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Archive for the 'Google Maps' Category

Map Lightning Strikes With ThunderHunter

Application Name: ThunderHunter

Description: Uses the lightning flash and succeeding thunderclap to map the location of lightning strikes in real time

Publisher’s website: ThunderHunter

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.1.2  /  8-10-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.3

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


It’s “monsoon” season here in Arizona, which means that more days than not, there’s a good chance of thunderstorms. ThunderHunter uses the delay in seeing the lightning flash and hearing the thunder to calculate approximately how far away a lightning strike is. If  you point the phone in the direction of the lightning strike, it uses the phone’s built-in compass and GPS to plot the approximate position of the strike.

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Starting up the app gives you the screen above; the compass in the upper right is live, and shows you the approximate compass direction your phone is pointed. When you see a lightning flash, quickly swivel the phone to point in  the direction you saw the lightning hit, and tap the button with the “eye/lightning” icon …

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Now wait for the thunderclap; when you hear it, tap the button with the “ear/lightning” icon …

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Since light travels almost instantaneously, but sound travels much slower (about 300 meters / second), ThunderHunter uses the difference in time between the flash and the thunder to calculate the distance. The arrow icon at lower left returns you back to the first screen, to wait for another lightning flash. The button at lower right takes you to a Google Maps view …

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… where it uses the calculated distance and the orientation of the phone to plot the location of the lightning strike (cloud/lightning icon);  your current position is plotted as the “green man” icon. The GPS will fire up to get your current position,  then turn off to minimize power use. Use the “arrow” button to go back to the previous screen.

Other issues: Don’t worry about not having the phone pointed in the right direction when the lightning hits. ThunderHunter uses the direction you’re facing when you tap the “ear” icon after hearing the thunder, so as long as you point the phone in the direction you saw the lightning before you hear the thunder, the direction and position will be plotted correctly.

Final thoughts: Clean, simple, fun, does what it’s supposed to. Most comparable apps only calculate distance, ThunderHunter goes the extra step and plots the position. Recommended. I will say that if you can see lightning and hear thunder, you should find a safe place to sit out the storm. Lightning can strike without warning as far as 10 miles away from the storm’s central location.




Map Lightning Strikes With Thunderhunter

Application Name: ThunderHunter

Description: Map the approximate position of live lightning strikes.

Publisher’s website: ThunderHunter

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.1.2  /  7-17-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.3

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


It’s monsoon season again in Arizona, which means thunderstorms more days than not. You probably know the standard method for estimating how far away a lightning strike is: start counting seconds as soon as you see the lightning flash, stop when you hear the thunder, then divide the number of seconds by 5 to find out how far away the lightning strike was in miles. ThunderHunter automates that process, and adds a twist: if you point your phone in the direction of the lightning flash, it will plot the approximate location of the strike in Google Maps.

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Starting up the app brings you this display. The compass at upper left shows the magnetic direction your phone is pointing in, the “?”  at upper right brings up very minimal help. When you see lightning flash, turn your phone quickly to face in the direction of the lightning, and tap the “eye/lightning” button.

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The button will change to an “ear” icon; when you hear the thunder from the lightning flash, press the button.

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You’ll get an estimate of the distance from the lightning strike in km and miles. Tap on the yellow arrow at lower left to go back to the lightning recording screen; tap on the map …

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… and the app will fire up the GPS to get your current position, then plot the approximate position of the lightning strike, along with your current position (the little green man).

Other issues: Most times, the app will determine direction based on which way the phone is pointing when you hear the thunder. So you can hit the “eye” button when you see a flash in any direction, have time to point the phone at the direction of the flash, then press the “ear” button when you hear the thunder to get an accurate time and direction. On a few occasions, thought, that didn’t seem to work correctly, and it took the direction the phone was facing when the “eye” button was pressed.

Final thoughts: Nifty little app that gives you an approximate distance and location for lightning strikes. Best used indoors at a window, though, since if you can hear thunder and see lightning, you really shouldn’t be outside.




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

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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.

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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.

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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.




Location Coordinates (Plus Reverse Geocoding?) With GeoPicker

Application Name: GeoPicker

Description: Gives you latitude/longitude coordinates for a selected point, plus supposedly reverse geocoding (address from coordinates/position).

Publisher’s website: Android Life

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.1.2  /  6-25-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.3

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


GeoPicker is a simple, easy-to-use geographic utility for determine latitude/longitude coordinates for a location. It also may have a killer feature for most of you: reverse geocoding for a point (address from coordinate position). But more on this in a bit …

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App fires up the GPS automatically, but defaults to a position in the middle of the US.

