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Archive for the 'compass' Category Page 2 of 3

SailDroid, A Basic Marine-Oriented Position/Direction/Speed Display

Application Name: SailDroid

Description: Simple marine-oriented GPS display

Publisher’s website: Tiny Garage

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.1.0  /  1-24-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2


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

SailDroid doesn’t offer a lot of functionality, just basic displays of nautical speed, heading, and location. Big advantage of this app is the large size and strong contrast of display (black on white), making it more visible in daylight viewing conditions.


Figure 1: Choose from speed, compass heading, distance or position.


Figure 2: Big, easy to read numbers. Default (and only) option for speed is in knots.


Figure 3: Numerical heading is easy to read, but scale at top is too small and undetailed to be very helpful; a small but full compass display would probably work better.


Figure 4: For measuring distance, press the button to mark your current location, and it will give you the distance you’ve traveled since marking that location.


Figure 5: Once again, the coordinate location display is big and easy to read. But no options for decimal degrees, or other coordinate systems.

Other Issues: The app worked fine. I think the mainissue I have is the lack of options for units. A night-time display (red on black) would be nice, as would be the option to display your current location directly in a Google Maps interface.

Final thoughts: A bit more stripped down in functionality than I would like, but if you need a big, readable display, I can’t think of any other GPS app I’ve run across that does better than this one.

3D Augmented Reality Compass

Application Name: Compass3D

Description: Displays a 3D compass rose in the camera view.

Publisher’s website: None

Cost: Free; claims to be ad-supported, but no ads showed up while I was using it.

Version/date reviewed: v.1.4  /  12-20-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2


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

This is a one-function app; it creates a floating 3D compass rose in your phone’s camera view, with magnetic north indicated by the red color:


The red North arrow can sometimes be obscured by the other direction arrows; however, the rose stays “horizontal” in augmented reality as you tilt the camera, so that you can see the direction arrows more clearly:


Other issues: On my Droid X, the arrow sometimes doesn’t show up. Exiting the program and starting it again usually fixes this issue.

Final thoughts: This is pretty much a demo app, to impress those unfamiliar with smartphones or augmented reality apps. Might prove useful in a few instances where you need to find the relative direction between objects in your field of view. In any case, the price is right.

GPS Essentials : GPS/Orientation Readout And More

Application Name: GPS Essentials

Description: Displays GPS/orientation data, satellites, map; customizable data readout

Publisher’s website: GPS Essentials

Cost: Free; $2.81 donation plugin.

Version/date reviewed: v.1.0.2  /  12-13-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2


Android market link
Android Market link (browser)

Like the previously-reviewed GPS Test and GPS Status, GPS Essentials monitors and displays information from both your GPS signal and compass direction.


Figure 1: There are six screens available in this app, plus the settings screen (accessible with the menu button) that lets you set options like units and preferred coordinates.


Figure 2: The Dashboard is the killer function for this app; it displays more information than any other GPS dashboard I’ve seen on any other app. Plus, the items displayed, and their position, is fully configurable. Choose Add from the menu, and select from 30 different data options.


Figure 3: Press and drag on a data item to move it to a new position, or drop it on the trashcan icon at the bottom to delete it.


Figure 4: The compass display is pretty basic. What’s more, even though there’s an option to set either true or magnetic north in Settings, that option isn’t functional – the app always uses magnetic north. You’ll need to correct for your local magnetic declination to get the true direction.


Figure 5: Camera view displays a level horizon line, and the magnetic direction you’re facing at the bottom. Can’t quite figure out the significance (if any) of the central circle.


Figure 6: Map view displays your current location, with a compass indicator at top left showing which direction you’re facing.  You have the standard Google Map layers to choose from (roads, terrain, aerial, hybrid). You can also plot the local addresses of people on your contact lists, or select a contact and have their address plotted. Finally, you can use the Waypoints menu function to add waypoints either by tapping on the map, or selecting your current location.


Figure 7: The Satellites screen gives a standard view of the GPS satellites above the horizon, and how many of them are being used to determine your current position.


