Viewranger Mapping Software (Android & Symbian) Review

This review comes compliments of one of our regular followers on Twitter and Facebook, Tim Cooper aka @UKjeeper.

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Highlights:

  • Available for Android, IOS, and Symbian devices
  • Topographic map coverage for 12 European countries, New Zealand and USA
  • 1: 50,000 and 1:25,000 scales available.
  • Records routes.
  • NO 3g connection required, all data is stored locally.
  • Panoramic view
  • Buddy Beacon
  • Online tracking

What is Viewranger?

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Viewranger is a topographical (Ordnance Survey) map application for smartphones. Initially created for Symbian (Nokia) phones, but now expanded to Android and IOS devices.

I’ve been using Viewranger for about 4 years, on various devices including an Nokia N73, E90, N97 mini, N95, E71, E72, Samsung i8910, HTC Desire HD and Wildfire. My own devices, testing on work devices and or demonstrating it on friend’s devices (using the trial period software).

I do a lot of hiking, about 30 miles a week, plus trails like the Essex Way and St Peters Way, and I wanted to find a more up to date way of planning, tracking and recording my trails. I’d been using Memory Map on an old PDA, but just felt that it was lacking something.

Viewranger has brought me that. Although it may seem to be similar on the surface to Memory Map (both screens present an OS map with a red dot to show where you are) Viewranger has many more features and is more of a ‘stand alone’ product than Memory Map, which is reliant on a PC connection to add/export routes, maps, etc.

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Viewranger’s features:

1) Routes on the device. You can create routes on the device, but is a bit fiddly placing the waypoints accurately on a capacitive screen due to big fat fingers, especially if the screen is small. It’s easier on a resistive screen with a stylus. However I think this is a fault of all mapping solutions, not just Viewranger’s. Fortunately it is easy to import routes into the device. I use Where’s the Path to plan my routes and load them into the phone. Another option is to use the built in route finder. You can search for routes near to where you are and Viewranger will list the ones in their database (which is what The Gadget Show did recently). Some routes are paid for, but have descriptions and guides, some are free and provided by other Viewranger users.

2) Maps are stored on the phone. A major advantage over web based mapping solutions (Google maps, etc). No concern about requiring a 3g connection to see the maps, and no concern about an expensive data connection. However, if you need additional maps (if you come to the edge of your installed maps) you do have the option of downloading them direct to the phone, but that will require a data connection, either Wifi or 3g. Also, Buddy Beacon, a locator feature of Viewranger requires a 3g connection, but only sends a tiny amount of data.

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3) Record your track. Always been quite impressed with how well Viewranger manages to accurately position me via GPS. Maybe I just had phones with decent GPS chips, but my recorded trails have almost always been bang on. When I first got Viewranger I used to deliberately walk in small circles in Hatfield Forest just to try and confuse it. I failed! Exporting the tracks is fairly easy too. If you have enjoyed your walk, bike ride, etc you can even upload the .gpx file to Viewranger’s database so It can be browsed by others looking for places to walk.

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4) Geotagging/Geocaching. I swear my memory is bad and getting worse. Fortunately it’s hard for me to forget places I walked to and sites I’ve seen as Viewranger has the ability to create POI’s (points of interest) that are saved at that location on the map. Either geotagged pictures or a simple mark on the map with a note. These POI’s can be exported. Similarly POI’s can be imported. This is very useful as I sometimes like to look for Geocache’s while out walking. I import the POI from geocaching.com and it shows on the map with (when you touch the icon) a distance to cache marker, and link to clues online). I preferred the interface of the stand alone Trimble app (when I used to use it) as it gave more options, but using Viewranger to find your cache works very well.

5) Panoramic view. Where I live in Essex, there’s not too much to see on this screen as it’s all a bit…flat, but it actually gives a 3d panoramic view of the area round you. It must be great in Scotland and Wales! It used to be a manual operation using a left and right key to rotate the panorama and a bit of a faff to line up with your heading, but now its tied into the phones compass (if you have one!) its so much better. Any nearby POI’s will be shown with their direction.

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6) Buddy Beacon. Viewranger, as far as I know, is the only mapping software that has this option. Basically you can automatically (or manually) transmit your location to the internet. The most obvious advantage of this is that if you fail to return from your hike, bike ride, etc it makes it much easier to find you. Viewranger has ‘Buddy Beacon’ page, but it’s a bit lacking. All your beacons just appear as a disjointed jumble of dots. (however I have recently been told they’re refurbishing the site). A much better solution has been created the social hiking web page, joining all the dots into actual tracks so you can be followed by concerned parties. Both sites have a form of security if you have stalking concerns. Buddy Beacon requires a user name and pin, Social Hiking has the option to make the track ‘private’.

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The other use for Buddy Beacon is to keep track of other people you may be out with. You can view each others location on your screens, so if you get separated it’s easy to find each other.
Oh and you can even track your dog, using a Retrieva Collar!

How Viewranger compares to other OS mapping applications or devices:

As I mentioned previously I have also used Memory Map on a PDA. In fact for a while I was the sad looking bloke walking across fields with a phone in either hand comparing the 2 different systems!

I also have had hands on with stand alone devices such as Garmin’s, SatMap, Memory Map, etc. But I have found them slow to use(except for the Memory Map units, clunky and lacking in the features found in Viewranger.

The advantages that the standalone units have over a Viewranger equipped device is that they are (usually) of a more rugged construction (drop an IPhone 4 on the rocks?!), waterproof, and with a much better battery life.

However, with protection such as an Otterbox or Aquapac and a battery pack such as the Proporta 3400, you’ll have negated those advantages. In 4 years of hiking I’ve yet to break a smartphone, either by dropping or water damage. Or you could choose a ruggedized, waterproof phone such as the Motorola Defy.

Minus points for Viewranger (my ‘niggles’):

As I said at the beginning, I’ve been using Viewranger for about 4 years. Up until last month solely on the Symbian platform. As such, now I’m using the Android version of Viewranger I’m finding it lacking. The menu options aren’t as comprehensive as the Symbian version, the interface not as polished. Useful items such as ‘night vision’ (a dimmed map screen with red tint) and shortcuts on the main screen aren’t on the Android version. Yet. Neither is the panoramic view.

But that’s because the Symbian version has had several years of development, user feedback and growth. The Android version is less than a year old and is being updated with improvements frequently. If you were coming to Viewranger as a new user straight to the Android version, you’d be perfectly happy with the simpler layout and menu options. Conversely its been said that the Symbian version is too complicated (but I like it).

Also, I have found battery life on the Android OS to be less well managed than on Symbian, so you may need to invest in a battery pack for longer trails

Conclusion:

At the end of the day you are going to take your phone with you when you go out. With Viewranger loaded you’ll also have all your maps with you too.

Android Screenshots:

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Symbian Screenshots:

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Comments

  1. I use ViewRanger on my phone. Its a fantastic app. The Motorola phone sounds interesting.

  2. Useless app. Cannot even give you a bearing to a waypoint. Distance to waypoint is possible theoretically but not in a gale and rain on a mountain side.

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