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Archive for the 'OpenStreetMap' Category

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


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.



The basic interface for Locus has three toolbars at top, right, and bottom. Unlike OruxMaps, where all toolbars are fully customizable, only the right toolbar in Locus can be modified, and only by checking/unchecking pre-defined options. There are five functions available on the top toolbar. They are:


– An “info” icon, which brings up links to “About application”, a simplified basic guide to using the app, an incomplete online manual viewed in your browser, the version history, and a list of additional apps that can invoke Locus as a helper app.


– Title bar options: tapping on the title bar lets you choose what’s displayed there. In the picture below, coordinates was selected for display in the title bar. One drawback of Locus compared to OruxMaps is that the number of data fields displayed onscreen with the map is far more limited in Locus.


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


– A data manager, which lets you view tracks/points, import/export data (GPX/KML formats supported), and manage categories. Locus requires you to specify a category label in which to save points and tracks; while I found this annoying at first, I now see the value of forcing you to organize your data by label.


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



Access the right-toolbar options by the Android Menu button, then selecting “Set right panel”; this screen also gives you several other options, most of which can also be assigned to the right toolbar.


The available right-toolbar functions are:

  • Search in POI: This is a saved waypoint search function; there is no general POI database in this app.
  • Move Map: Instantly move the display to an entered address or latitude/longitude.
  • Points: A waypoint list/manager (MOTL, more on this later)
  • Track record: Brings up another toolbar for recording tracks (MOTL)
  • Parking (BETA): Record your current parking spot, with options to set an alarm (useful for timed parking meters), and taking a photo of the location:


  • Share: Lets you send the current map center coordinates, or a screenshot of the current map display, to email, Facebook, SMS, etc.
  • Add new route: Bit misnamed, as it lets you create a new track in the map display; a “route” is a sequential collection of waypoints, which Locus doesn’t seem to have support for. MOTL
  • Compass: Option to switch to compass view, which includes guide information if you’ve selected a POI/waypoint as your destination:


The compass has a long settling time, so it will take a few seconds for the “needle” to move to the current direction. I’d prefer the option to manually adjust this sensitivity, but it’s not too bad. What is bad is that it shows the magnetic direction, not the true direction, as OruxMaps does. I wish I could mandate that every compass app for Android  either have true direction as the only option, or have it as the default with magnetic direction as an option. For many areas, the two will be similar, but in some areas the difference is substantial; where I live, there’s an eleven-degree difference between true and magnetic directions. Hope this gets fixed in Locus in the near future. Now fixed; there’s a new Sensors menu in the Setting that lets you choose True direction (default) or magnetic, and adjust the sensitivity of the compass.



The bottom toolbar has five functions. When the first button is active (as above), and the GPS is on, the map will automatically scroll to your current location. If you tap and drag the map to view a different location while this button is active, it will automatically “pop you back” to your current location in a few seconds.


The second button is a zoom lock/unlock button. When it’s off, you can only zoom in to the native resolution of the map image (or double that, if you turn on “Double sized resolution” in Settings => Map). When it’s engaged, as above …


… you can zoom in well past the native resolution; the above picture isn’t even at the full zoom available, since that would just look like a jumble of pixels.


The third button lets you choose a direction option. “Rotate map” will spin the map so that the direction you’re facing, or moving in, is at the top. This mode drives me nuts as it tends to swing around wildly, so I usually leave it off.


“Show view” displays a “field of view” indicator when you’re standing still, as above. When you’re in motion, the view changes to a triangle/arrow that points in the direction you’re currently moving. Since Locus currently uses magnetic directions, this can be a bit off from the true field of view.

This control is also useful for restoring the map to “North at top”. In the default mode, Locus supports advanced multi-touch, which lets you rotate the map view by dragging two fingers on the screen in different directions. This also drives me nuts, as sometimes when I want to only zoom in or out, I wind up rotating the map; using this control pops the map back to a normal orientation. You can turn off advanced multi-touch in the settings section, as I have.

