Android Mapping Apps

For our trip to Sikkim, I would like students to have a way to map our progress on their phones so that it can be displayed on our website. I’ve spent a bit of time looking at various Android apps (I don’t have an iPhone) and have some thoughts about how to do this; here are my notes, intended mostly for the students but also potentially for other people looking to do something similar.

Offline Map Display

Most mapping applications rely on a continuous data feed, which will not be available to us in Sikkim. So, what applications offer offline viewing?

Google Maps allows downloading of areas for offline use. Here are the official instructions for doing so. The Sikkim area takes about 500mb of space so be aware of that.

OSMAnd is an interesting alternative. It is mostly designed for offline use. If you buy the countour Lines Plugin for $1.99, you can add topographic map contour lines to your map, which is pretty cool. I kind of love it myself, and it’s what I’ll be using. The interface is perhaps a little less intuitive than the Google Maps interface, but I’m getting used to it. You will need to download the world base map, as well as the detailed map for all of India (if you have enough space on your phone) or the information for Sikkim only (if you don’t have enough room). The contour map is a separate download, and to be able to use it, you will need to purchase the plugin linked to above.

The free version of the app allows only 7 downloads in total, but we shouldn’t need more than that for our trip. I myself bought the full paid version but that shouldn’t be necessary IIUC.

Data Storage

If your phone supports the use of a removable microSD card (most do, mine doesn’t), I would highly recommend buying one. You can get an 8gb card for $4.99 at Canada Computers on College St, and that will give you plenty of space for everything you want to put on it. Buy it before you install the app, so that you can choose to store your data on the card rather than the phone’s internal memory.

GPS Tracking

It’s nice to have a map on your phone, but most of the time you won’t be using the map at all. The real reason for this post is that we’d like to place at least one of you on “backup tracking” duty every day of the trip. For this you need some kind of tracking software, which can generate files in either .gpx or .klm format; and you also need a way to get the data out of the phone and into one of our tablets for writing.

There are a number of apps that let you do this. OSMAnd+ (see above) lets you create gpx tracks, though it doesn’t let you rename or share them direcly, which is a bit of a pain. Here are some alternatives:

GPS Logger is a very simple, lightweight app that only records gpx/kml tracks for you. It doesn’t display a map or anything. Its main advantage is that it doesn’t use much energy compared to other apps.

Geo tracker is a pretty user-friendly app. Unfortunately it can’t make use of OSMAnd’s downloaded maps so I’m not sur what the display will look like when you don’t have any data.

There are http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Android#Track-making_features]][zillions of other apps]]. Hopefully one of the above works for you but if not the Open Stree Map wiki is likely your best bet.

Getting your data out REVISED

Unfortunately our tablet doesn’t support NFC!! So you will need to transfer your files manually onto a USB thumb drive. To do this you will need a file manager. There are lots of them; you can find lists here and here. I don’t like any of them all that much but they should work, at least a little. If you have a brand-new version of Android you can also use the built-in file manager. In general it’s something of a pain, hopefully we will only be doing that for a few days when we’re completely off the grid.

NEW: I had a lot of trouble with most of the file managers, and ended up installing ES File Explorer. Now I’m able to move files easily onto an external thumb drive attached to my phone with an On The Go cable (I’m bringing 2 so we should be fine on the trip). Note that some users have reported concerns about personal data being stored on Baidu, the Chinese Google. If you have anything on your phone that you don’t want the Chinese government to know about, you may want to consider another option.

However: ES File Explorer is MUCH less painful than other options. With “ES Save To”, you can save files directly to an external USB drive attached to your phone, which can then be transferred easily to a tablet or compter.

It’s still a pain to locate your .gpx files.