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Archive for the 'compass' Category

Record And Map Compass Directions With AZ-Droid

Application Name: AZ-Droid

Description: Records, saves and plots the direction (azimuth)your phone is facing in.

Publisher’s website: None

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.1.1.0  /  7-6-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.3

AZ_QR
Android Market (mobile app only)
Android Market (browser)


Point your phone at an object, press a button, and AZ-Droid will record your current GPS location, and the direction the phone is pointing. It will optionally plot that direction as a line in Google Maps, and save it for future use.

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Start up the app, and then wait for a GPS fix to be obtained. Once ready, tap either of the Capture buttons to acquire data.

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Date, time, azimuth (direction the phone is pointed in), and the latitude/longitude of the phone’s current location is saved.

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Select “Map Azimuth”, and your current location is plotted with a dot, with the azimuth direction plotted as a line. You can adjust the length of the line in settings, but even the shortest line spans a very long distance, and you’ll have to zoom out a lot to see the end of it.

az_4

If you “Save Azimuth”, the data is stored in a list, accessible with the “Manage Saved Data” menu item. You can select any or all of the saved azimuths, and plot them on a map, with the “Map Selected” menu item.

az_5

The color, size and position of the plotted lines and comments can be adjusted in the Settings section.

Other thoughts: There’s no data export option, which is a big drawback; you’ll have to copy the data down by hand. And it would be nice to have the option to set a shorter azimuth line length on screen.

Final thoughts: I can think of a couple of uses for this app. Point it towards an unidentified landmark in the distance, then see on the map plot what the landmark might be. Take azimuths from two different locations, and see where they intersect, to better pin down the location of a distant landmark accurately. But if all you want is to record direction and current location, Snaptic’s Compass app might be a better choice.




Measure Distances, Get Elevation Profiles With Survey

Application Name: Survey

Description: Distance and elevation profile tool

Publisher’s website: sys-irap

Cost: Free (ad-supported)

Version/date reviewed: v.0.7.3  /  6-23-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.3

survey_qr

Android Market (mobile app only)
Android Market (browser)


The Survey app is an odd mix of different functions, some of which work well and are useful, others less so.

survey_menu

Start up the app, and get three options: Measure, Short distance, and Long distance.

measure

“Measure” brings up the view from your camera (not visible in the screenshot above), along with a graduated on-screen scale and slider. The idea here is that if you know the distance to an object, you can set it using the slider, and the scale will adjust to measure the true size. Not really sure how useful this is, as it only works out to a distance of 5 meters max, and fairly small sizes. Seems to me it would be easier just to pull out a tape measure.

short_distance

The “Short distance” option brings up another camera view, and a superimposed ground line (red) and ground mesh. The idea here is that if you’ve entered the camera’s height above the ground in the Settings section, and if you put the ground line at the base of an object at the same ground level as you, you can determine the distance to the object, and use the vertical scale to determine the height. It works, sort of, but only to about a distance of 75-80 meters, and not very accurately at that. The Smart Measure app works in a similar fashion, but is easier to use and is marginally more accurate.

survey_1

 

The “Long distance” function is substantially more useful. Select this option, and you’ll get a Google Maps view with your current GPS location plotted as a base location. You can tap and drag this icon to set a different base location; unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to reset it to your current GPS location without backing out of this screen. The icon control at top left toggle between Google Maps/Satellite views (right icon), while the one at right centers the view on the current base location.

survey_2

A long press on a different location on the map creates a “survey point” at that location, marked with a camera icon. Press the “Survey” button at the bottom …

survey_3

… and get coordinates/elevations for base location and survey point, and the distance from the base point to the survey point. “G.H.” stands for “ground height”, and is determined by GPS for the base location, and always set to 0 for the survey point. You can adjust the ground height for either location with the button controls to the right.

point1

Tap on the camera icon, and get an augmented reality view through your camera, with the arrow telling you which direction you need to rotate the camera to have it oriented towards the survey point.

point2

When oriented correctly, the survey point will show up as a blue dot, labeled with the distance.

profile

Tap the other icon from the map screen, and get a plot of elevation from the base location to the survey point in orange. It’s not clear from the app what the green and red lines are; I believe they’re elevation plots and direct point-to-point sight lines that include the curvature of the earth’s surface, but I’m not sure.

