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Archive for the 'waypoints' Category

Maverick: A Basic GPS Map Application

Application Name: Maverick

Description: Basic GPS mapp app

Publisher’s website: Code Section

Cost: Free lite version limited to 5 waypoints and one track;$5.95 Pro version removes those limitations.

Version/date reviewed: v.1.6.1  /  7-5-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.3

mav_qr

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


It’s nice to have GPS map apps with lots of features and capabilities, but these massive feature sets can sometimes make these apps harder to learn and use. Maverick has a somewhat more limited feature set compared to other GPS map apps, but its streamlined feature set makes it very fast, and easy to use.

mav_1

Default view when you start up is your current position, displayed in a Google Maps interface. Other map options include Google Satellite/Hybrid/Terrain, Bing Maps/Satellite/Hybrid, Wikimapia and Nokia/Ovi maps, accessible with the “Maps” button at upper left; you can also convert your own maps into a compatible format with the paid mapc2mapc utility. Online maps are cached for viewing when you’re out of network range. The zoom buttons (and zoom level) are conveniently located at the upper right, and are an improvement over the default zoom buttons for Google Maps.

The blue triangle represents the field of view ahead of you, as determined by the compass on your GPS. Unfortunately, this uses magnetic direction instead of true direction, so it can be a bit off (11 degrees for my location); I wish app writers would always use Google’s built-in function for correcting for magnetic declination.

If you scroll the map by dragging, a blue arrow will show up at left (visible above); tapping on that will bring you back to your current GPS location. This is a nice implementation of this feature.

Tapping on the icons below brings up a number of additional screen options.

mav_search

The Binoculars icon brings up a search screen.

mav_waypoint

The green flag icon puts a waypoint at the center of the screen; it also changes into a pencil icon, which you tap to bring up the waypoint editing screen above. Waypoints are saved in KML format, and can be exported for use in Google Earth and other apps.

The “yellow” checkered icon turns GPS on and off, while the icon at lower right turn GPS track recording on and off; you can also turn on track management using the Menu button. The button at lower left toggles between Map mode (the default) and access to three alternate data screens:

mav_compass

 

Compass view shows the direction your phone is pointing in; if you have a waypoint set as a destination (as above), it also shows you the direction to travel in to reach that waypoint, and the distance to that waypoint.

Mav_time

The time/track data screen lets you start recording a track, and the total time/distance/average speed along that track. If you have an account at GPSies.com, you can upload the track there.

mav_info

The final screen is a GPS info screen. Tapping on any of the data screens lets you choose between twenty different datasets for that screen (e.g. UTM coordinates, sunset, ETT, etc.), offering more flexibility in data display than other similar apps.

Final thoughts: Nice, clean, fast, simple GPS mapping app. The free version is definitely worth a look. However, I think the paid version is a bit overpriced at $5.95; apps like Locus and OruxMaps offer larger feature sets at a similar or lower price.




Locus, A GPS Mapping Application – Part III: Tracks, Waypoints And Miscellaneous

The final part of my review of the Locus map app for Android; here are links to Part I: Interface, and Part II: Maps.

The first thing you need to know about waypoints in Locus is that the program insists you assign them into named Categories; especially noticeable the first time you try to create one. I resented this initially, but have since decided that requiring this kind of categorization/organization is a really good idea. Waypoints can be added using the Points manager, normally accessible in the right toolbar.

waypoint_mgr

After choosing a Category, you get the waypoint list for that category, along with additional options at the bottom. From left to right, they are:

