Application Name: Locus Free
Description: Display online/offline maps for your position; GPS track/waypoint display and recording; compass; more.
Publisher’s website: Locus
Cost: Free ad-support version; Pro version ($5.50) removes ads, and add some minor additional functionality.
Version/date reviewed: v.0.9.28 / 3-15-11
Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2
I’ve reviewed two other apps that convert your Android unit into the functional equivalent of a handheld GPS unit. TrekBuddy I was less than overwhelmed with; OruxMaps I found to be terrific. I’ll spoil the surprise conclusion here, and say that Locus is not only closer to OruxMaps in quality than TrekBuddy, but gives OruxMaps a run for its money in some respects. In this multi-day review, I’ll compare Locus’s functionality to OruxMaps as appropriate. As with OruxMaps, Locus has so many features that I can’t cover them all, even over the next few days; look at the program’s website, and explore the Settings section, for more info on all of its functionality.
The basic interface for Locus has three toolbars at top, right, and bottom. Unlike OruxMaps, where all toolbars are fully customizable, only the right toolbar in Locus can be modified, and only by checking/unchecking pre-defined options. There are five functions available on the top toolbar. They are:
- An “info” icon, which brings up links to “About application”, a simplified basic guide to using the app, an incomplete online manual viewed in your browser, the version history, and a list of additional apps that can invoke Locus as a helper app.
- Title bar options: tapping on the title bar lets you choose what’s displayed there. In the picture below, coordinates was selected for display in the title bar. One drawback of Locus compared to OruxMaps is that the number of data fields displayed onscreen with the map is far more limited in Locus.
- A GPS icon, which brings up the GPS status screen, with options to turn the GPS and compass on/off to conserve power.
- A data manager, which lets you view tracks/points, import/export data (GPX/KML formats supported), and manage categories. Locus requires you to specify a category label in which to save points and tracks; while I found this annoying at first, I now see the value of forcing you to organize your data by label.
- A map manager, for selecting and managing online/offline maps (more on this later)
Access the right-toolbar options by the Android Menu button, then selecting “Set right panel”; this screen also gives you several other options, most of which can also be assigned to the right toolbar.
The available right-toolbar functions are:
- Search in POI: This is a saved waypoint search function; there is no general POI database in this app.
- Move Map: Instantly move the display to an entered address or latitude/longitude.
- Points: A waypoint list/manager (MOTL, more on this later)
- Track record: Brings up another toolbar for recording tracks (MOTL)
- Parking (BETA): Record your current parking spot, with options to set an alarm (useful for timed parking meters), and taking a photo of the location:
- Share: Lets you send the current map center coordinates, or a screenshot of the current map display, to email, Facebook, SMS, etc.
- Add new route: Bit misnamed, as it lets you create a new track in the map display; a “route” is a sequential collection of waypoints, which Locus doesn’t seem to have support for. MOTL
- Compass: Option to switch to compass view, which includes guide information if you’ve selected a POI/waypoint as your destination:
The compass has a long settling time, so it will take a few seconds for the “needle” to move to the current direction.
I’d prefer the option to manually adjust this sensitivity, but it’s not too bad. What is bad is that it shows the magnetic direction, not the true direction, as OruxMaps does. I wish I could mandate that every compass app for Android either have true direction as the only option, or have it as the default with magnetic direction as an option. For many areas, the two will be similar, but in some areas the difference is substantial; where I live, there’s an eleven-degree difference between true and magnetic directions. Hope this gets fixed in Locus in the near future. Now fixed; there’s a new Sensors menu in the Setting that lets you choose True direction (default) or magnetic, and adjust the sensitivity of the compass.
The bottom toolbar has five functions. When the first button is active (as above), and the GPS is on, the map will automatically scroll to your current location. If you tap and drag the map to view a different location while this button is active, it will automatically “pop you back” to your current location in a few seconds.
The second button is a zoom lock/unlock button. When it’s off, you can only zoom in to the native resolution of the map image (or double that, if you turn on “Double sized resolution” in Settings => Map). When it’s engaged, as above …
… you can zoom in well past the native resolution; the above picture isn’t even at the full zoom available, since that would just look like a jumble of pixels.
The third button lets you choose a direction option. “Rotate map” will spin the map so that the direction you’re facing, or moving in, is at the top. This mode drives me nuts as it tends to swing around wildly, so I usually leave it off.
“Show view” displays a “field of view” indicator when you’re standing still, as above. When you’re in motion, the view changes to a triangle/arrow that points in the direction you’re currently moving. Since Locus currently uses magnetic directions, this can be a bit off from the true field of view.
This control is also useful for restoring the map to “North at top”. In the default mode, Locus supports advanced multi-touch, which lets you rotate the map view by dragging two fingers on the screen in different directions. This also drives me nuts, as sometimes when I want to only zoom in or out, I wind up rotating the map; using this control pops the map back to a normal orientation. You can turn off advanced multi-touch in the settings section, as I have.
The toolbars are partially transparent, and fairly small, so I usually leave them all turned on. However, the Settings section allows you to set any, or all, of the toolbars to fade away after a few seconds; tap twice on the screen to make them visible again.
One final topic, peripheral to the interface. Like OruxMaps, Locus has the option to use an external Bluetooth GPS receiver to obtain position, in place of the built-in GPS receiver; this can be specified in the settings section. This has some major advantages for both battery life and position accuracy. Unlike OruxMaps, though, I was actually able to get this Bluetooth connection to work in Locus, though it took some effort. Android’s Bluetooth support is a bit flaky, and it can take multiple attempts to achieve a successful connection. If the first Bluetooth connection attempt doesn’t work, and you’ll get an error message to that effect, go to the GPS status page, and turn GPS off and then on again. It may take 3-6 attempts, but eventually you do get a working connection to your Bluetooth GPS receiver. The application can also use Bluetooth GPS via proxy apps like Bluetooth GPS, which replace the built-in GPS receiver position for all apps.
Tomorrow: A look at maps in Locus.