Other issues: This app really needs better documentation; it’s not entirely clear how some of these functions work. The app description also implies that you can take geotagged camera shots of various screen views, but I couldn’t figure out how to get that to work.

Final thoughts: There’s the kernel of a good app here, and it’s worth taking a look at. But I prefer Smart Measure for distance/height measurements, and AltitudeProfiler for elevation profiles (though the latter has data download limits).




Petit DF – A Direction Finder

Application Name: Petit DF

Description: Rhumb line and great circle direction finder

Publisher’s website: inda3

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.2.7  /  4-17-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

pdf_qr

Android Market (mobile app only)
Android Market (browser)


Petit DF (stands for “small direction finder”) shows the direction to a user-selectable destination. And it works, but with quirks.

pdf_1

Start up the app, and it will show your position plotted as a green dot in what appears to be a Bing Maps interface. The green flag is also your destination, and is set at startup at your current position. The blue dot indicates the current direction magnetic north, red dot magnetic south, and they move as you rotate the device to maintain the correct orientation.

pdf_2

The map zoom controls are the +/- in the left corners; the “v” at the upper right toggles you between the default satellite view and a street maps view, while the button at lower right makes the map view rotate to match the direction you’re currently facing in. Latitude/longitude are shown at the bottom, along with the nearest geocoded address/location for your destination. Magnetic declination is also shown, which makes it odd that the app doesn’t use those to correct magnetic directions to true directions.

pdf_3

You can set a destination to get the direction to in several ways. First is to zoom/scroll the map to find your destination, then tap on it. You can pinch to zoom, but that has an annoying tendency to relocate your destination to a spot on the map you touch during the pinch operation, so using the +/- zoom controls is a better choice (scrolling with tap and drag doesn’t have this problem). The direct “rhumb line” direction to the destination is shown in red, and the distance to the destination is shown at top. Surprisingly, the actual compass bearing direction to your destination is not shown; this would be helpful in giving you information you could use with just a simple compass to maintain a heading to that destination.

pdf_4

 

There’s also a Search function that lets you enter an address, keywords, or latitude/longitude position; once located, you can save that position in database to load in directly later. For example, entering Mecca as the destination and loading it in would put the green destination flag at Mecca, as above. Pity it doesn’t show the magnetic declination value for the destination, as this would make it a handy reference app for this value.

pdf_5

To go back to your current position, tap the button at lower right to get the view above. The red line shows the “rhumb line”, the straight line you’d draw on a Mercator projection between your current location and the destination; following this line would get you to the destination, but it wouldn’t be the shortest route across the Earth. The app instructions say that it will draw a pink line to indicate the “great circle” route, the shortest distance between your current location and the destination when traveling on the Earth’s spherical surface. For short distances, the rhumb line and great circle will generally be very close to the same; for long distances, like the US to Mecca, they should diverge dramatically. At first glance, that pink great circle line seems to be entirely missing here. However, if you look closely at the two screenshots above, you’ll see a short pinkish stubs indicating the start, stop, and general direction of the great circle route, but the rest is missing.

 

Other issues: The app appears to be a resource hog; other apps, like my screenshot app, slowed down dramatically when it was active.

Final thoughts: Potentially useful app, but hobbled by the lack of a bearing degrees indicator, use of magnetic rather than true north, and the buggy great circle route line. Could still be useful if you need to determine the direction to multiple points saved in the database from your current location. Hopefully the author will fix these issues in future updates.