Figure 8: Finally, the Waypoints screen gives you a list of saved waypoints. Tapping on one brings up a screen that lets you edit the name or coordinates, geocode it (find the nearest address), change the icon, show it on a map, delete it, or set it as a target to navigate to.  There are also Import/Export buttons available on the Menu button for this screen, but they don’t currently appear to be functional.

Other issues: No problems with crashes or closes.

Final thoughts: The best screen on this app is the dashboard – no other GPS app on Android comes close. For that alone, this app is worth installing. The other screens also offer useful functions, but there are better apps for most of these. The lack of a working option to set true north instead of magnetic north is a big drawback, and I hope a future version will fix that.

Augmented Reality Direction Grid With Compass Ball

Application Name: Compass Ball

Description: Overlays a compass direction grid on top of a live camera view.

Publisher’s website: jthuniverse

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.1.3.2  /  12-12-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2


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


Figure 1: Compass Ball is a one-trick pony; it overlays a grid representing compass directions on top of the screen view generated by your camera. The picture at left is from the app page, to give you a general idea of the view it creates; screenshots from my Android phone don’t include the camera view.


Figure 2: The grid can be viewed in either portrait or landscape view; I think landscape is usually a better choice, because you get a wider view.

Other issues: Generally works well, but there are a couple of quirks.

  • It may take the grid a few seconds to show up on-screen, so be patient.
  • The app uses magnetic direction, rather than true direction; you’ll have to manually/mentally adjust for the magnetic declination in your area, the offset between true north and magnetic north.
  • The display can get stuck in an entirely incorrect direction reading. If you “wobble” the phone around, rocking it both left/right and back/forth at the same time, this seems to get the grid to move to the correct orientation.
  • It can take the grid a few seconds to drift into the right position, especially when you change directions.

Final thoughts: Cool little app, nice for finding the general azimuth angle distance between features. The option to set the grid to true north, rather than just magnetic north, would make it even more useful.

Steepest Slope And Its Direction With eGEO Compass

Application Name: eGEO Compass

Description: Geological compass; measures direction and orientation of steepest slope; logs that with GPS coordinate data

Publisher’s website: eGEO Compass

Cost: Free basic version; 10 euro registration adds ability to export data, display it in Google Maps interface

Version/date reviewed: v.1.0.2  /  12-4-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2


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

eGEO Compass was mainly designed as an electronic version of a geologist’s transit. Lay it on a flat surface, and it will measure the angle and direction of the steepest slope; with a GPS fix, it will also display the coordinates. This makes it useful for mapping the angle and direction of geological strata, but that slope/direction data might also be useful to geomorphologists, archaeologists, solar panel installers, and others.


Figure 1: Start up the app, and it will prompt you for a name to save measurements under. All measured points are saved in the same data list, but can be differentiated by entering different names here. You’ll then get the display at left, that shows the direction of the steepest slope first, followed by the angle the slope dips down from horizontal (you might have to tap/shake the phone a bit to get the measurement to register correctly). Up at top are the current location from GPS, latitude/longitude. Tap on the Save button to log this data. (long-click for overturned) is mainly of use to geologists, for indicating a strata that has been flipped over by geologic/tectonic forces.

One nice thing is that it will measure the steepest slope regardless of how the phone lies on the surface. In other words, you can just the lay the phone flat down on the surface without worrying about the direction it’s pointed in.


Figure 2: To see saved data points, go to the starting screen, and go to Menu => Show Data Table. The list will only show the slope measurements, along with the date/time they were taken. Tap on a measurement …


Figure 3: … and you’ll see the full data, including GPS position. You can also add a note to that measurement point.


Figure 4: From the startup page, there’s also a Menu => Registration option that brings up this screen. This implies that registration is free, and apparently for while it was. The author now requires a 10 euro fee (about $13) to register the app; visit his Donations page to find out how to do this.


Figure 5: Registration lets you export the data table in CSV format, as well as plotting the data in a Google Maps interface.