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Select “My Location” from the menu to go to your current GPS location. Tapping on the coordinate display toggles between degrees-minutes-seconds (boo) and decimal degrees (yay). As in standard Google Maps, pinch to zoom, or tap on the map and use the +/- zoom controls; touch and drag to scroll.

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As you scroll, a red “X” appears under the final pin location. Stop scrolling and …

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… the pin drops into location.

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From the app Menu, you can copy the current coordinates into your phone’s clipboard, for pasting into another app. Other options include getting driving directions from your current position to the selected point, toggling between Google Maps/Satellite views, and searching for landmarks and addresses.

The app also has an option for telling you what the nearest address to the current pin location is (reverse geocoding), but unfortunately this caused my Droid X to force-close the app every time. From the App Market comments, this appears to be a common problem with Motorola Droid phones; other phones may not have this issue. You can do something similar in Google Maps, albeit with less precision – a long press on a location in Google Maps will bring up the closest address to the selected location as a pop-up balloon. Tapping on that popup balloon will take you to a page with additional options like directions, Street View, and local search. However, there’s no crosshair for positioning in Google Maps, so you have to zoom in very close to be able to place your finger in the right spot.

Final thoughts: Handy utility for picking up arbitrary position coordinates, especially if you need to copy/paste them into another app. If the reverse geocoding works for you, that’s an added bonus.




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

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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.

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

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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 …

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… 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.

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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.

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

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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).




Range Circles In A Google Maps View With CircleMap

Application Name: CircleMap

Description: Draws range circles in a Google Maps view

Publisher’s website: pscdroid

Cost: Free (ad-supported)

Version/date reviewed: v.1.1.4  /  6-14-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

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


CircleMap draws a set of concentric range circles on top of a Google Maps interface.

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The initial view shows a wide-area zoom, with constant distance circles centered on your current location. Use pinch-to-zoom to zoom in and out, or tap on the screen, and +/- zoom controls will appear at the bottom.

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As you zoom in, the distance spacing for circles changes to match the zoom; unfortunately, you have no control over the spacing. Your current location starts out in the center, but if you drag the map over, a distance measure (red line with distance in metric units) will show up, indicating the distance between your current location and the center point of the map.

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From the menu control, you can set a base location for measurement other than your current location by scrolling to the desired location and choosing “Set base point”. The “Current position” control puts your current GPS location at the center of the screen; if that’s not the current base point, choosing “Set base point” will make it so. Finally, “Change map” toggles between the standard Google Maps view and the satellite/hybrid view. The latter doesn’t work very well, as the range circles are drawn with such thin red lines that they’re difficult to see against some backgrounds.

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The pencil control in the lower-right-hand corner of the first three screenshots lets you draw freehand on the map, but the utility of this is marginal; it makes the range circles go away, and you can’t save your drawings. Tap on the double-arrow control to erase the drawing and go back to the range circles view.

Final thoughts: The only app of its kind that I could find on the market, and does a decent basic job. Would be a lot better if you had control over range circle spacing and units, and the thickness/color of the circle lines.




Survey-Relevant Data App For Android

Application Name: Survey Demo

Description: Data overlays useful to surveyors and map users.

Publisher’s website: Surveying.org

Cost: Free demo version; Standard ($4.95) and Pro ($9.95) versions add additional features.

Version/date reviewed: v.1.0  /  5-5-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

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


The Surveying.Org website offers a host of useful data layers for surveyors and cartographers, but all of the layers don’t work in the standard Android browser. The suite of Survey apps (Demo, Standard and Pro) offer these same data layers in stand-alone apps. Data layers viewed in a Google Maps interface, with standard Road/Aerial/Terrain views or the MyTopo USGS topographic maps view, include:

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UTM zone overlays (tap on the map for the info popup for all layers)

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State Plane Coordinate System boundaries

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Principal Meridian boundaries and locations for the Public Land Survey System

All of the above can be viewed with the free Demo version. The Standard version of Survey ($4.95) adds two more data layers, and an additional function:

  • National Geodetic Survey horizontal control benchmarks (with links to data sheets)
  • National Geodetic Survey vertical control points.
  • Measure distances and areas on the map.

The Pro version of Survey ($9.95) adds a few additional features:

  • Built-in inclinometer
  • Find the latitude/longitude for a point by tapping on it.
  • Recording of points and tracks, export in KML format.