Simultaneous Large Compass View and Map With Urban Scout

Application Name: Urban Scout

Description: Displays large compass view along with Google Maps display

Publisher’s website: Cogi Systems

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.1.9  /  3-25-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

us_qr

Android Market (mobile app only)
Android Market (browser)


Lots of apps have a large compass display, invariably filling the whole screen (like the excellent Compass app). Other apps can show your general compass direction, sometimes with a small position arrow pointing the same way as your phone (e.g. the standard Google Maps app). Urban Scout is a simple app that combines the two: half the screen shows a large, standard compass (with numerical heading display), while the other half shows a Google Maps view.

us_1

You have the choice of either a Google Map satellite hybrid view (with roads labeled), or the standard Google Maps roads-only display. The compass at the top shows true north, not magnetic; wish all app makers defaulted to that. Your phone’s GPS will fire up automatically, locating you on the map. The red triangle position marker will be pointed in the same direction your phone is facing, with the faint yellow circle overlay showing the uncertainty in position.

us_2

From the menu, you can mark a single position with a blue dot; mark a new position, and the previous marked position disappears. No other functions, like navigation, but it will remember the marked position. You can scroll the map to a different location, but it will slowly scroll back center your current position in the map display. Standard zoom controls (pinch to zoom where supported, otherwise +/- buttons that appear when you tap on the map.

us_3

 

Not a lot in terms of options from Menu/Settings. Toggle between the Satellite Hybrid and Maps mode, and set the default; mark your location; set units (English or metric); turn off the coordinate display bar in between the compass and map to show more of the map (as above).

Other issues: Wish it showed decimal degrees for latitude/longitude; I hate degrees/minutes/seconds.

Final thoughts: Simple limited app, but does the job. I like using it to get a rough feeling for which direction from my current location a landmark lies. One could always wish for additional functions (waypoint marking, navigation), but you can always get those from other apps.




Locus, A GPS Mapping Application – Part II: Maps

Continuing on with my review of the Locus GPS mapping app for Android (Part I on the interface is here), today is map day. Locus has a strong selection of standard online map sources, roughly 30 vs. roughly about 20 for OruxMaps. Some are worldwide, others regional. These mapsets currently include:

  • Google Maps: Road, Aerial, Hybrid, Terrain, Korea
  • OpenStreetMap” Classic, Cycle, Transport, Osmarender, OpenPiste
  • OVI-Nokia map:Classic, Satellite, Terrain (Locus is the only app I’ve seen so far with these useful mapsets)
  • Yahoo: Classic, Satellite
  • Bing: Road, Hybrid, London A-Z, OS Maps
  • OSM-regional: UMP-pcPL, Hike&Bike
  • Freemap (Slovakia): Car, Turistic, Cyclo, Aerial
  • Yandex (East Europe): Classic, Satellite
  • Eniro (North Europe): Classic, Aerial, Nautical, Hybrid
  • MyTopo (USA): 1:24K topographic maps
  • Outdoor Active (Germany, Austria, South Tyrol)
  • Statkaart (Norway): Topo, Raster
  • Maps+ (Switzerland): Topography, Terrain
  • NearMap (Australia): PhotoMap, StreetMap, Terrain

 

While there is a reasonable amount of overlap in mapsets between the two, each one also has unique mapsets as well. For US users, the big difference is that Locus comes with the MyTopo USGS 1:24K topographic mapset built in, while OruxMaps doesn’t. You can add Terraserver topo maps to OruxMaps (more on this in a bit), but the MyTopo set is of higher quality, and some areas are more up-to-date.

 

The list of available online maps can be brought up with the map manager button, in the upper right of the main map screen. You’ll get a list of available online mapsets:

locus_mm_0

Mapsets are organized into groups by source, a better system than OruxMaps’ sequential list of all maps. If you tap on a source name, like Google …

locusmaps_2

 

… you’ll get a subset listing of all the available maps from that source. Tap on the map type to go back to the map view, and load that selected mapset. The listing scrolls horizontally, so if you can’t see the desired mapset, tap and drag the listing left or right to access it.