The toolbars are partially transparent, and fairly small, so I usually leave them all turned on. However, the Settings section allows you to set any, or all, of the toolbars to fade away after a few seconds; tap twice on the screen to make them visible again.

One final topic, peripheral to the interface. Like OruxMaps, Locus has the option to use an external Bluetooth GPS receiver to obtain position, in place of the built-in GPS receiver; this can be specified in the settings section. This has some major advantages for both battery life and position accuracy. Unlike OruxMaps, though, I was actually able to get this Bluetooth connection to work in Locus, though it took some effort. Android’s Bluetooth support is a bit flaky, and it can take multiple attempts to achieve a successful connection. If the first Bluetooth connection attempt doesn’t work, and you’ll get an error message to that effect, go to the GPS status page, and turn GPS off and then on again. It may take 3-6 attempts, but eventually you do get a working connection to your Bluetooth GPS receiver. The application can also use Bluetooth GPS via proxy apps like Bluetooth GPS, which replace the built-in GPS receiver position for all apps.

Tomorrow: A look at maps in Locus.

Contribute Points Of Interest (POIs) To The OpenStreetMap Project With Mapzen POI Collector

Application Name: Mapzen POI Collector

Description: Collect data about local points of interest, and add it to the OpenStreetMap project.

Publisher’s website: CloudMade

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v.0.5.1  /  12-12-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2


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

The OpenStreetMap Project is a collective, crowdsourcing effort to create a worldwide free map dataset, with both natural and man-made features. It relies mainly on volunteer user contributions of data, although some commercial companies (e.g. Microsoft, ESRI) are also getting involved in contributing data and resources. After registering on the OpenStreetMap site, you can contribute the project using their online editor Potlatch. But CloudMade, the quasi-commercial relative of the OpenStreetMap project, has released Mapzen POI Collector, an Android app that lets you add point-of-interest (POI) data to the OpenStreetMap database directly from your phone. Note: You’ll need to be registered on the OpenStreetMap site to contribute data, as the app will ask for your registration ID and password.


Figure 1: The app will load in OpenStreetMap map imagery for your general location, or your exact location if you choose “My location” from the menu. The symbols you see on the map are previously-recorded POIs;; to see all of them, zoom in closer, as some of them will only appear at higher zoom levels. You may have to give the app a few seconds to load in all the POIs as you change the zoom level, as it can be a bit slow.


Figure 2: Zooming in, several additional POIs become visible; these are two that I added recently, a library and a city hall. To identify a POI, tap on it …


Figure 3: … to bring up an ID tag; tap on the blue arrow to bring up more info …


Figure 4: … like the name and type. If you want to add more info to this POI listing, you can choose Edit POI from the menu …


Figure 5: … and add additional info like the address, phone number, hours, etc..


Figure 6: If I want to add a POI, I need to scroll the map to the desired location, then choose Add POI from the menu.


Figure 7: An icon appears, which I can press and drag to move to the correct location. A long press on the blue arrow brings up the info screen …


Figure 8: … where I can add data. This particular location is a post office …


Figure 9: … and I select the correct PO Type from the Services sublisting, Post office here; there are hundreds of Types grouped by categories like Auto, Education, Entertainment, Government, etc.


Figure 10: After entering all the data I have, I need to select Save from the menu to submit the data. As I kept learning, pressing the Back button will lose all the data I’ve submitted (d’oh!).


Figure 11: If the data submission is successful, the POI entry becomes live in the OpenStreetMap database right away, and can be seen in the map view on your app, like the Post Office icon now visible at left.
Other issues: Apart from the slowness of POI display, and occasional slowness in loading OpenStreetMap imagery tiles, seemed to work fine.

Final thoughts: OpenStreetMap data is only as complete as the efforts of volunteers can make it. If you want to join in on the process, this app is a simple and easy way to start.

TrekBuddy: Offline Map Viewer And GPS Tracker For Android I

Application Name: TrekBuddy

Description: Displays offline mapsets, GPS tracking, records waypoints and tracks, more.

