There are some legacy devices I like -- but they are hard to find and often are expensive, among them the "eTrex 30x", the "eTrex Vista HCx" & "Oregon 400". The eTrex is slimmer and has more buttons and the "x" model also has a SD-card. The Oregon has a touch-screen and includes a micro-SD slot. If you want to quickly set way-points without browsing a screen, the older model with buttons is easier to use.
These devices can be quite expensive -- often costing >$300, or $250 for used one, in moderate condition. DO NOT buy old Vista (non-HC) models -- those lack USB and use RS232 and you have trouble connecting & uploading data.
With newer maps, you can prolong the life of your Garmin -- see garmin.openstreetmap.nl
While I dislike the high, monthly costs of the cell-phone plans and hate the built-in surveillance by Google, Apple & AT&T, I admit, the hardware of these phones has made a lot of progress and the price of some of them is tempting. For this project, I plan to use an ANDROID PHONE -- without a SIM-card (airplane mode) and without setting up any Google account on the phone.
At first, I will attempt to do this without rooting the device -- later, I want to kick-out some of the annoying (Google & Samsung) software and only a rooted device can do that.
WHICH DROID DEVICE IS THE BEST FOR THIS TASK ?
You cannot answer this question unless you specify some of the goals & constraints. This is my list :
- SD-card is a must (cheaper & more flexible than built-in memory) to enable side-loading of maps ==> that eliminates all iFruits and many new phones.
- SD-card doesn't have to be accessible from the outside -- I have no plans to pop-in a card from my camera
- replaceable battery is a very desirable feature but not a must-have ==> replace battery instead of entire phone once the capacity degrades
- shirt-pocket-size, nothing larger than 5" ==> inconspicuous & easy to carry, one-handed operation
- To avoid incompatibilities, the phone should be running at least Android V4.x -- there still are phones & MP3 players with Android 2.3
- Screen resolution isn't a major factor and 800x480 may seem outdated. To view maps & photos on a 4" display, this moderate resolution is sufficient and 260dpi isn't a bad resolution. For a 5" display, 1280x720 can do the job. It also improves battery life
- while I have little use for the "phone" portion, I will pick a GSM-phone just in case I have to make calls here or in Europe.
- Like every other phone, it also has a camera but that isn't going to be important to me.
- no 2 year contract or (mandatory) registration at a store
- I am willing to buy used phone -- 2...3 year old technology is not as outdated as you may think.
There were some contenders -- and first I looked at the mini-tablets & MP3-players. The expectation was those should cost less than a cell-phones but in many cases, they cost the same or more, while using an outdated Android OS and a mediocre screen. (e.g. Galaxy Player 3.6" & 4.0", likely has no GPS)
There were VERY ATTRACTIVE OPTIONS -- I dismissed them for their 5"...6" size. The $200+ price-tag for a 5" ASUS ZenFone 2 is tempting. Those phablets are useful for work but won't fit my shirt-pockets when I'm on vacation.
Many tablets boast about "location" they are careful not to mention GPS -- because they have none. That makes them ineligible for this competition.
You may come to other conclusions -- I like the price/performance ratio of a Samsung S3 Mini ($100, refurbished G730A, no contract, GSM unlocked world-wide, supports US & EU GSM-2G & 3G-frequencies, updated with Android 4.4) and that is going to be my starting point. I am supercharging this phone with a fast 32GB SD-card -- slow SD-cards ruin the usability and freeze the GUI for minutes when handling maps (I've experienced that myself)
Android V4.4 causes some problems : You will experience a known Android issue with the WRITE_EXTERNAL_STORAGE permission: Android V4.4 has changed the rules and from now on, no application can write to the SD card anywhere outside its new standard folder Android/data/[PACKAGE-NAME].
Software options listed here wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Android and wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Android_applications and from those want to find the one that suits me best.
- With my intention to stay out of the Google-verse, I also will need a tool with APK download from outside the Google store. The intrusive store & update-policy are two reasons I want to avoid it. My S3 demanded to install a new version and that ate a lot of my scarce memory. So I've reset the phone and never touched any Google app again.