  • “+” – Create a new waypoint. You’ll be given the choice of your current location, the current map center, an address, coordinates, or (if you have the optional Locus Contacts free plugin), one of the contacts in your address book. Tip: If you want to use map center, you should turn off the “center map on GPS location” button (left button on bottom toolbar), otherwise the map can pop back to your current location. Then scroll to the location you want to place the waypoint, and bring up the Points manager.
  • Check mark – Selects/deselects all waypoints. Checked waypoints are visible on the map, unchecked waypoints aren’t. You can also turn on/off individual waypoint display by tapping directly on the checkbox.
  • Arrowed circle – Refreshes the list
  • Boxes with down arrow – Sorts the waypoint list by name or distance from your current location
  • “Grouped” boxes – Lets you filter waypoints by icon
  • Trash can – Deletes selected waypoints

waypoint_options

Tapping on a waypoint brings up more options:

  • Plot it on a map
  • Navigate to it
  • Edit/delete it
  • Send it to a navigation app (like Google’s Navigation); bring up the Google Street View if available; share it with compatible app; load it into either Locus’s built-in compass, or a compatible third-party app like GPS Status.

waypoint

When you add a waypoint with the “+” control, you’re only given the option to name it (default is coordinates). But once recorded, you can go back and assign additional info to the waypoint, including standard stuff like a description and custom icon; plus,  non-standard stuff like taking a photo at that location and assigning it to the waypoint, or reverse-geocoding the nearest address based on the waypoint’s coordinates. Not sure how well the Photo feature works – on at least one occasion, a photo seemed to become “disassociated” with its waypoint (may have just been a random glitch). Reverse geocoding, on the other hand, worked perfectly, though this will require an active data connection. You’ll get the same screen when you edit an existing waypoint.

 

icons

There’s a reasonably healthy default choice of icon graphics, but the app author describes a simple process by which you can use your own icon graphics for waypoints.

ar

Finally, the author has recently added an augmented reality (AR) plugin that will superimpose a waypoints name/icon and “radar screen” on your Android unit’s camera view. My screenshot utility doesn’t capture the camera view, but just imagine a real-world view substituted for the white above. The radar screen shows the waypoint, but it’s so small and indistinct that it’s difficult to pick out. The Free version limits you to one minute of AR view; the $5.50 Pro version makes this unlimited.

track_tb

For tracks, you have two options: either record your current movements as a track, or draw a track on the map screen. Both options are accessible from the right toolbar. If you choose to record your movements as a track, you’ll get a new toolbar at the bottom that lets you Start/Pause/Stop track recording …

track_info

 

or pull up an info window with current track statistics.

data_manager

By default, tracks are saved with the current date and time, and there’s no way to change that immediately. However, if you go to the Data manager above (accessible from the top toolbar), you’ll be given the option to manage/edit your tracks. This Data manager also lets you create/edit/delete categories, gives you direct access to the Point manager for handling waypoints, and lets you Import/Export data in GPX or KML format. If you choose Tracks …

track_list

You’ll get a list of all the tracks stored in the app. Unlike waypoints, tracks aren’t assigned to a mandatory user-definable category, but are instead assigned a Locus-specific category that you can change. The controls at the bottom are the same as for waypoints, except for the missing “Add” option, not relevant here. Checking/unchecking a track determines whether it’s visible or not on the map display. Tapping on a track name brings up options to show a stats screen, export it directly as a GPX or KML file, show it on the map, delete it, or edit it …

edit_track

 

One of the biggest advantages of Locus over OruxMaps is the customizability of waypoint icons and track colors. OruxMaps only has one waypoint icon, and while you can adjust the overall track color and width, you can’t specify different colors/widths for different tracks. Locus starts out with more waypoint icons, lets you add your own …

track_pic

and also lets you specify different colors and widths for individual tracks, making them easier to identify on-screen.

draw_track

The right toolbar also has an “Add track” button that lets you draw a track on screen, and then save it. Pressing this button brings up another toolbar to help with this function. The “+” button adds a track point at the current center map position, and the “-“ button removes the last track point added; the green check finishes the process and saves the track, while the red “x” aborts it. The center button, with the “right turn” logo, is interesting. If you specify two points on a track, the start and stop, then press this button …

route_options

… you’ll be given the option to automatically generate a routed track between those two points, for various forms of transportation. When you choose the desired transport …

routed

You’ll see the route plotted, along with the direct-line connecting the start/stop; saving the track will only save the routed track, not the direct line.