Publisher’s website: TrekBuddy

Cost: Free (donationware)

Version/date reviewed: v.0.9.99  /  9-14-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.1


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

After too many recent posts on creating offline maps with MOBAC and MAPC2MPAC, and transferring them over to an Android unit, I’m finally back to actual GPS map apps. First up is TrekBuddy, a J2ME app originally written about 4 years ago, used on devices with Java Virtual Machines (Blackberry, Symbian, Palm, Windows Mobile), and more recently ported over to Android. The good part of its long history is that it’s fairly stable and reliable; the bad part is that it become clear fairly quickly that it wasn’t written originally as an Android app. Some operational quirks in Android are pretty minor, but others can be a real annoyance to deal with.

First off, the app comes with only a rudimentary low-zoom basemap (Figure 1):


… so you’ll need to prepare maps to use with it using MOBAC or MAPC2MAPC. There are essentially two loadable formats:

  • Maps (which MAPC2MAPC creates). In compressed format, these come as a *.tmi and *.tar file, containing map imagery and calibration data for a single zoom level.
  • Atlases (which MOBAC creates). These are collections of different kinds of maps, each of which can have multiple zoom detail levels. These come with a single atlas file (in .tar format) that contains catalogue information for all the maps in the atlas collection. You can also access individual mapsets independently of their atlas context.

You first need to copy an atlas collection, or a mapset, onto your Android unit (see this post for some ways to do that). These should normally go into the “maps” subfolder of the main TrekBuddy data folder, since that’s where the program looks for them first. However, it appears as though you can navigate within the app to folders in other locations on your memory card, so you could put them elsewhere; you can also change the default directory for data in the program Settings section. For this review, I copied the atlas created in this post, which consists of a single atlas index file (renamed to “kv.tar”), and three folders with OSM, MS and topo maps data. I also copied over a folder containing a mapset created with MAPC2MAPC, a converted USGS aerial photo.


Figure 2: To choose an atlas, select “Load Atlas” from the menu. Here, I first I select the kv.tar atlas file to open the atlas …


Figure 3: Then only the mapsets in the atlas are displayed. Choosing the “Topo Maps” mapset …


Figure 4: I see the three zoom layers I chose. Selecting the “17” level …


Figure 5: The topo map for that zoom level pops up. If I start GPS tracking (Menu => Start), my location will be marked with a compass circle.

“Load Map” works in a similar fashion, except that you’ll have to manually select the “.tar” file that contains individual mapset data, even if it’s the only file in a directory. You’ll also always be asked if you want to set this map as the default, which is annoying. And if you change your mind, and decide you don’t want to select an atlas or map, there’s no way to back out gracefully. Either choose a map, even the one you’re currently using, or you’ll have to exit the program by selecting “Exit” from the menu (back key doesn’t get you out of the program at any time).

But there’s a bigger problem. With three zoom levels for the topo mapset in the atlas, I expected to see some kind of zoom control in the map display to let me zoom in and out through the three available levels. I finally figured out that there is no zoom control; if you want to switch to a map of the same type, but at a different zoom detail, you’ll have to manually select it using the “Load Atlas” or “Load Map” function again. You can’t zoom in or out on a single detail level either; it’s always displayed at the native resolution. This is a huge pain; I don’t understand why mapsets in an atlas can’t automatically be loaded/unloaded with zoom buttons. On the plus side, GPS tracking was accurate, with the map scrolling fairly smoothly as I moved. Tapping and dragging to scroll the map also worked well.