Also, a rooted device cannot access that store -- I want to add my own HOSTS but can't do that on a stock phone.
- While I don't object paying for good software, I prefer a direct transaction, skipping Google's store
- Using offline maps on the SD-card has the highest priority for me -- OSMbased apps are the best options I've seen.
- Also desirable is a built-in / offline point-to-point routing & navigation feature -- again OSM-based apps can do that (limitations include length of the trip).
- There are several different map formats, some BMP, some vector-based. Not all apps support all formats. Vetor-based demand more CPU-power but zooming in is better and usually they are smaller (my investigation is ongoing)
- record the track in GPX & KML-format
- quick way to set waypoints and record photos & voice-memos from within the same app
- ROUTE PLANNING & driving directions: The phone would only be used for the point-to-point, single day trips while I would use the laptop to lay out the much longer roadtrip
GPS Essentials : It is "free" but the ads are very annoying. My goal is to stay out of the Google-verse but only there can you purchase the $5.30 add-on to switch-off the ads. Other drawbacks :
It can use maps while offline -- but those have to be inside the cache and that means you have to slowly cruise across the area of interest beforehand. That may not be a problem when you follow a predefined route. When you are on a spontaneous roadtrip without network, that cache-based map is useless. I have not yet seen an option to use a map from the SD-card and the app also cannot be moved there.
NAVIGATION & ROUTING : Offline routing is not available
CACHED MAPS -- there is only one (hidden) way to download a larger range of maps with a single click. It only works with MAPQUEST and after you select that as a source, there's a download button which will download the map shown on the screen plus the tiles for the next 6 higher magnification. To download all of California in detail, you still need to scroll around, download, wait 10 minutes, and repeat.
With a large cache, the tool becomes very slow and the OS often asks if the app should be killed because it is not responding. I decline, wait and after a long wait of several minutes, it usually comes back to life.
OsmAnd : Also is a seemingly free tool -- the limit is 5 maps you can download and the full version costs $6.00 payable via Google store.
The behavior was odd at times - and there is no manual control when or which map it will use. Besides the global map, I installed CAlifornia and that is very detailed. Also, I've downloaded the entire map for Germany and when I zoomed in, it wants to download yet another map for the local german state I was looking at. Same happens with France. What's the use of the large overview maps -- which now account for 1.2GB of data and 2 map downloads. There is a workaround to the download limitation -- it requires patience (manually download files from download.osmand.net/rawindexes using a PC) and some extra steps (rename, unpack, copy to SD-card)
NAVIGATION & ROUTING : Offline routing is one useful feature - 200...250km range is the limit OsmAnd can handle -- quote from FAQ : If the app does not show a route after 7-8 minutes of calculation time, it is worth to considering to place waypoints (pick e.g. places on motorways). Seriously -- 7...8 minutes
The app requires a GPS signal to plan a route and it starts at your current position. That's nice when you are driving a car but not helpful to plan days ahead of time.
Normally it keeps the display on permanently but you can send OsmAnd to the background (e.g. home or press power-button) and after that, the screen will power-off as usual & GPS still collects the track data. I HAVE NOT TESTED NAVIGATION IN THAT MODE -- voice commands are inaudible while driving and when I use navigation, I rely on the display.
OsmAnd also has the "Nanny-mode" enabled by default -- keeps nagging about exceeding speed limits even slightly. I didn't ask for that and on freeways everybody drives 5...10mph above the limit. Good luck finding the option to disable it -- it is there.
Locus : The free version is only available through appstores. (Amazon, Google & Samsung), the $7.50 PRO-version only via Google. No direct APK download from source I trust.
mapFactor Navigator free : It is a utility you can install on your PC and it doesn't download the Android software but it offers a simple interface to select and download free OSM maps.
The app is available only via the App-Store, no direct APK download -- there also is a free PC version for the PC and one for old Win-CE devices. The PC version is designed for touch screen and has the routing features & offline maps I want. Maps can be downloaded easily. There are separate maps for each state, only France & Germany each are sliced into 4 separate quadrants to keep the file-size down.