Other issues: Apart from an occasionally-stubborn Bluetooth GPS connection, which could be resolved (see Part I), didn’t have any serious problems with the app.

Final thoughts: There’s no question that Locus is an outstanding Android map app. It works as it should, the interface is clean, map selection is good, and feature set is solid. In some aspects, like track/waypoint management, it’s vastly superior to OruxMaps; on the flip side, OruxMaps has a more customizable interface, and it’s easier to add additional online map sources to it. The one feature where OruxMaps is clearly superior to Locus is in your ability to add your own digital map imagery for viewing in OruxMaps; this is a feature I need all the time, and one not currently well-supported in Locus. Fortunately, with free/cheap versions of both apps, I don’t have to choose; I can see myself switching back and forth between the different apps on a regular basis, depending on what my current needs are. You’d be crazy not to have at least the free version of Locus on your Android unit (OruxMaps, too), and probably ultimately coughing up the $5.50 Pro registration fee to get rid of the ads.




Locus, A GPS Mapping Application – Part II: Maps

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

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

 

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

 

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

locus_mm_0

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

locusmaps_2

 

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

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

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

select_option

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

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

select_area

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

map_points

 

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

zoom_levels

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

change_type

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

user_maps

 

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

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

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

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

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

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




Locus, A GPS Mapping Application – Part I: Interface

Application Name: Locus Free

Description: Display online/offline maps for your position; GPS track/waypoint display and recording; compass; more.

Publisher’s website: Locus

Cost: Free ad-support version; Pro version ($5.50) removes ads, and add some minor additional functionality.

Version/date reviewed: v.0.9.28  /  3-15-11

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

locus_qr

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


I’ve reviewed two other apps that convert your Android unit into the functional equivalent of a handheld GPS unit. TrekBuddy I was less than overwhelmed with; OruxMaps I found to be terrific. I’ll spoil the surprise conclusion here, and say that Locus is not only closer to OruxMaps in quality than TrekBuddy, but gives OruxMaps a run for its money in some respects. In this multi-day review, I’ll compare Locus’s functionality to OruxMaps as appropriate. As with OruxMaps, Locus has so many features that I can’t cover them all, even over the next few days; look at the program’s website, and explore the Settings section, for more info on all of its functionality.

Interface:

locus_1

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

locus_4

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

locus_6

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

locus_5

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

locus_dm

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

locus_mm

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

 

locus_2

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.

locus_3

The available right-toolbar functions are:

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

locus_park

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

locus_compass

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

 

locus_6

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

locus_zl

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

locus_sz

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

locus_direction

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

locus_fov

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow: A look at maps in Locus.




GeoCam – Additional Features

Yesterday’s review of the Android app GeoCam  concentrated on its main features, measuring/recording position and orientation info. But it has a few cool additional features as well.

flag

In the lower right hand corner of the main display are flag and map icons. Tap on the flag …

Name

… and enter a name for that location; the position is now stored under that name.

flag_list

Go to the Geo tab of the Settings section, and tap on the multi-flag icon to get options for your saved “flags”.

flag_map

“View on Maps” displays the flag markers in a Google Maps view; you also get this by tapping on the Map icon on the main screen.

flag_map_marked

Tap on a flag to get its name.

list

The “View List” option lets you see all your saved flags; a long press on any item in the list brings up the option to delete them. The single flag listing in settings has the same function as the Flag icon on the main screen, to give you the option to record your current position.

flag

Where it gets really cool is that if you point your phone in the general direction of a flag, you’ll see its name and distance on the augmented reality (AR) display (note: you’d normally see the camera view as well, but screenshots can’t capture camera views, so you just see a gray background above).

distance_height

Under the “Geo” tab in settings, there’s also a compass icon; tap on that, and get options to measure distance and height. Unlike apps such as Smart Measure, which require that the object you’re measuring be on a plain, level surface at the same elevation as you, GeoCam uses GPS position data to get distance and height by triangulation. For distance, select the option, center the object in your display, and tap the display center. Then shift over sideways as long a distance as you can, center the object again, and tap the center. GeoCam uses the two GPS positions, and the two orientations of the phone when pointing at the object, to estimate the distance from the midpoint of the measurements to the object by triangulation.