First time I tried using Locus in the field, I was shocked at how many mapsets I was unable to download, despite having a good cellular connection. Then I explored the Settings section; under the Map subsection of Settings, you’ll find  a setting called “Offline mode”. If this is checked, which appears to be the default, maps can only be downloaded to your unit when you have a WiFi Internet connection. This protects you from being surprised with massive data overage charges from your cellular provider if you don’t have an unlimited data plan; my plan is unlimited, so I left this unchecked, and all mapsets now downloaded properly.

As online maps are downloaded, either from a WiFi or cellular connection, they are automatically cached so that you don’t have to repeatedly download them. I presume the size of the cache is limited, and that older maps are deleted automatically, but I wasn’t able to find out this info. For longer-term storage of mapsets, and avoiding large data downloads over cellular connections, Locus lets you create mapsets from download data, and then load them as needed into the app.

select_option

To access this function, go to the “Download map” tab in the map manager. You’ll have several options for selecting the area you want maps for:

  • This screen – Downloads maps for the area currently visible in the main map screen. You’ll want to zoom in/out first to your desired area.

select_area

  • Select area – Choose a subset of the current map area by clicking and dragging; press on the green check button at the bottom to approve the selection, or the red x button to clear it and select a different area. You can zoom in/out in this view, but if you haven’t already selected the desired general area first, new map data will not be loaded in as you zoom in/out.
  • By state – Downloaded predefined areas. By “state”, this means “country”, not “US state” or other subregions. Fine for smaller countries at lower zoom levels, not great for larger countries.

map_points

 

  • By path – This is pretty slick. Select this option, and get the map screen, with a new toolbar near the bottom. Click the “+” sign to add a point at the center of the screen, then drag the map to the next location and add another point. Locus will define an area around that point for which it will download maps, and show that as a purple overlay. You can set the width of the area with the slider at the top, and also tap-and-drag points to adjust them. The “-“ sign removes the last point, while the red x deletes all points. When done, tap the green check box. Be sure to disable the button at the lower-right, as otherwise the map will keep popping back to your current GPS location.
  • Select POIs – If you have a set of waypoints loaded into a category (more on this in the next post), Locus can use those to define an area for maps to be downloaded for. Nice, but I wish there were a comparable option for tracks as well, similar to the “By path” option, but loadable from a GPX file.

zoom_levels

Once you’ve made any of your area selections, you’ll get a screen with the available zoom levels for that map; you need to choose at least one. You can choose more, but it will make the map filesize larger; maximum allowable filesize is 2 GB. The total map size and tile count is shown at top right, and you’ll also see a preview of the highest zoom level maps at right. Label the mapset file using the text box at the top.

change_type

Tapping “Change type” to choose the type/location for the downloaded map files. You can either put the map tiles into the standard online map cache, create a new separate mapset, or add maps to a pre-existing mapset of the same type. I usually use “Separate map”, since I think it will minimize complications, but that’s just a guess on my part. Once you’ve selected a map type, you go back to the zoom level screen; tapping OK starts the download process. This is usually best done with a WiFi connection, as that will be much faster, and won’t count against any cellular data quotas.

user_maps

 

Once complete, the new mapset will appear in a listing under the “User maps” tab; just tap on the mapset you want to select it. Generally, these maps work fine, but I sometimes noticed when scrolling the map that tiles would appear and then disappear for no discernible reason. However, when using the maps in general GPS navigation mode, this didn’t seem to be a problem.

As with OruxMaps, you can also create mapset files from online map sources with the free Mobile Atlas Creator software, setting Big Planet / RMaps SQLite as the output format; the app author has more info here.

So far, Locus is superior to OruxMaps in handling online/offline maps. But it falls short in two major areas:

– Adding new online map sources is more complicated in Locus than OruxMaps (although neither is easy). There’s a post at the Locus forum on the process, but I couldn’t find any actual working examples. In contrast, OruxMaps offers a sample wms_services.xml file to get you started, which adds Terraserver US topographic maps to the list of available maps, and the OruxMaps forum has more working examples.