The main TrekBuddy menu has six functions:

  • Start – Starts up GPS tracking; when started, this splits into GPS “Pause” tracking and “Stop”  tracking buttons
  • Load Map, Load Atlas – Described above
  • Info – Brings up a helpful screen describing keyboard shortcuts, which are the only way to bring up some functions. The problem is that these require a physical keyboard; there’s no option with touchscreen-only Android models to bring up the virtual keyboard, which locks out some of the functionality.
  • Exit – The only way to stop the program; you can’t get out using the back key.
  • Settings – Lets you modify the program configuration:
    • Basic – Set the default map, folder, startup screen, units and coordinate system. On the plus side, it supports 15 datums, along with UTM and lat/long coordinates. On the down side, setting the default map and folder is a pain, as you have to type out the full file path for it; would be better if there were a file/directory screen to do that.
    • Desktop – Set parameters for onscreen display (OSD), like scale, font size/transparency, decimal precision, etc.. The program seems to be optimized for low- pixel-pitch screens, as even the largest font size results in a fairly small on-screen size for my Droid X; other features also display so small that they can be hard to make out sometimes.
    • Location – Lets you set the tracklog recording to never/ask/always, track export format (GPX/NMEA), and the track interval in time or distance; it appears as though entering a negative value for time or distance renders that interval parameter inoperative. Also in this section is TrekBuddy’s big killer feature, the ability to use an external Bluetooth GPS unit instead of the built-in GPS for location tracking. I’ll cover Bluetooth GPS in future posts, but I’ll say now that this option is a huge plus for TrekBuddy.
    • Navigation – Lets you set parameters for navigation like waypoint/track display, proximity parameters and more.
    • Misc – Some cryptic operating options; I’m guessing there’s documentation at the website, but I couldn’t find it.

The first time I tried setting some of these options, I got incredibly frustrated – the program kept reverting back to the starting defaults. I finally figured out that if you change any option in a Settings section, you need to press the menu button to bring up an “OK” menu listing, then tap on that. Then, before exiting the main Settings list to go back to the map, you need to press the menu button, then tap on “Save” to permanently record your option changes. I don’t see why the program can’t just automatically save whatever changes you’ve made after exiting a section.

I knew from the main website and some of the settings that TrekBuddy had options for recording/navigating tracks and waypoints. There was also supposed to be a compass screen, and a computer mode screen (CMS), displaying numerical data like GPS satellite info, position, etc.. But without a physical keyboard, it looked like some of these were totally inaccessible on my Droid X. Then I accidentally stumbled on a partial solution: some key features could be accessed by tapping on specific parts of the Droid’s touchscreen:

  • Upper-left corner tap brings up a screen for waypoint and track control (Figure 6).


  • Lower-left corner brings up all the options accessible with the menu button; tap anywhere else to make it disappear (Figure 7)


  • With an atlas loaded, tapping just above the lower left corner brings up the atlas layers; you’ll still have to select the zoom level you want.
  • Bottom-center fills in the circle/compass display that marks your position, making it easier to see the compass points and the direction-of-movement arrow
“Empty” circle
“Filled-in” circle
  • Bottom-right switches from the map screen to compass to CMS back to map
  • Left-center, right-center and top-center pause tracking
  • Tapping in the middle resumes paused GPS tracking, and also brings you back to your current position if you’ve scrolled the map to a different spot

More tomorrow on the compass/CMS screens, and waypoint/track management.

Creating Offline Maps For Android Apps With MOBAC – II

Continuing on from the previous post, I’m going to create a mapset atlas using Mobile Atlas Creator (MOBAC) for offline use with a compatible Android application. An “atlas” can contain multiple mapsets of data from different sources, covering different areas, and with different data resolutions. I’m going to create an atlas with mapsets using:

  • OpenStreetMap road maps
  • Microsoft aerial maps (“Virtual Earth”)
  • USGS topographic maps

I’ll start with the OpenstreetMap maps, by selecting that map type from the dropdown menu, and also select the area I’m interested in. The first step is to choose the zoom levels I want data for:


Higher zoom levels correspond to a higher resolution, but this will also require more map tiles to be downloaded for a given area; lower zooms are lower resolution, but cover much more area. For aerial photos, you might want to get the highest possible resolution => high zoom, whereas for street maps, lower resolution may be adequate => low zoom. As you click on zoom levels, you’ll get a running total of all the map tiles that will need to be downloaded. Since you can also have multiple mapsets in a single atlas, each containing different kinds of data covering different areas,  you could have a lower-resolution road mapset covering a larger area, and then have a high-resolution aerial photo mapset covering a smaller area. Sometimes there’s no data for the zoom level you’ve selected. The area I’ve select is fairly small, and I’ll used it zoomed in close, so I’ll check the 15 and 16 zoom boxes.