The accuracy will depend strongly on how precisely you center the object, how far apart the two measurements are made, how far away the object is, and what your current GPS error is; the app won’t let you make this measurement if GPS error is larger than 10m. At short distances on level surfaces, Smart Measure is much more accurate, but its accuracy decreases rapidly as the object gets further away, and doesn’t work well at all on uneven surfaces. I tried multiple distance measurements with GeoCam, and with care you can get accuracy to within 5% or less of the actual value for objects about 50 meters or further away.

Once you have a distance to an object, you can use GeoCam’s Height function to roughly measure how tall it is from base to top. Select the Height option and enter the distance to the object in meters. You’ll then be prompted to point first to the base of the object and tap the screen, then the top of the object and tap; from the distance and angle info, GeoCam will calculate height. Didn’t try this too many times, and didn’t have good height info for my test objects in any case, but the values were at least within the ballpark of what I would have expected.

The author keeps adding new features, so it will be tough to keep this review up to date. One promised new feature will be the ability to export the flag positions as a KML file for use in Google Earth. But I’d love to see an import option for KML or GPX waypoints, so that you can load them in for use in the augmented reality mode. The ability to add a flag marker with a long press on the Google Maps view could also be useful.

In any case, given the current price (free), this is a must-have app, and the paid version is definitely worth a look as well.




Distances, Times and Bearings To Locations

Application Name: Distant

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

Publisher’s website: dixiak

Cost: Free

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

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

distant_qr

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


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

distant_1

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

distant_2

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

distant_3

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

distant_4

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

distant_5

… and also see it marked on the map.

distant_6

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

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

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




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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.




Turn Your Android Into A True Handheld GPS With OruxMaps – Part II: GPS Functionality

Continuing on from Part I yesterday …

GPS Functionality

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Figure 1: One feature I was excited to see OruxMaps had was integrated support for an external Bluetooth GPS unit; as I’ve posted about before, this has significant advantages for extending battery life and improving position accuracy. Unfortunately, I was unable to get it to work with my Bluetooth GPS unit; YMMV. The program really needs a special screen to help establish and confirm a good connection with the Bluetooth GPS. Fortunately, the excellent Bluetooth GPS app works fine with OruxMaps, so you can still use your external Bluetooth GPS unit even if OruxMaps built-in Bluetooth functionality doesn’t work. Hopefully, this will be addressed in future versions.

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Figure 2: Online maps can sometimes have positions that are offset from their true positions, by anywhere from tens to hundreds of meters. OruxMaps has a killer built-in calibration function, accessible from the Tweaks menu, that lets you correct for such an offset, improving the accuracy of your position as displayed on the map. You’ll have to reset this every time you start up the app, as it appears to only be good for your current session.

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Figure 3: To create a waypoint, just tap on the Create waypoint button on a button bar (the pushpin with a “+” next to it). You have the following options for input variables:

  • Waypoint name
  • Waypoint dropdown: lets you choose the waypoint icon from a preset list. No option yet for your own custom icons; I hope this comes eventually.
  • Description
  • Coordinates; default is your current position, but you can enter custom coordinates here (WGS84 datum only)
  • Projection: create a waypoint displaced from your current position by a certain distance and direction
  • Geocoding: supposedly does an online lookup of your current location, and then enters a corresponding geographic name. I couldn’t get this to work.
  • Extensions: lets you associate an already existing photo or video with the waypoint; you can also record an audio note, or enter additional text.