– OruxMaps has a stand-alone desktop application that can convert georeferenced raster image files, like GeoTiffs and OziExplorer map files, into an OruxMaps-compatible mapset. There is no general tool like that for Locus; there’s a mention in the forum of an old utility that can convert OziExplorer map files, but the format it creates may be deprecated soon in Locus. And it doesn’t look like the utility program mapc2mapc currently creates Locus-compatible map files, either. So there isn’t currently a good way to get your own maps into a Locus-compatible format, and that’s a big drawback for me.

Coming up in part III – tracks and waypoints in Locus.




Locus, A GPS Mapping Application – Part I: Interface

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

locus_qr

Android Market (mobile app only)
Android Market (browser)


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.

Interface:

locus_1

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:

locus_4

– 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.

locus_6

– 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.

locus_5

– A GPS icon, which brings up the GPS status screen, with options to turn the GPS and compass on/off to conserve power.

locus_dm

– 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.

locus_mm

– A map manager, for selecting and managing online/offline maps (more on this later)

 

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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.

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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:

locus_park

  • 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:

locus_compass

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.

 

locus_6

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.

locus_zl

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 …

locus_sz

… 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.

locus_direction

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.

locus_fov

“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.




Graphic Local Elevation Displays With AltitudeProfiler

Application Name: AltitudeProfiler

Description: Displays elevation profile graph in one compass direction, graphic display in all directions.

Publisher’s website: AndroidPit

Cost: Free, but with daily data limit; paid version gives you data priority, and supports the program.

Version/date reviewed: v.1.02  /  2-28-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

ap_qr

Android Market (mobile app only)
Android Market (browser)


Altitude Profiler downloads local elevation data, and plots/displays it in several different ways.

ap_main

Main screen displays local coordinate data and heading at the top. In the data box are:

  • True heading (not magnetic – yay!)
  • Magnetic declination at your location (?N)
  • The pitch angle and percentage slope (“/”); lay the phone flat on a surface to get its slope.
  • The view rotation angle (“R”), showing the twist angle of the phone
  • Latitude, longitude and elevation at your current location.

The slider sets the distance over which elevation data will be downloaded and displayed. Default is 6 km, and unless you have a really good reason, you should leave it there, or set it even lower. While the app lets you select a distance up to 200 km, this will involve downloading lots of data, and the app developer is paying for this (not to mention your own data download time and costs).

The 6 buttons in the lower part access various data and function screens.

ap_graph

The first button shows you the elevation profile in the direction you’re facing, for the specified distance. Green vertical lines marked the locations of highest and lowest elevation in the profile.Your current position is plotted in a Google Maps view in the lower half. Move the slider to the right …

ap_points

… and the map scrolls to the corresponding position. Markers are plotted every 1 km.

ap_colors

The second button brings up a 360-degree graphic representation of slopes in every direction; the display rotates with your heading. Reddish colors are up-slope, while greens are down, and the intensity reflects the steepness of the slope.

ap_least

The third button brings up this odd display, sort of similar to the previous one in intent. Here, it’s displaying the “difficulty of travel” in every direction; the fastest way to travel is to move in the direction with the minimal amount of yellow overlay (here, W is the easiest path, with SE a close second).

ap_airplane

Fourth button brings up an augmented reality view, with an airplane-like HUD overlaying a camera view (which you can’t see due to the limitations of screenshots). Heading, roll and pitch are displayed. IMO, the least successful and useful screen.

ap_map

Fifth button brings up a Google Maps view, with your current location plotted as the starting point. Scroll the map in any direction …

ap_scroll

… and see a line of points plotted from your original location to a new one. Press the middle button at the bottom (the square with the zig-zag in it) …

ap_local

… and see the elevation profile over that plotted line of points.

ap_scrolled

If you scroll the map to another point, and press the “select” button at the bottom, the center of the map will be designated as the start of a new elevation profile, and marked in red; just scroll the map again to set the end point. This way, you can find elevation profiles anywhere, not just from your current location. Pressing the “GPS” button will bring up back to your current location.

ap_settings

Final button brings up a panel to turn the GPS on/off (toggle the top button), and set the distance units to miles or km (toggle the bottom button).