Other issues: The app gives the slope angle relative to horizontal, which is zero for flat and 90 degrees for vertical. For some applications, it would be nice to have the slope normal to horizontal, i.e. 90 degrees for flat and 0 degrees for vertical. You can figure that out easily enough by subtracting the measured angle from 90 degrees, but a direct readout would be more convenient. Some geologists plot the angle of geological data using “strike” which is 90 degrees west of the measured slope angle; again, easy to calculate, but the option to display that number directly would be useful. Finally, the direction is given in magnetic, not true, so you’ll have to correct for your local magnetic declination.

Final thoughts:

Does what it says it will; not useful for everyone, but very useful for a few. Biggest issue I have with the app is the price; $13 for an app with this limited functionality seems a little steep, if you’ll pardon the pun. The author’s own map of registered copies indicates that only about 7 copies have been registered to date at that price. But if you plan to create multiple datasets out in the field, and need to export them to a spreadsheet/GIS friendly format like CSV, it might be worth it.

Camera-Augmented Compass: Smart Compass

Application Name: Smart Compass

Description: Compass augmented with camera view for orientation.

Publisher’s website: Android Boy

Cost: Free Lite ad-supported version; $0.99 full Pro version adds features

Version/date reviewed: v.1.1.1  /  11-4-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2


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

As with the +Compass app reviewed yesterday, Smart Compass lets you find the compass bearing of a landmark as seen by your Android phone’s camera.


Figure 1: Line up the object you want a bearing for with the orange triangle at top, or the gray crosshair at the center (barely visible in the photo, more visible on the display), and the bearing will be shown in the center. As with +Compass, the default is the magnetic direction. However, there is an option to adjust the azimuth setting to compensate for errors, and you can use this to adjust the direction to compensate for the magnetic declination, and show the true direction (as here, where I’ve enter the local 11-degree magnetic declination adjustment) (Figure 2):


The green bar at lower right shows the magnetic field strength. While this could be useful in cases where you might be near an object that distorts the local magnetic field, most times this is superfluous (and can be turned off). A bigger problem is the size of the compass display, which blocks most of the view; I much prefer +Compass’s single vertical line.

Other Issues: While the app can be used in portrait orientation, I was surprised to find that the compass bearing would shift about 5 degrees from the more accurate one seen in landscape orientation. The Pro version (shown above) includes the GPS position and altitude, along with the option to send those as an SMS message. But there are other free apps that do the same thing much better. The Pro version also lets you set the sensitivity of the compass, but I found little difference between different sensitivity settings.

Final thoughts: Smart Compass seems to work fine in landscape mode, less so in portrait mode. It really should offer the option to automatically display true directions instead of magnetic directions, but the option to set an offset to the displayed value makes that less critical. But IMO the compass display obscures too much of the display, and the extra features of the Pro version just aren’t worth $0.99. If +Compass had an option for true directions, instead of just magnetic directions, it would definitely be the one to buy. Even so, if you can mentally add/subtract the correction factor for magnetic to true direction. +Compass is the better choice. But if you really need true directions, then stick with the free Lite version of Smart Compass, set the magnetic declination correction manually, and make sure you update it when you change locations.

Camera-Augmented Compass: +Compass

Application Name: +Compass

Description: Compass with camera-augmented view for alignment

Publisher’s website: None

Cost: $0.99

Version/date reviewed: v.1.0.2  /  11-11-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2


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

Note: Listed in the Android Market as “Reality+Compass”; app name on unit is shown as “+Compass” only.

The +Compass app seeks to emulate a classic “sighting compass”, with a vertical line through the display marking where the bearing value is measured. Just run the app, and point the camera until the line intersects the landmark you want a bearing value for (Figure 1):


A rough bearing can be determine by the scale at the bottom, with the exact bearing shown at the top right. You can temporarily “save” a bearing value from the menu for display on-screen, with a five-second delay to allow you to orient the compass as desired. The app works in both landscape and portrait modes.