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Figure 4: Saved waypoints are accessible from the map view with Menu => Waypoints. Waypoints displayed in the list can be loaded into the map view with the Menu  => To map option.

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Figure 5: You can filter waypoints by type, distance from your current location (in km or mi., depending on the set unit system), date, or associated tracks. Only the filtered waypoints will then be loaded using the To map option. I do wish there was an option to select a single waypoint, or multiple waypoints, by checking them off on a list.

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Figure 6: To log a track, tap the Record track button (the icon with multiple green flags and a red record button); to stop recording the track, tap the button again, and it will automatically be saved in the track database with the date and time as the name. You can set the track color and thickness in the Settings section.

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Figure 7: You can access the tracks database list with the Menu => Tracks option, which shows when they were created, and their length. As with waypoints, you can filter this list to only display tracks within a certain date range or type. Unlike waypoints, though, you can choose a single track to load. In fact, you have to – one of OruxMap’s biggest drawbacks is that it can display only one track at a time. And if you’re recording a track, you can’t view a previously-saved track at the same time. Hopefully, this will be fixed in the future, so that you can display multiple tracks at the same time (and have them appear in different colors). On the plus side, if you load a track into a map, you can calculate the area enclosed by the track using the Menu => Tools option.

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Figure 8: One very cool feature for tracks is the ability to display statistics for that track …

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Figure 9: And plot parameters like altitude, speed and slope against either distance or time. If you have a compatible Bluetooth heartbeat monitor, it can plot that as well. Use the coupon code ORUXMAPS to save $5, and get the app’s author some affiliate revenue.

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Figure 10: Tracks and waypoints can be imported in either the GPX or KML formats. OruxMaps will use the OI File Manager if installed to select the import file, so it doesn’t have to be in a program-specific directory. This makes Dropbox a very convenient way to import data; just drop the files into your computer’s Dropbox folder, download them to your Android unit using the Dropbox app, then use the OI File Manager to navigate to the “dropbox” folder to select them for import. Similarly, lists of waypoints/tracks, or individual tracks, can be exported into either GPX or KML format; in this case, though, the default folder will always be the “tracklogs” subfolder of the main “oruxmaps” folder, and the filename will be automatically generated.

These are just some of the features; a look through all the menus (plus a look on the website’s help manual page) will reveal many more. The app is also actively being developed, and more features are added/modified all the time.

Tomorrow, a more detailed look at using online and offline maps with OruxMaps.




Turn Your Android Into A True Handheld GPS With OruxMaps – Part I: Interface

Application Name: OruxMaps

Description: Provides most of the functionality of a dedicated handheld GPS unit.

Publisher’s website: OruxMaps

Cost: Free (donationware)

Version/date reviewed: v.3.27  /  11-27-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

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


In the very first post on this website, almost four months ago, I argued that Android had the potential to displace dedicated handheld GPS units, like those from Garmin, Magellan, and DeLorme. Thing is, while I’ve posted many times on apps that perform a few of the the functions of a dedicated handheld, I haven’t yet written about a decent app that turns an Android unit into a full replacement for one of those; some come close, but the feature sets tend to be a bit slim. Now that’s going to change – this week will be devoted mostly to a review of Orux Maps, plus a few additional posts about how to take advantage of some of its advanced features.

Orux Maps is the first app I’ve reviewed that turns an Android phone into a serious functional challenger for dedicated GPS units. It’s not perfect, but if you forced me to choose between my current handheld GPS and an Android phone with Orux Maps, I’d pick the latter (but I’m glad I don’t have to choose). I’m not going to even have a “Final thoughts” section with recommendations; if you’re serious about using your Android’s GPS capabilities, this is a must-have app, period. But I will review some of its basic capabilities.