The next section in the control panel lets you combine and modify the original data tiles into a different size and/or image format; unless you have a good reason to, you should leave these advanced settings alone:


Next is the Atlas Content definition section:

Atlas Content

First step is to give my atlas a name by right-clicking on it and choosing “Rename”; I’ll call it “KV” here (hit return to save the name). Next, I want to give a name to the mapset with the OpenStreetMap maps; I’ll call it “OSM in the “Name” section, and add it to the atlas with the “Add selection” button; this section now looks like this:


I now repeat the process for Microsoft aerial data and USGS topo maps by:

  • Choosing the map source
  • Choosing the zoom levels
  • Giving the mapset a name, and pressing “Add selection”


Next, I need to select the type of map data I’m creating, based on the Android app I’ll be using it with. In this example, I plan to use the data with an app called “TrekBuddy”, so I select that type:


“tared” means it’s compressed into the .tar format; there’s an option for untared, but compressed will save on space and number of files.

Now the atlas is ready for creation; click the “Create atlas” button, and MOBAC will start downloading map tiles and assembling them into the atlas:


Once completed, you’ll find the atlas files in a subdirectory of the “Atlases” directory (default location for “Atlases” is the directory that the MOBAC program is in, but you can change that in the program Settings). The subdirectory be named using the atlas name, with the date and time of creation appended to it. You’ll need to copy the appropriate map files for your app to the appropriate directory on your Android unit, possibly renaming them as well; more on this in upcoming posts.

As map tiles are downloaded, they’re saved in a special cache, so if you need them again they won’t have be downloaded afresh. The Tile store coverage control can show you what areas have map tiles for a particular map type and zoom level:


The Settings section lets you:

  • Set the distance unit (metric/imperial)
  • Choose which map sources to show in the dropdown, and set the program language
  • Set an expiration date for downloaded and cached tiles
  • Show you how many tiles are cached for each map type, and how much space they’re taking up
  • Set maximum map size allowed (different programs may have restrictions on this)
  • Set the default storage directory for atlases
  • Configure network connections.

There’s one final section that lets you load a GPX file, create waypoints on the map, and export them in standard GPX format – pretty straightforward to figure out.

I’ll review TrekBuddy soon, and use these maps for the demo. But next up, another app that creates mapsets for Android apps, but this one uses scanned map images and aerial photos instead of online map services.

Creating Offline Maps For Android Apps With MOBAC – I

Some Android apps can download and store cached map data from online data sources like Google Maps and OpenStreetMap servers. I’ve already posted about a few of these:

.. and expect to post about many more of them in the future. But in-app caching has limitations:

  • Map sources are limited to online map services
  • Map variety is usually fairly limited
  • Map selection process is limited by the size of the Android unit
  • Issues with download speed and bandwidth caps (WiFi and cellular data connections)

There are also a fair number of Android apps that don’t cache map data directly, but instead use offline mapsets created with desktop software. While perhaps less convenient than direct in-app caching in that they require you to prepare the mapsets on a desktop and then transfer them to your Android unit, they have some significant advantages:

  • Desktop interface usually offers more options, and is easier to use
  • Choice of online map servers can be larger
  • Map management is somewhat easier
  • In addition to online map sources, you can also create mapsets from scanned maps, aerial/satellite photos, and output from mapping software (GIS)

I’m going to be posting on a number of these offline mapset apps in the coming months. Some of them have their own custom mapset creation software, and I’ll cover those separately. But there are several free programs out there that can create mapsets for more than one of these apps, and I thought I’d cover a couple of these first before moving on to the apps themselves. After all, the apps aren’t worth that much without usable maps already in hand.