Other issues: Biggest problem with the app is that the compass direction is magnetic, not true, and there’s no way to correct for that in the app. So you’ll have to look up the magnetic declination for your location, and manually add or subtract the value to the one measured by the app to get the true direction.

Final thoughts: Simple, but works well and is accurate. But the lack of a “true” direction option keeps it from being fully successful If that’s added in the future, then highly recommended.

Living in the sun (formerly ZP Compass): Local Sun/Moon Info For Android

Application Name: Living in the sun – Sundial Moondial

Description: Compass with indicators that show direction/altitude of sun/moon; moon phase calendar; twilight time tables.

Publisher’s website: AppZeroPoint

Cost: Free version (ad-supported); $3 Pro version removes ads, adds additional features

Version/date reviewed: v.1.5.4  /  10-31-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

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

The Living in the sun app offers a standard compass with direction, but also additional astronomical information for your current location.


Figure 1: Probably the most interesting view in Living in the sun is the actual compass view. The number at top shows your current bearing direction (which way your phone is pointed). The red arrow always points in the direction of north. The gold arrow shows you the direction of the sun, with the sun’s image showing approximately the altitude; you also have numerical direction/altitude data for the sun at the bottom. The gray arrow shows the moon’s direction; the missing moon image indicates that it’s below the horizon at this time. The numerical moon data at the bottom reflects this with the negative value for altitude. You can turn any of these indicators on/off in the Settings section; in this image, I have the magnetic north arrow turned off.


Figure 2: A calendrical display shows the phases of the moon. Tapping on any of the dates, or selecting the “Twilight” display option …


Figure 3: … brings up a table with times for sunrise/sunset, moonrise/moonset, and various kinds of twilight times (usually defined by a certain distance of the sun below the horizon).

In addition to removing the adds, the paid version offers a few extra features:

  • A map of twilight area
  • A map of the sun and moon across the sky at various times during the day

Issues: Program worked fine – no crashes. I do wish it gave you the option of selecting any location; it only gives data for your current location. The GPS is on continuously in compass mode, which can drain your battery if you forget to turn it off.

Final thoughts: There are better compass apps around, but if you need the astronomical data (sun/moon/twilight), this free app offers a nice combination of features.

Tricorder: Android Homage To Star Trek

Application Name: Tricorder

Description: Multiple sensor data output, including GPS and compass; solar data.

Publisher’s website: moonblink

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.5.11  /  10-5-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

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

While comparing his Droid Incredible with my Droid X a few months ago, a friend commented that the sensor capabilities of the Droids reminded him of the tricorder from the original Star Trek series, a multi-purpose data collector and analyzer. What he didn’t know was that I had a copy of the Android Tricorder app on my unit that makes the connection even more explicit. I can’t say that I find it totally useful – I think there are better apps for many of the functions. But it’s fun to use to show off your Android’s capabilities, and it does have one feature related to GPS accuracy that might surprise you.


Figure 1: A “gravity meter” monitors input from the orientation and accelerometer sensors.


Figure 2: The magnetometer displays information from the unit’s magnetic sensor.


Figure 3: An acoustic meter displays the waveform, spectrum, and noise level for input into the unit’s main microphone (here, me whistling a note).


Figure 4: The geographic section displays location from both network data and GPS satellites; the former is a nice touch, since that data is either not presented by other GPS apps, or is superseded by the GPS data when a fix is acquired. The display at the bottom shows the satellite sky map, and a compass with both true (T) and magnetic (N) directions. Wouldn’t want to use it for navigation, though.


Figure 5: Electromagnetic sensor shows the strength of the local WiFi networks, as well as that of the cellular network. There are lots of apps for the former, but I haven’t seen that many that show cellular network strength this clearly – a good alternative to the cell signal bars on your status bar.


Figure 6: You might think that a solar activity sensor, showing downloaded solar data, might be interesting but not particularly useful. But the plots of proton/electron flux at the bottom can reflect on how accurate your GPS position measurement is. As the sun moves into a more active phase, these fluxes can affect conditions in the Earth’s ionosphere, which in turn can make GPS less accurate. So if you see those plots rising near the end, that would suggest that your GPS position might be less reliably accurate.