Because OruxMaps has a huge number of features, the review will be broken down into sections. Today, I’ll talk about the interface; tomorrow, external Bluetooth GPS, waypoints and tracks; and the rest of the week will talk about the online and offline map capabilities of the program. Yes, you can use maps on the app with and without an active Internet connection.

Interface

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Figure 1: Starting up the program brings you to this basic startup page. Browse maps brings up a list of pre-loaded offline maps (more on this later); selecting one of those loads the map, and centers the view on the center of the map. Actual location starts up the GPS, and if an offline map is available for that area, loads it in automatically. Online Maps starts up the map view with the last selected online map type. OruxMaps comes with a preset list of online map sources, including both the usual suspects (Google, Bing, Open Street Map), and some less-common ones (aviation maps, foreign topo maps). According to the website manual, you can add WMS servers to your list of online maps, but I had problems with that.

Settings lets you configure a huge number of options for the interface, units, mapping settings and the like. You can also access settings from the map screen, plus you have quick access to some of the more important settings from any map screen by using the menu button to select the Tweaks option.

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Figure 2: Here I’ve have selected Online maps, which defaults to the last online map service used (Bing Maps). The GPS is on, as indicated by the small GPS icon in the upper right part of the map view, as well as the altitude/speed/accuracy data in the dashboard at bottom. If the GPS were off, the dashboard would only show the coordinates for the center of the display and the map zoom level. Clicking on the satellite icon at upper-left turns GPS tracking on and off.

The first thing I tried to do with the program was create a waypoint, but I was stumped initially. There was no menu item for creating waypoints, and the icons at top, from left to right, are:

  • Turn GPS on/off
  • Change GPS acquisition mode (time/distance) to Default defined in settings), Fast (continuous time, 5 meter distance), or Power save (every 30 seconds / 80 meters).
  • Turn track acquisition on/off
  • Zoom map in
  • Zoom map to 100% (one map pixel = one screen pixel)
  • Zoom map out

But no waypoint creation icon – wha?! Turns out, though, that if you tap and drag the icons at top from right to left, additional icons will appear …

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Figure 3: These icons are (left to right):

  • Add a waypoint
  • Delete all waypoints and tracks from screen (does not delete them from storage)
  • View track/route waypoints (sometimes individual waypoints as well; this is a bit inconsistent)
  • Follow a route, unload it, or stop all navigation (including waypoints)
  • Go to a point, start of track/route, center of the map, or last GPS position
  • View track statistics (more on this tomorrow)

Three additional icons further off the screen let you select a map layer, go to the settings section, or start up the GPS Status app. OruxMaps doesn’t come with a satellite status/strength screen, but uses the GPS status app to display this info. You’ll need to have that app installed on your Android unit to use this function; if not installed, you’ll be sent to the Android market page for GPS Status to let you install it (it’s free). I’d prefer an integrated view in OruxMaps for this, especially one that displays coordinates in large font (so I won’t need my reading glasses).

A problem with this setup is that you may not need some of the functions defined by the icons, and having to scroll the icons in the button bar to reach one that you actually do use on a regular basis can be a pain. This bothered me until I discovered in Settings => User Interface

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Figure 4: … that you can customize the button bar to include only the functions you want, and create  up to four of them on-screen, each with its own set of buttons (duplicates if you like). To add a button, just tap on the icon in the center control screen, then tap the arrow button to add it to the corresponding button bar (left, top, bottom, right). You can remove individual buttons from a bar by tapping on them, or press “Reset” to remove all of them from every bar. You’ll need to exit the map screen and then restart it to see the new button configuration.

Elsewhere in the Settings => User Interface section, you’ll find options to set other map screen options, like customizing the GPS dashboard to show additional info, turning the scale on/off, making the butttons larger, etc.

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Figure 5: With multiple button bars and the dashboard, though, much of the map screen will be obscured.