Other issues: Lot of mixed comments on the Android Market on this app; some people complain about its interface, while others couldn’t get it to work. I didn’t have any issues with the interface, and it worked fine on my Droid X running Froyo.

Final thoughts: I reviewed an app called Elevation and Sea Depth a while back that offered similar functionality. While AltitudeProfiler doesn’t do sea depths, it offers a better display and more options for terrestrial elevation profiles. Unless you absolutely need the sea depth data, I’d recommend AltitudeProfiler as the superior app.




Orientation-Stamped Imagery And More With GeoCam

Application Name: GeoCam (originally Theodolite)

Description: Augmented reality app that shows compass direction, GPS coordinates, orientation on camera view, plus much more.

Publisher’s website: None

Cost: Free ad-supported version; paid version removes ads, adds video recording and KML export.

Version/date reviewed: v.1.63  /  2-22-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2


Android Market (mobile app only)
Android Market (browser)


Multi-purpose apps can be a mixed blessing; it’s nice to have multiple functions in a single app, but sometimes each individual function is inferior to that in another app dedicated solely to that function. Ulysse Gizmo has been the biggest exception to that issue I’ve reviewed so far, in that all that functions are well-executed. I’d now include GeoCam – it has a lot of functions, some rarely found on other apps, and performs most of them well.

overlay

The primary function of GeoCam is to show you the compass direction you’re pointing, GPS coordinates, and phone orientation/tilt, superimposed as an augmented reality (AR) view on the camera display. You can then take a photograph of that view with the additional data superimposed, to have it for your records. When I saw this in an earlier beta version, the one thing I had hoped for was the option to take a picture without all the superimposed data …

no_overlay

… and the app’s author apparently read my mind, because this feature showed up in a later release.

th_view

Here’s the view on the camera screen, minus the actual camera input (which doesn’t show up on screen captures). The red square is a guide to getting the phone aligned correctly; when the phone has zero tilt angles, that red box will turn green and align with the green box in the center of the display.

In addition to the information/data displays, there are buttons/sliders to access various controls. The blue magnifying glass at upper left …

info

… brings up a data screen with position and orientation data. The icon immediately to its right turns on/off adding the AR data to any photos you take The red slash on the icon signifies that no AR data is added to the photo, and tapping on that icon will remove the red slash and put it into the mode that includes orientation data as an overlay on the photo.’

The camera icon at the upper right takes a photo, but you can also use your phone’s hardware camera button as well. Red icon in the lower-left exits the program, though the Back button seems to work as well. The blue “i” brings up a reasonably-comprehensive in-app help screen. The flag/map buttons at lower right? I’ll save those for tomorrow.

The yellow-highlighted arrow at the right brings up a settings/menu screen if you tap on it; you can also bring this screen up by pressing the phone’s Menu button.

exposure

There are three settings tabs, Cam (for camera settings), Geo (tomorrow) and Set (which lets you modify the color and font used in the AR orientation overlays). Above is Cam, with the Brightness subsetting selected. You can adjust the photo’s exposure by sliding the numbers at left to highlight the desired over/underexposure with the red line. For my Droid X phone, the view in the camera display always seems to be brighter than the final photo taken, so if I adjust the exposure to be lower, the resulting photos are too dark; YMMV with your phone.

tints

The next camera subsetting lets you modify the picture tints for monochrome, sepia, negative, solarize, and various tints. At least for me, this doesn’t really offer any useful functionality.

size

The final camera subsetting supposedly lets you select the photo resolution from all the phone’s supported pixel sizes, but on my Droid X, you only get one choice; the author says he’s working on figuring that one out.

set

In the Set section, you can choose the color of the orientation overlay for best results. Bright sets it to pure white for darker background images, Light (seen above) sets it darker for light images, and Cockpit (seen in the first pictures above) sets it to green. I’ve found that Cockpit is the best all-around choice, as it’s clearly visible under most circumstances.