The first program I’ll be looking at is Mobile Atlas Creator, aka MOBAC, which downloads map tiles from online map services, and converts them into an app-appropriate format. This is a Swiss army knife app, as it creates offline maps not only for a fair number of Android apps, but also for programs that run on Windows, Windows Mobile and Symbian platforms, and even some standard handheld GPS units from Garmin and Magellan. It’s a Java program, so it should run in Windows, Linux and OS X; Java 1.6 required (check this at the Java website). While the current stable release is version 1.7, I’ll be looking at the most recent 1.8 beta release.

No program installation required; just unzip the contents into Start the program up using the .jar program file. There’s a separate Window executable in the distribution, but I think that’s just a stub to start up the .jar file. Documentation is minimal. Program screen looks like this:


There are two sections to the program view. The left pane contains program controls, while the larger right pane has the map view. Navigating the map view is a little different than other programs:

  • To scroll the map view, click and drag with the right mouse button (not the usual left button).
  • Zoom in and out using either the zoom control at upper left, or with the mouse wheel.
  • Use the left mouse button to select an area you want to download map data for. With the grid control at upper left “disabled”, you can freely select any area. With the grid enabled for a particular zoom level, a red grid is laid on top of the map, and selection is automatically “quantized” to full grid squares:



You have to select grid squares in adjacent groups by clicking and dragging; you can’t turn on/off individual squares separate from the rest with Alt-click or Ctrl-click, as you can with some other similar mapset programs (e.g. Garmin’s Mapsource).

The control panel consists of a number of discrete sections, which can be minimized/maximized by clicking on the blue arrows. First section displays the area you’ve selected at right:


You can also enter coordinates manually, then press the “Select entered coordinates” button to refresh the selected area.

Next, there’s a dropdown menu with a list of preprogrammed map sources:


There are currently 56 map sources in this list, some of which cover all of the world, others which are only good for limited areas (and some, like the server, that don’t seem to be currently working at all). Using the Settings section, you can choose to turn off mapsets that you’re not interested in, as well as update the map sources:


You can even add your own map services, though the process is a bit technical, and requires that the map tiles be in a very specific format. Most of these map sources are freely redistributable, and aren’t limited by licensing terms. For some of the commercial sources, (Google Maps, Microsoft/Bing), it’s not clear. In my post on MultiMap, I noted that caching of map tiles is allowed by Google under certain circumstances, and I thought that MultiMap met those restrictions; for MOBAC, I’m not so sure. Bing’s map licensing tends to be a bit looser than Google’s, but even there I’m not sure. Consult a lawyer.

Next post: Creating a mapset for use with an Android app.

MultiMap: Online And Basic Offline/Cached Maps For Android

Application Name: MultiMap

Description: Online map display with GPS tracking; caching of online data for offline use.

Publisher’s website: RadonSoft

Cost: Free; 2 Euro Pro version adds search, messaging and position sharing.

Version/date reviewed: v.2.1  /  9-1-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.1


Android market link (mobile apps)
Android Market (browser)

MultiMap is a basic map viewing application, with the ability to both load map views directly on-the-fly if you have a data connection (WiFi or 3G), and to download map data to cache memory on your unit, so that you can use the map data even if you have no data connection. Current map types supported are:


  • Google Maps (Standard (roads only), Satellite, Hybrid, Terrain)
  • OpenStreetMap
  • OpenStreetMap OSMA
  • OpenCycleMap
  • OpenPisteMap (enhanced coverage of skiing areas)
  • Public Transport DE (German public transport)
  • OpenSeaMap
  • OpenOM Street
  • OpenOM Pseud

Select the map type with Menu => Map Mode. The OpenStreetMap/OM maps use similar data, but there are differences in the types of data shown and the map styling. For example, OpenCycleMap show contour lines, OpenPisteMap shows ski trails if you’re in a ski area, and OpenOM Street/Pseud has no labels. Here are shots for my neighborhood (Figure 1):

OSM OpenStreetMap / OpenSeaMap OSMA
OpenOM Street / Pseud

Controls are straightforward – touch and drag for scrolling,and three options for zooming:

  • Double-tap to zoom in
  • Tap once on the screen, and zoom buttons will show up at the bottom of the screen
  • Standard two-finger pinch/spread-to-zoom if your hardware supports it

If you have it set (Menu => Settings), your current position will show up as a blue dot; you also have the option to have the display show you in the center of the screen when your position updates. If you’re scrolling the map to a different location, you should turn this off, as the program has a tendecny to zip the display right back to your current location. After zooming with a double-tap or finger pinch, I’ve noticed that the current position indicator can be in the wrong spot; zooming in/out with the zoom buttons usually resolves that problem.