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Figure 6: But OruxMaps has additional options in settings that will cause the button bars and/or dashboard to disappear after a few seconds, leaving the map view fully unobscured. You can also turn off the Android status bar at top to free up even more display space for the map. Tapping briefly on the map screen at the position of the button bar or dashboard will make it appear again. I do wish there was the option to have a specific button bar always visible, and others disappear, but for now it’s all of them or none of them.

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Figure 7: Unlike some map apps that only show maps in 1:1 pixel mode, OruxMaps lets you overzoom, making some of the finer details easier to see. For my area, Bing Maps has exceptionally high-quality aerial maps, at least 1-ft. per pixel or better, making it possible to spot very fine details.

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Figure 8: You should definitely check out the Tweaks section, available from the menu. This is a shortcut to a number of options also available in settings, but easier to access this way. Perhaps my favorite is turning Compass and View Angle on. Compass puts a small compass view at the top, showing which direction is true north (magnetic declination is automatically corrected for), while View Angle shows a small yellow wedge overlay indicating which direction the phone is pointed. You can also set the map display mode so that it rotates either in the direction the phone is pointed, or in the direction you’re moving. Additional tweaks include the option to change the position cursor color, and dim the display for use at night.

That’s it for Part I; Part II tomorrow will look at GPS functionality and recording waypoints and tracks.




Improve Android GPS Position Accuracy With GPS Averaging

Application Name: GPS Averaging

Description: Logs and averages multiple GPS positions to improve position measurement accuracy

Publisher’s website: GPS Averaging

Cost: Free

Version/date reviewed: v. 0.9  /  10-17-10

Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2

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


GPS determines position by analyzing signals from GPS satellites to figure out how far away they are. These satellites are in orbits that put them about 12,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, which can make their signal faint (and noisy) by the time they reach your Android unit. This noise can introduce some error into the calculated GPS position – the GPS receiver can have some difficulty analyzing a noisy signal. If the noise is random, you can improve accuracy a bit by averaging multiple position measurements, and that’s what the GPS Averaging app does.

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Figure 1: When you start up the program, it fires up the GPS; when a position is obtained, the “Start averaging” button is  enabled. Press that to start averaging …

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Figure 2: Display will show current position, and averaged position, along with the number of measurements. Degree-minute display only, unfortunately; wish the Babylonians had never come up with that system. When you’re done, press “Stop averaging” to stop the process.

The “shake the phone” tip might work if you’re in a wooded area with limited sky visibility, but I doubt it will help in open-sky situations

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Figure 3: Once completed, the average position will be displayed, and you’ll have the option of showing that position in Google Maps (Map button), creating a GPX file for that location (Export button), or sending the position to an app of your choice, like a Notepad app …

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Figure 4: Fortunately, the exported data gives the location in decimal degrees as well as degree-minutes. Way too many decimal places, though – it should round off to no more than the sixth decimal place, and you’ll be lucky to get five decimal places of accuracy

Keep in mind that this only helps with position inaccuracy based on a noisy GPS signal; it won’t help with other important factors like satellite geometry, ionosphere effects, etc.. See my previous posts on improving GPS accuracy for help with this. Since most built-in Android GPS receivers don’t have the WAAS system used to reduce position error, GPS Averaging will only help a little if those position errors are large. But GPS Averaging does work if you use an external Bluetooth GPS receiver, which does usually have that WAAS system capability.

Other Issues:

Trying to “Send” the data to the Springpad note-taking application didn’t work; it interpreted the exported data as a search command. But since it worked fine with every other app I tried, I’m guessing this is a Springpad issue.

Final thoughts:

You may get a bit of improved accuracy by using GPS Averaging, but it’s hard to quantify how much improvement you’ll see. It’s likely to be small, especially with a typical Android phone’s built-in GPS, since those aren’t capable of high accuracy to begin with. With an external Bluetooth GPS, it may be a bit more useful, but you still shouldn’t expect a huge improvement in accuracy. And you should keep other factors that can degrade GPS accuracy in mind.