Other Issues:

None ; worked fine every time.

Final thoughts:

Perhaps not the best sensor app out there, but too cool in appearance and function not to have, and the solar data is hard to find elsewhere.

Ulysse Gizmo: Android MultiSensor App

Application Name: Ulysse Gizmo

Description: Multiple sensor data output, including GPS and compass.

Publisher’s website: Binary Toys

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.1.6  /  12-7-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

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

One thing you’ll immediately notice about Ulysse Gizmo is the “fit and finish”; in terms of visual presentation, it’s one of the more outstanding Android apps of its kind I’ve seen, at least in its default “visual style”. It displays GPS, magnetic and orientation data in four different displays; each one has excellent context-sensitive help.


Figure 1: The magnetic field sensor shows field strength, and the theoretical/actual magnetic strength/direction, along with the local magnetic declination (deviation of magnetic north from true north). More of a science toy than anything else, though I suppose you could use it to detect abnormal magnetic fields.

The icons at the edges represent the other sensor displays, and show actual active data readings. If I tap on the one at lower-left


Figure 2: … a nice bubble level shows up, with pitch/roll/slope orientation data displayed; I wish it also had a readout of the total slope angle along the orientation, but that’s a minor quibble. A quick tap zeroes out the level, while a longer one resets the zero level completely. The bubble level is the default view; if you tip the unit on one of its edges, say a long edge, and do a long press on the level …


Figure 3: It turns into an inclinometer, displaying total angle of rotation, and % slope.


Figure 4: GPS mode displays a sky map of satellite positions, with coordinate data in the box at upper right. Latitude/longitude in DMS is the default option, but you can switch to decimal degrees, UTM or MGRS in the setting section. If you tap on the coordinate box, it will cycle through the coordinate view, a geocoded address readout where available, and …


Figure 5: … a GPS satellite/signal info box. It’s on the small side but packs a lot of readable data into that small space. Here, I’ve changed the visual style from the default to the alternative “Mil-tech” as a comparison to the default style seen above. I personally much prefer the default style, but this alternate might be more readable for some people. There are also day/night color options for both visual styles available from the Menu.


Figure 6: Finally, compass mode. This has been vastly improved from earlier versions, which didn’t include a permanent “Heading” readout. Red needle always points towards true north, blue towards magnetic north; the numbers at top represent the counter-clockwise deviation from north, not the actual heading, which is a bit confusing. But the true heading (and orientation) are always visible in the center. Tapping once on the compass sets the current heading as a direction bearing, aiding in navigating in a constant direction; a long press resets that bearing.

The original version of this review before publication noted that there was a setting for waypoints, but it hadn’t been implemented. Just a few hours before scheduled publication, that changed …

Figure 7: From the menu on the compass page, choose the “Waypoint” option, and you’ll get a local map. A long press on the map at any location will place a waypoint there, and you’ll see info about the waypoint (bearing, distance, coordinates) at the top

Figure 8: Tap and drag on a waypoint lets you relocate it, and brings up a magnified view of the area under the waypoint – a nice touch, since your finger will block that part of the map as you’re moving the waypoint.

Figure 9: Returning to the compass page, the info box now includes data on the waypoint. There’s also now a small white circle on the edge of the compass ring, which shows the bearing direction towards that waypoint. You can remove the waypoint from an option in the waypoint menu, and also “link the bearing” to the waypoint; that will make the bearing display inside the compass correspond to the bearing to the waypoint.

Other Issues:

None – worked fine.

Final thoughts:

Ulysse Gizmo is a  visually-appealing app that shows off the Android sensors nicely. I prefer other apps for GPS status and coordinate data, and I don’t really see any need on my part for a magnetic field sensor. But the orientation app, especially the inclinometer option, is really nice, and the compass’s ability to let you set a bearing is useful. The author was very responsive to suggestions and bugs, and is working on adding additional features. Recommended.