Application Name: Trimble Outdoors
Description: GPS app for trip recording, with online/offline maps
Publisher’s website: Trimble Outdoors
Version/date reviewed: v.4.1.8 / 12-11-10
Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2
Trimble is probably best known for its professional lines of GPS and other measurement hardware. They’re also known for making really crappy software that runs them; you can often locate a Trimble user in the field by listening for curse words, as something else goes wrong with the software. Trimble Outdoors is an unusual foray into the general consumer field for them; do they do any better here?
The general idea behind the software is to create records of various kinds of outdoor activities, and upload them to the Trimble Outdoors website for storage and sharing. So you’ll need to create a free account at Trimble Outdoors to use the software at all.
Figure 1: After starting up the program, and logging in, you’ll see a list of of activities under which you can record trips. Start up hiking …
Figure 2: … and the app will fire up the GPS, load in maps for the area using the chosen mapset, and start logging your position as a track. From the list screen, you can also go to a list of previously-saved trips, and load them into the map view as well, either for viewing or for continuation of that trip.
Figure 3: Here’s a short pair of tracks, along with several waypoints. You can add waypoints, but there’s no on-screen control for that; you need to dive into the menu to find that control.
Figure 4: The Stats button gives you info about distance traveled, total time, and average speed; the Charts give you the choice of plotting either Elevation or Speed as a function of distance or time.
Figure 5: When you’re recording a trip, you can also capture photos, audio, or video, tagged with the location they were taken at.
When a trip is complete, you can save it on your Android unit. You can also upload it to your online Trimble Outdoors account, either for personal private storage or to share it with others:
And you have the option of sharing this trip on either Facebook or Twitter as well.
This all sounds great … in theory. In practice, this app has some major issues:
- Screens can be slow and non-responsive, especially the start-up list of activities
- The choice of in-app maps is limited to Bing maps (road, aerial, hybrid, terrain) and MyTopo topo maps; no OpenStreetMap maps, or anything else. Google Map imagery is only available if you export track and waypoint data to a separate screen; it’s not integrated with the app, the way it is with other Android GPS and map apps.
- The app can be flaky in recording data. It’s supposed to continually record a track, but on several occasions track recording spontaneously stopped.
- The app will cache maps for offline use, but the only way to do it within the app is to pan the map to the desired area, and then pan/zoom in around to save maps to the cache directory. This is really a crappy way to handle this; other map apps let you define a geographic region, and then automatically download the tiles for that region.
- The default size setting for the cache is only 10 MB, far too small to save any significant number of maps; you’ll need to set this larger right away.
- You can generate map caches at the Trimble Outdoors website, but the process isn’t straightforward. You zoom/pan a Google Maps view or MyTopo map view to show your desired area, and then select the maximum zoom level you want tiles for; the web app will then generate a zip file containing these tiles. You then have to manually unzip the zip file, and then copy the files over into the cache directory on your phone (making sure that the cache is large enough to hold these tiles). And even though you’re viewing Google Map imagery in the app, the downloaded tiles will be in the matching Bing Maps format, not Google Maps!
- Unlike other apps, you can’t create named mapsets that you can load in at will; you have the cached maps and that’s it.
- You can’t import GPX track or waypoint files directly; you need to import this data into your online account to create a trip containing these, then upload this trip into the app on your Android unit.
- You can create trips online using a Trimble Outdoors web app, including tracks/waypoints/audio/video/photos. But I found this web app to be sluggish and erratic in performance. Creating tracks where I wanted them to be was virtually impossible, as the track would stop following my cursor, then jump to an unintended spot.
- There’s no way to directly export tracks or waypoints created in the app itself; you have to upload the trip to your online account, then export the data from there as a GPX or Google Earth KML/KMZ file.
- If you load in an earlier trip, then try to exit that trip without saving it again, you can wind up deleting the earlier trip data (as I found out to my regret, several times).
- There’s no integrated GPS status screen or compass.
- The app can only really be used in portrait orientation; in landscape orientation, the app’s toolbar takes up so much space that there’s very little left for the actual map.
- Finding app functions and settings is pretty much hit-and-miss; there doesn’t seem to be any rational layout of functions.
- And I could go on …
Other issues: While I didn’t have any issues with crashes or force-closes, you might take a look at the Comments section in the Android Market listing for this app; lots of people seem to be having problems. Now that Google is reducing the amount of time you have to uninstall a program for a full refund, from 24 hours to 15 minutes, you really won’t have a lot of time to evaluate how well it will work on your phone.
Final thoughts: For an app that’s already in version 4, and has been around since 2009, it’s still not in very good shape, especially for the price they’re asking. While the ability to create georeferenced multimedia trips sounds pretty cool, the actual program function just isn’t reliable enough to make this worthwhile. And as a GPS mapping app, it’s missing a lot of functionality. If you want MyTopo topo maps, either BackCountry Navigator or Topo Maps would be a better choice; while neither of those is perfect, they have more of the GPS functions you really need to have, are far easier to use, and offer in-app map caching and mapset management. And for a solid general GPS map app, you’d do better with OruxMaps, which has a lot more features, and is free.