Mapping Software Comparison: Introduction

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Introduction

I love maps, and because I’m a bit of a geek, I love mapping software too. It’s super convenient and it unlocks so many possibilities for using and exploring maps in new and interesting ways.

There’s a good variety of mapping software out there, but most people pick one and stick with it due to the relatively high cost of switching. There’s the financial cost of having to purchase map tiles or subscription packages, the mental cost of having to learn a new system, and the cost of the time it takes to transfer your library of routes from the old system to the new.

Despite that, I meet lots of people who would benefit from switching. The best options include crisp high-definition maps, an intuitive user interface and whizzy features like 3D flythrough and more. The worst software is slow and unresponsive, clunky to use, and some systems even lack an undo button.

In this article I’ll compare the different options available, and give my opinion on what works well and what doesn’t.

Context

This comparison is based on my personal requirements, but yours may be different. To help you to understand whether my view is relevant to you, here’s a bit about me:

  • I use a PC and have an Android smartphone, so if you use a Mac or an iPhone then my opinions may be less relevant to you.
  • I prefer to plan my routes on a PC, print them out, then put them in a map case to take on the hill. For shorter walks I’ll sometimes just use the app. I see the app as a companion to the PC application. If your main focus is the app, then your needs are different from mine.
  • I’m frequently involved with teaching and leading groups (eg. DofE), so features like viewing multiple routes at the same time, or being able to print small areas of the map at a very large scale, are important to me. But if you only walk for personal pleasure then some of these features may be less important to you.

Remember that you must have the appropriate license for your mapping software before you use it for commercial purposes.

A group of teenagers walking through a rocky patch of moorland. (click for full-size image)

Methodology

At first, I tried to write detailed reviews of every piece of software. But as I progressed, I realised that few people would have the patience to read everything, and the real value that I could give to people is the comparison between the different systems available.

I have finished and published my detailed reviews of OS Maps and Mapyx Quo, but I currently have no plans to finish the others. It takes a lot of time to edit the articles, get the formatting correct for publishing, and take all the screenshots and videos, and I’m actually a bit bored of mapping software after all this work!

I considered publishing a huge comparison chart, as many of the mapping software publishers have these on their websites, but these are generally biased towards showing their product in a good light (surprise surprise). But comparison charts are only useful if you already know what the features are and why you might need them. So my approach has been to provide small, focused comparison charts, alongside explanations of what the features are and why you might want to use them. I usually explain the most basic system first, then add detail to the explanation as I cover the other systems with more complex implementations of each feature. I also try to cover any oddities or unexpected pitfalls.

This comparison has taken around 100 hours to put together, and cost me several hundred pounds along the way. I paid for all the software myself and I am not affiliated with any of the publishers. If you find this article useful or if you just like what I’ve done, feel free to donate a few £ to help offset the amount I ended up spending! The idea for this article evolved organically and I only realised how much it would cost, once I had already become determined to finish it…

Coverage

I have included the following digital mapping software in this article:

I plan to update this article every so often, when publishers update their software. I’m also open to adding more software to this comparison, so if you think there’s something missing then please let me know in the comments down below.

Comparison

Click the links below to access the different sections of this comparison.

Viewing maps ➔

Viewing routes ➔

Editing and saving routes ➔

Printing ➔

Mobile apps ➔

Summary ➔

Technical details

All the screenshots are taken on Windows 10 at 1024×768 pixels. Most modern devices have much larger screens than this, but taking the screenshots using a smaller resolution helps to make the text clearer in this article, and slightly exaggerates any clutter on the user interface.

The Android screenshots are taken on a Samsung Galaxy S8, or Blackview BL6000, in portrait mode, and are resized using Photoshop to 50% of their original resolution.

This article was written in the period of time from November 2020 to February 2021.

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Categories Mapping Software Comparison

Comments

  1. Having seen your review mentioned on Facebook DofE Leader (UK) group, I was interested what it had to say about edofe mapping.
    Not covered (although a spin-off from OS Maps, I know).
    My subsequent testing seems to suggest that (pdf) printing from edofe gives poorer quality than from OS Maps (though file size is bigger so I may be missing something!)
    Thanks for the work
    Dave

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