Other issues: I guess I have a number of concerns with the app:

  • Data layers are fetched online as needed, but that means that if you’re offline, they’re not available – a big drawback
  • The GPS stays on if you switch to a different app, rather than exiting the main app; forget about this, and you can quickly drain down the battery.
  • The Standard version is a bit expensive ($4.95), but if you need that data handy, probably worth it. The current set of additional features with the Pro version doesn’t justify it’s $9.95 price, as you can duplicate the additional functionality with other apps, many of which are free. The author plans to add PLSS data and lat/long to State Plane Coordinate System coordinate conversion to a future version, which would make it more worthwhile, but still a bit expensive for what you get.

Final thoughts: All of the functionality of the Demo version can be gotten using the Surveying.org website in the standard Android browser, plus length and area measurement, but the interface is easier and faster in the app than the website. If you need a handy reference source in the field for nearby NGS benchmarks, the Standard version might be worth the high price, but if you can plan ahead, all the data is available for free at the Surveying.org website The Pro version is overpriced for what you currently get with it; until additional functionality is added, I’d pass on it for now.




Google Earth For Android

Application Name: Google Earth

Description: 3D landscape views of local terrain with an aerial imagery overlay; GPS-enabled.

Publisher’s website: Google Earth For Mobile

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.2.0.1  /  5-4-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

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


Note: This review only looks at Google Earth on an Android phone; additional functionality is available on some Android tablets, including 3D buildings.

Google Earth for Android is a stripped-down version of its desktop cousin, which lets you view the Earth in a three-dimensional view, with satellite imagery draped over terrain. It’s pretty amazing that it works at all on small, limited devices like Android smartphones, much less preserving as much of the functionality as it does. Unfortunately, it’s still missing some useful functions found in the desktop version, which limits its overall utility.

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The first time you start up the app, and choose My Location from the menu, the app will zoom in to an overhead view of your current location, marked with a blue-ball icon; location is determined either by GPS, nearby WiFi network, or cell tower triangulation.

Unlike the desktop version, there are no onscreen controls to change your point of view; it’s all done by touchscreen, and isn’t exactly intuitive.

  • Tap and drag with one finger to move the map in one direction (pan).
  • Use two-finger pinch to zoom in/out
  • Double-tap to zoom in on a point
  • Twist two fingers on the screen to rotate the view
  • Drag two fingers simultaneously on the screen to tilt the view for the full 3D effect.

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To restore the view to overhead, north at top, tap on the compass rose in the upper right corner.

Google Earth caches data so that you can still use it if you go offline temporarily. You can set the cache size in the Settings section to Small/Medium/Large, but there’s no clue as to how much space each of these options uses. And if you’re on a limited data plan, watch out, especially if you’re using the app in a car – you can easily download many megabytes of data in a short period of time.

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Tapping on the eyeball icon at lower left toggles you between the default panning view and “Look around” mode (indicated by the green marker). In the latter, the view is controlled by moving the phone, using the compass and accelerometer to determine which direction you’re pointing the phone. Very cool to look at, but on a phone, the screen is too small to let you make out significant details, and trying to use zoom functionality for a closer look can be an exercise in frustration – it’s difficult to zoom in on exactly the point you’re interested in.

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There’s a limited subset of data layers available, most of which are more easily usable in the Android Google Maps app (Panoramio being the one notable exception).

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You sometimes need to zoom in quite close on an area to see all the data points in the layer; not surprising, since in an urban area they’d completely cover the aerial imagery. However, none of the data points are labeled on the map; you have to tap on one to bring up an info page for it.

There are several incredibly useful functions on the desktop version that are still missing in the Android app:

  • No measurement tools for distance or area.
  • Fewer data layers.
  • Worst of all, you can’t add your own data to the map in KML/KMZ format, at all. Odd, since you can do so in the Google Maps app (subject of an upcoming post here).

Other issues: App does crash on a regular basis, but does so fairly gracefully; you will get an error message with a force-close option.

Final thoughts: Don’t get me wrong, Google Earth is a cool free app, fun to play with, and a great demo to show off your phone’s capabilities. But I don’t find the 3D terrain view compelling enough under normal use to make me switch over from the Google Maps app, which has far more features and options. If the option to view your own KML/KMZ data is added to the app, then it will become far more useful.




Geotagged Audio Stories And Tours With Broadcastr

Application Name: Broadcastr

Description: Geotagged audio file creator

Publisher’s website: Broadcastr

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.1.0  /  4-25-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

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


Broadcastr is a social website that lets you create, share and view audio files tagged to geographic locations; it’s free to browse, but free registration is required to create your own audio files. The iPhone app has been out for a while, and an Android app has just come out.

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The website lets you search by keyword, by categories, or by featured sources (UNICEF here).

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Search results are plotted in a Google Maps interface; clicking on a blue icon brings up the story in an in-browser player.