Map caching takes place automatically for map tiles displayed when you’re using the app in online mode, but only map tiles at the current zoom level will be saved. If you have cached map data for your current position, MultiMap should use this first, even if you  have an online connection.


Figure 2: If you want to cache map tiles with multiple zoom levels for use when you’re offline, or to reduce cellular data use, MultiMap makes it easy. Select the map type you want to use (Google Sat for this example). Scroll to the area you’re interested in, preferably in low-zoom mode to see the largest area possible. Choose Menu => Cache Data, select the area you want to cache by touching and dragging, then press the back key


Figure 3: MultiMap will come up with resolution options for the map you’ve chosen. Whatever resolution you do choose, MultiMap appears to download tiles for that resolution and all lower-resolution tiles as well. So if I chose “3 meter”, it appears to download “3 meter”, “5 meter”, “10 meter” etc., all the way down to “60 meter”. The higher the resolution, the more tiles will be required, and the longer it will take. For road maps, “3 meter” or even “5 meter” should be more than fine; for satellite imagery, choose the lowest resolution you can live with. And I’d recommend you do all this caching when you’re connected via high-speed WiFi, as this can take forever with 3G, and burn up a lot of your data quota.

There’s no question that the OpenStreetMap data is fully legal to use this way. For the Google data, I’m not as sure, but I think it is. The Google Maps Terms Of Service says that caching data is fine as long as the cached data is only used in a manner similar to how it’s used uncached. I would interpret MultiMap’s use of the data as falling under this limitation, so I think it’s OK. Certainly Google hasn’t pulled this app (and other similar caching ones) off the app market for TOS violations. If there’s anyone with an alternative view, freel free to leave it in the comments.


Figure 4: After you use the program for a while, cached data is likely to accumulate. The program lets you clear out the cache, either completely, by data type, or by the date it was cached.

Other Issues:

  • Program can sometimes misplace your current position after a zoom with finger-pinch or double-tap; using the zoom buttons will usually fix this issue.
  • Program sometimes gets hung up and shows a blank map even if it’s online or has cached data; you’ll have to exit/restart to see the map data.

Final thoughts:

If you’re looking for lots of extra features, and a wider variety of map types, this isn’t the program for you – it has a pretty basic feature set. But what it does, it does well, and it’s incredibly easy to learn and use. Recommended.

BackCountry Navigator – Offline Topo Maps And Aerial Photos For GPS Navigation

Application Name: BackCountry Navigator

Description: Topographic maps, GPS navigation.

Publisher’s website: BackCountry Navigator

Cost: $9.99; 15-day demo version available

Version/date reviewed: v.1.0  /  8-13-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

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

BackCountry Navigator can download and display maps and aerial photos from a variety of different  sources:


  • USGS 1:24K topographic maps, both in their original form and updated/terrain-shaded from
  • USGS 1-meter color and black & white (DOQQ) aerial photos
  • OpenStreetMap road maps
  • Landsat color satellite imagery (30-meter resolution)
  • Topographic/aerial maps from Italy, Spain, Australia and Canada

If you have a good Internet connection, BackCountry Navigator will download/display maps on the fly. But it also lets you select an area, and then downloads those map tiles for use during times when your unit is offline.

