-use phone calls.

  4. 4 leszekp

    I did note that it loads itself into background, and I agree – that’s really annoying. But it doesn’t have access to reading/sending phone calls; it can “read phone state and identity”, and that’s it. It needs that so that if you’re making a phone call, it knows that it can’t access data (needed for CDMA networks like Verizon, where you can’t talk and get Internet access at the same time).

    I’ve seen no issues with battery drain with it, either; CPU load is zero, and the GPS doesn’t go on until I actually start up the program. I wonder whether on your Eris, the GPS doesn’t turn off correctly when you exit, and that’s what’s draining your battery. I’ve seen that happen on several programs on my Droid X, and it’s not reproducible – sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn’t.

    Task killers will be going away in Froyo – Google will be disabling the ability of 3rd-party programs to turn off non-related tasks. The Eris is unlikely to get an official Froyo update, so you’ll have to root the phone and install a custom ROM if you want it. It supposedly increases battery life on the Eris by 30%, as well as making it run faster.

  5. 5 Jim

    I’m curious if you’ve had a chance to look at TrimbleOutdoors. I’m currently trying to decide on an app, and that one seems interesting.

  6. 6 leszekp

    Plan to look at Trimble Outdoors at some point; have heard feedback from some that it has a confusing interface. Remember that for any Android app, if you buy it and then uninstall it within 24 hours, you get a full refund. So you could check it out for a day, and then uninstall if if you don’t like it.