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In the Android app, the GPS will fire up to get your current location, and then the view will zoom out until the closest available geotagged audio story appears, also marked with a blue dot.

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Tap on the blue dot, and a pop-up will show you the title of this audio note.

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Another tap will bring up even more info; tapping on the Play icon will play the associated audio file.

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Zoom out in the Google Maps view to see more distant audio files.

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The Menu button brings up more options, like a list view of all audio files currently visible in the map view …

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… and the option to record your own note/story, pin it to a geolocation, and have it viewable at the Broadcastr site.

Other issues: Not sure how practical creating audio stories will be on Android, as they’re likely to include distracting noise and ambient sounds. Viewing local notes is easy now, as there aren’t a huge number yet, but I wonder how that will scale as the number of available stories for an area increases.

Final thoughts: Great app for creating audio tours, and personal stories about locations; I hope to use it to create interpretive tours for a number of local trails.




Geographic Data Recording On Android With Memento

Application Name: Memento

Description: Database app with custom form design, GPS geolocation input

Publisher’s website: Memento

Cost: Free ad-supported version; $9.95 Pro version removes ads, removes limits on number of databases that can be synced with Google Docs

Version/date reviewed: v.1.8.3  /  4-24-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

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


Memento is generally regarded as the best consumer-level database app for Android. You can select from 11 standard data templates (Tasks, CDs, DVDs, Purchases, etc.), browse an online catalog where others have shared their templates, or create your own Custom data template, choosing from 19 different data types:

  • Text
  • Integer
  • Real number
  • Boolean
  • Calculation
  • Date
  • Time
  • Date/Time
  • Contact
  • Image
  • String values
  • Multiselect values
  • Audio
  • Currency
  • Rating
  • Hyperlink
  • Barcode
  • Link to entry
  • Link to file
  • Password
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Google Maps coordinates

Of particular interest here is the last one; you can save geographic coordinate data using a Google Maps interface in conjunction with GPS.

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Here, I’ve created a simple database, with a text field and location field.

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Tapping the Location field brings up a Google Maps view, and fires up the GPS; your current location will be marked by the blue dot.

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Ideally, the default would be for your current location to be the desired location for recording. However, Memento requires you to select a location by tapping on the map view; the selected location is marked with a pushpin icon. Accurate placement requires you to zoom in to the maximum zoom level, and even then it may take you some practice to get it right. You can also zoom out to a different location, and position the pushpin there.

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Clicking on OK enters that location in to the appropriate field; clicking on Create saves the record.

Databases can be exported in CSV format, although some data types like images cannot be exported to this format; you can also import data in CSV format to a data template, if you follow the directions to make sure the data fields in the CSV match the data fields in the template correctly.

Even more usefully, you can sync your database automatically to a Google Docs spreadsheet. Syncing is done manually, so that you can record data while offline, then sync it up later with Google Docs. Syncing works both ways, so you can add data in Google Docs, and have it synced to your Android unit. Once in Google Docs, you can analyze the data, manipulate it, and export it in a variety of formats (e.g. CSV, XLS). It’s usually best to do this on a copy of the data, as modifying the original spreadsheet may result in sync problems later on.

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One quirk of the geographic coordinate recording is that the latitude and longitude are combined into a single entry, separated by a colon, as seen above in a screen capture from Google Docs. However, it’s pretty easy to convert that into split Latitude/Longitude columns:

1. Make a copy of the synced spreadsheet to avoid sync issues later on.

2. In the copy, create a new C column, and label it Latitude.

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3. Use the Split command to split the data in the B column (Location) into two separate data fields. You need to specify the spreadsheet location you want to modify (B2 here), and the delimiter (a colon), so you would enter =Split(B2,”:”) into the C2 column. Hitting the Enter key will now split the B column data into two data entries, the first half going into the C column, the second going into a new D column:

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4. You can now copy and paste the C2 data into all the other rows in the C column, and have all that data split as well; the D column is the Longitude, so you can label it as such:

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If you export this modified spreadsheet as a CSV or XLS file, some mapping/GIS programs can open it directly. Otherwise, you can use a program like MapWindow to convert the CSV file into a GIS-friendly shapefile format, or a program like DNRGarmin to convert it to a GPS-friendly GPX format.

Other issues: The free version limits the number of databases you can sync with Google Docs, but I couldn’t find out anywhere what that limit was. The in-app help is terrific, maybe the best I’ve seen, and it’s available even when you’re offline.

Final thoughts: The free version is a no-brainer must-have; this is the best basic database app for Android, especially with the geographic capabilities and Google Docs sync. If you need to sync lots of databases to Google Docs, the Pro version is expensive (for an Android app), but may be worth it.