Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Android GPS Apps - Part 2

GPS Apps on Google Play
Do Android tablet GPS actually work or is it simply better to use a dedicated GPS?  I used time travelling between two cities to experiment with a few of the apps I downloaded and mentioned a few weeks ago - read about the few apps I downloaded.

The apps I randomly tested throughout the day included Maverick, MapMyHike+, My Tracks by Google and Androzic.
My primary test was mapping, tracking and export capability of each application.
My device was the Google Nexus 7 (4.1) with a wifi connection to a 3G personal wifi device.  All applications relied on a data connection to download the maps.  I did not test the offline capability.



Mapping:
The clear winner in this category was Maverick. It had the best mapping options, which included Google, Open Street Maps (Mapnik), Bing and Wikimapia (Ovi/Nokia maps).
MapMyHike+ & My Tracks used the Google Maps.
Androzic used OSM but also had the option of using imported maps like topographical.  The app defaults to OSM whenever it can't find a local imported map of the area.

Tracking
I tested MapMyHike+ and Maverick simultaneously switching between the two apps when it was safe to stop driving. Both apps where accurate during the whole test and recorded and displayed the track in realtime.  The plus factor goes to Maverick for it's ability to save locally whilst I felt the MapMyHike+ application stalled when I attempted to upload the finished track with poor 3g connectivity and I felt that I had lost track data.  Once online, I was proved wrong and the MapMyHike website had successfully recorded my track.
MapMyHike+ website information
My 2nd test was with the My Tracks application by Google which lasted 11.97km before Android reported the application had failed.  It did successfully manage to keep track of my position which I could view via the app or online.

Androzic seemed to be working well and kept displaying a message that it was tracking me.  A neat purple breadcrumb was being layed down as I drove.  Unfortunately I can't seem to get the app to display my previous track so I have no history of it.

Exporting
Exporting your track is a must have as it gives you the ability to overlay all your tracks in a single application or website.  This, in my opinion, is important as it allows you to see your historical information and grade the tracks for future reference.

My Tracks has a few neat export features - send to Google Maps, Google Docs or as an image file.  I liked the Google Docs format as it inserted the track information neatly into a spreadsheet with a link to Google Maps.
My Tracks by Google - Export feature
MapMyHike+ was already exported to the online tool which is very neat.  Keep doing trips and your history will be neatly displayed including average distance vs average time. Total distance per day, per week etc.

Maverick exported to a GPX file which was the only app to do this.  The benefit of this is the ability to import it into any online tool (GPSies, MapMyHike) or offline mapping tools like Google Earth.

Conclusion...
Are Android based GPS applications good enough to provide you a reliable service or is it better to have a dedicated GPS device?
I am going to be very neutral on the answer on this one and simply say that if you need reliability and accuracy especially in remote areas with no mobile data coverage, then the best solution is still a dedicated GPS device.  If you want the flexibility to switch between maps, use alternative apps and will always be in a mobile data area, then an Android based GPS application will work relatively well.
Best scenario - have both!  That way you will have an accurate GPS track for historical reviewing and you will have the flexibility of alternative applications.