Figure 1: Here’s the starting screen, with the excellent US topo maps shown. A good part of the display at the bottom is taken up with demo info that will disappear if you buy the program; but even so, a lot of the maps is obscured by screen info and controls. You can expand the view to a “full-screen”  option from the program menu, but even there, you only gain a bit of space at the top. I’d like to see the option of turning off unwanted controls, or having them only appear if you touch the screen, the way Gaia GPS handles them.The default view is with the GPS off, and the only way to turn it on or off is through the menu button; it would be nice to have a GPS on/off button onscreen. Also, that on-screen green arrow is only there to mark the north direction, not your actual position. The green arrow might be useful if you set the program to have your current direction of movement be up on the screen (where the map rotates to match your orientation), as it will give you a solid North reference. But if you have the map always set so that North is up, as I usually do, it doesn’t really serve any useful function, and obscures part of the map.

The controls at upper-left are for selecting an area of the map for downloading for offline use; I’d prefer to see those accessed from the menu, since you won’t be using those a good part of the time. The blue button at the upper-right moves you to successive screens, like the Compass and Trip Computer screens:


Figure 2: On the Compass screen,the outer dial of the compass can be rotated with your finger to get a bearing, but I don’t understand why there isn’t a simple digital readout that gives you your true compass heading without you having to spin the dial.


Figure 3: The Trip Computer is nice, though I’m hoping additional options will be added (e.g. time of day, distance traveled).


Figure 4: Selecting an area to download offline maps for is straightforward.  Press the “Sculpt Map” button at top right (the map square with the green arrow on it), then click and drag in the map area to select the desired map you want maps downloaded for. Click the map square with the red “X” to de-select the area, and start anew.


Figure 5: When you’re ready, click the folder-with red-arrow icon to download the maps; you’ll get this screen that lets you select what kind of maps to download, and what zoom levels. The higher the zoom level, the more detail the map will have.Download times will depend on the zoom level selected (higher zooms mean longer times), the map area (larger is longer), and the responsiveness of the map server. Some servers, like those for standard USGS topo maps and black-and-white aerial photos, tended to hang during the download.


Figure 6: When the GPS tracking is turned on from the main menu, the controls at upper left change. The red flag lets you record a waypoint at your current location, and brings up a screen that lets you enter waypoint parameters.


Figure 7:  But while you can change a waypoint position by modifying the coordinates, you can’t create a waypoint at a different location directly on the map screen, a major drawback.

The blue arrow (in Figure 6) brings your current position into the center if you’ve scrolled the map to a different location; the red button starts recording a track, and the blue button that appears during track recording turns it off again. In order to record any data, you have to have started a new trip file, or loaded a previous one, from the Menu => GPS Data options. There are instructions on the website on how to transfer a GPX file to your Android unit, and import that data into a trip file, but I was unsuccessful when I tried this – the import would just hang. And, as of yet, you can’t export data from this program into either GPX or KML format for use with other programs, which is a big minus.

Here are some examples of other maps available for viewing and download with this program:

US aerial Italian topo Canadian topo Australian aerial/road

Other Issues:

The biggest problem I ran into with this program was that it crashed pretty much every time I used it out in the field, invoking the “Force Close” error message. This is a big problem if you’re recording a track or other data, as you lose everything you’ve recorded up to that point. These problems can often be unit-specific, so you might have better luck with yours. There also doesn’t seem to be a way currently to delete saved files to free up space; one you download a map file for offline use, you’re stuck with it taking up space even if you don’t need it anymore. I’d also like to see alternate coordinate systems/datums as an option, specifically UTM, since it’s often used in mapping.

Final Thoughts:

There’s a lot of useful features in this program I really like, like the US color aerial photos, and the topo/photo data from other countries. But at least on my phone (Droid X), the regular crashing of the program renders it unusable; you should check it thoroughly on your system with the 15-day demo to make sure it doesn’t do the same. And the current inability to export tracks and waypoints collected with this program is a major drawback. From the publisher’s website, it’s clear that he’s working on adding more features and fixing bugs, and I’m sure this program will become better with time; I expect to revisit it in a few months to see how it has progressed, and may change my opinion of it. But for now, I can’t recommend it, especially at the current price; I’d recommend Topo Maps/Gaia GPS as a better and cheaper alternative for those in the US who only need topographic maps.