Other issues: Compass direction is magnetic; I would really hope that the option to set that to true direction is added soon. For now, you have to manually correct for the magnetic declination. And I hope support for all camera photo resolutions will be fixed eventually.

Final thoughts (Part I): If this were all GeoCam did, it would be a must-have app. But it adds some additional AR geographic functionality, plus some measurement capabilities, which I’ll cover tomorrow in Part Two.




Distances, Times and Bearings To Locations

Application Name: Distant

Description: Distances, bearings to locations on a list; travel times to those locations if you’re in motion

Publisher’s website: dixiak

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed:v.1.0  /  2-21-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

distant_qr

Android Market (mobile app only)
Android Market (browser)


Create a list of locations, either by manual entry or by tapping on a map, and Distant will give you distance/bearing info to those locations.

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In the startup view, you get a preloaded list of exotic destinations; after a GPS or cellular fix is obtained, you’ll see them listed by distance from you (closest first), with approximate direction as well. If there’s a number with an up-arrow following it, that indicates the increase in elevation from your current location to the destination; lower destinations have no such elevation change number, for some reason. Your current GPS position and altitude will be displayed at top, although why it’s in kilometers and not meters I have no idea.

distant_2

A brief tap on any item in the list (like Thikse Monastery) will bring up a more accurate bearing degree number. A longer tap will bring up the option to view the destination in Google Maps, edit/delete it, or add a new waypoint to the list. New waypoints can be added by manually entering a name, and latitude/longitude location.

distant_3

From the program menu, you also have the option of adding a waypoint to the list using Google Maps. Scroll to your desired location, and do a long press on the map; the “new waypoint here” popup appears. Tap on it …

distant_4

… and get the dialog box for adding a name (the coordinates will be enter automatically). Tap on the “disk” icon to save it to the waypoint list …

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… and also see it marked on the map.

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If you’re in motion, the app will show your current speed and bearing; for a selected waypoint in the list, it will tell you what angle you need to turn to be heading towards it, and how long it would take you at your current pace to reach that spot (89 days to 7 months for Thikse Monaster – long walk). From the list, the destination you’re closest to heading to will be listed in green, and the one you’re moving the most away from will be listed in red.

Other issues: App worked fine. A compass view, with a marker showing which direction you should move to go to the selected location, would be a useful addition.

Final thoughts: Fun as a geography learning tool, for getting distances/bearings to far-way locales. But could also be useful for local waypoints as well, although the navigation tools are a bit limited for that use.




Put A Compass On Your Android Status Bar

Application Name: Statusbar Compass

Description: Puts an arrow on your Android status bar that always points north.

Publisher’s website: None

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v0.3.1  /  2-20-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

sbc_qr

Android Market (mobile app only)
Android Market (browser)


Smallest compass you can put on your Android – sits in the status bar at the top.

sbcompass_1

Only one program screen, to start/stop the compass display, and give you the option of always starting the app when you turn on your phone.

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Purple arrow shows up at the top; when the phone is pointed north, the arrow points straight up.

sbcompass_3

With the phone pointing in a different direction, the arrow will still point north.

sbcompass_4

Drag the status bar down, and see an item listing for the phone; click on that to bring up the program screen to stop the compass display. There’s also a compass angle reading, but on my Droid X, it’s always wrong.

Other issues: Arrows always points towards magnetic north; as with all other compass apps, I wish the author would offer the option for true north (it’s easy to implement). Not crazy about the purple color, so the option to select other colors would be nice as well. You’ll likely increase battery drain slightly, but unlike GPS, the compass doesn’t use a lot of power, so you’re unlikely to see a major effect.

Final thoughts: Wish it had a few more options, but you can’t beat it for simplicity and small footprint.