WAZE / Google MAPS : Even if I would drop the "No App-Store" rule, these still would have a hard time to qualify. Like other tools, they will use their persistent cache to store maps and therein lies the problem. The cache uses the (smaller) built-in memory, not the large SD-cards. And you need to browse the entire area of interest in high resolution BEFOREHAND. That's only practical on a city or county level -- not on a vacation / state-wide level. AFAIK there's an option to download the map to cover the area in a 10 mile radius -- happy scrolling even if you want to cover only a small metropolitan area. Impractical for a vacation / roadtrip.
And I want no part in the permanent surveillance Google imposes on the users of their products -- especially always-on Android apps.
GPS Essentials is out of the race -- it cannot pre-load the maps the way I want and it became extremely sluggish and crashed when I used large (cached) maps. and those covered only California -- I want maps to cover half of Europe !
LOCUS and others -- since I don't want to join the Google-club and burden my "phone" with even more updates and Google+, all these apps aren't accessible (except through dubious sources)
OsmAnd -- this app at first didn't woe me but it does a lot of the stuff I want and it thankfully hasn't the Google restrictions. Despite dire warnings, it is possible to shift the maps to an external SD card and use the PC to download new maps and add them to that directory. That step much easier than it sounds. HOWEVER I am not using any Android/Google/Samsung tools -- instead I plug that card directly into the PC -- a hurray for the memory slot and external card.
Galaxy S3 Mini (G730A) + 16GB SD-card -- you can setup OsmAnd to place data on the SD-card and if you use a fast card, the S3 can quickly redraw the map even when after you have installed a large number of maps.
The Open Street Maps are good and a combination of cheap phone + OSMAND can make for a good GPS tracker and map-tool. The NAVIGATION / ROUTING feature is another story. Tall buildings in San Jose & San Francisco caused GPS blackouts and navigation results with OSMAND were unreliable. Maybe if the antenna had been outside the car, reception would have been better.
In all, I would say the OSMAND-navigation can be useful for point to point navigation but it isn't capable of planning multi-day trips and optimizing long routes. The README even states limitations for distances exceeding 250km !!
In OSMAND, seasonally closed mountain passes are unavailable for automatic routing all year round -- if you trust the computer, it will send you on a 200+ mile detour. And there is no option to override this. OsmAnd isn't the only tool with this bug.
Another goal of my (re)search was to find a tool which would let me quickly record waypoints without many menus & clicks -- none of the apps I have tried can do that :-( . The winner in this category still is the GARMIN eTREX (without touchscreen).
NOTE : if you convert the OSM-maps to Garmin, you get excellent maps but you loose search & routing abilities garmin.openstreetmap.nl . Ony $$$ conversion-tools maintain that kind of information.
UPDATES 2019/02/12 :
It has been a long time since the last update and I have been using OSMAND ever since. But I have switched from the very compact Galaxy S3 Mini to the much bigger MOTO G4. The deciding factor for the Moto G4 was better support for 4G & LTE and foreign providers while traveling. A 5.5" display is bulky in a pocket but offers a bigger view of the map while navigating.
The MOTO G4 has a more up-to-date Android release -- and that has frustrating limitations when it comes to SD-card access and data-exchange. But one can work around those.
And after some time, I got used to the massive size of the phone -- I still prefer something in the 4.5...5.0" range. Given the features, excellent compatibility domestic & abroad (including Japan) and the low price, that phone was a great pick.
SOME OSMAND DISAPPOINTMENTS : During the visit to Japan, issues displaying local street names were a problem. In Japan they use the same characters as in chinese alphabet but they are pronounced differently and have different meanings. OSMAND apparently used a chinese translation to convert japanese to english conversion of street names. That occured even when I disabled automatic conversion. Street (english) name shown in the map would not match the (english) name shown on the signs.
OTOH, the maps did correctly show the streets and I could use it to record my tracks and for navigation.
SOME OSMAND DISAPPOINTMENTS : Searching for addresses in US cities also proved to be problematic -- especially when you wanted directions to a very specific address including house number.
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