Sam Booth

Mapping Software Comparison: Viewing Maps

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For many people, simply viewing Ordnance Survey or Harvey mapping is all they want from their mapping software. But even this simple task reveals lots of differences between the best and worst systems.

Purchase options

There are two ways of gaining access to digital maps. The first is buying maps or map tiles outright, and the second, which is currently limited to Ordnance Survey mapping, is access by subscription, where you pay a monthly or yearly fee to retain your access to the maps.

Subscription options can be cheap when compared with buying tiles, but check prices carefully as there is a lot of variation. Some subscription options are surprisingly expensive (with 1 year costing ¾ of the price of buying national mapping outright) and some are surprisingly cheap (~£20 for the year).

The cheaper subscription options allow you to try new systems without a large upfront investment, meaning that you can jump ship after a few months if you’re not happy. With a subscription you obviously have an ongoing cost, but when you buy outright you don’t receive free updates to your maps, so there are pros and cons on both sides. Some people would argue that the hills don’t change much, but I still like having the latest maps. Maybe it’s a generational thing.

All the subscriptions I’ve seen give coverage across the whole of Great Britain, which is convenient for those times in the pub when inspiration strikes and you want to check out a new area without delay. When buying outright, most providers have made buying map tiles relatively easy, but it’s still an unwanted hurdle to accessing maps, especially when the system doesn’t remember your billing details.

Anquet only supports subscriptions. Mapyx, Memory-Map and ViewRanger all support buying tiles and access by subscription, although the subscription option on Mapyx has a few quirks and in my opinion it works best when you buy tiles outright. The main problem with the subscription service is the speed at which it loads new areas, which is slow compared with all the other systems reviewed, but there are also a few other quirks which are covered in my detailed Mapyx Quo review. It’s perfectly functional and I use it a lot, but Mapyx’s subscription options definitely have room for improvement.

When accessing the maps by subscription, Anquet and Memory-Map allow you to download areas for offline use, which is useful for viewing maps at an outdoor activity centre that’s connected to the internet via a metaphorical tin can on a string. Of course, if you buy tiles outright and download them to your computer, then you don’t need a high-speed internet connection to view them at all.

OS Maps is entirely web-based and only offers subscriptions, with no offline option on the web interface (the app is different). RouteBuddy is proud of the fact that you can only buy maps outright (and tells you more times than is necessary that it’s your responsibility to back them up regularly) and offers no subscription options at all.

Purchase option Anquet OMN Mapyx Quo Memory-Map OS Maps RouteBuddy ViewRanger
Perpetual license No Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Subscription Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Download map areas for offline use Yes No Yes No N/A (all offline) No

Map quality

Some publishers have started to offer high-definition Ordnance Survey maps, which I love. These are great for practicing or teaching micro navigation using a small area, as they can be enlarged without starting to pixelate or blur, allowing you or your students to focus on the fine details. They also look much crisper on mobile devices and tablets, which usually have higher-resolution screens than a typical PC or laptop.

Anquet and Memory-Map are the only providers that current offer high-definition OS Explorer and Landranger maps.

Surprisingly, OS Maps only provides standard definition maps, even though they own the mapping data! I don’t understand why they don’t make their best maps available to the users of their own product…

Map series available

The much-loved Ordnance Survey Landranger (1:50K) and Explorer (1:25K) maps are available from every provider. The Ordnance Survey StreetMap (1:10K) is also available in all the software covered, except OS Maps.

OSNI maps are only available from Mapyx, Memory-Map and ViewRanger, so that limits your choice substantially if you’re NI-based.

Harvey maps, including the British Mountain Maps, are available from RouteBuddy, and on ViewRanger they are available on the mobile app but not on the web interface. If you’ve not come across Harvey maps before, then check out this comparison of OS and Harvey mapping. I find Harvey mapping to be excellent, especially in upland areas.

A notable mention goes to OS Maps for the other maps available on their system, including the Greenspace map which is very useful for finding training areas for groups in unfamiliar areas, and new inspiration for local dog-walking routes. Details can be found on my full OS Maps review

For international maps, Memory-Map, RouteBuddy and ViewRanger look to be your best bet, but this isn’t an area I’ve researched in much detail.

Map Series and Viewing Maps Anquet OMN Mapyx Quo Memory-Map OS Maps RouteBuddy ViewRanger
OS Landranger (1:50K) Yes (HD) Yes (SD) Yes (HD) Yes (SD) Yes (SD) Yes (SD)
OS Explorer (1:25K) Yes (HD) Yes (SD) Yes (HD) Yes (SD) Yes (SD) Yes (SD)
OS StreetMap (1:10K) Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
OSNI Discoverer (1:50K) No Yes Yes No No Yes
OSNI Activity (1:25K) No Yes Yes No No Yes
Harvey British Mountain Map No No No No Yes Yes (app only)
Harvey SuperWalker No No No No Yes Yes (app only)
Aerial imagery No Yes Yes (opens in web browser) Yes Yes Yes
Other GB Maps No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Other International Maps No Yes (Ireland) Yes No Yes Yes

Web maps and aerial view

The OS and Harvey maps are great when you’re in the hills, but they are difficult to read in dense urban areas, and don’t offer the wealth of up-to-date information about businesses and facilities that modern web maps do. The OS map would show you that a pub exists, but Google Maps would tell you how late they serve food and how to contact them. It’s also sometimes useful to view aerial or satellite imagery when you are planning a trip. For example, I find it useful for locating lay-bys and other parking spaces that aren’t shown on the map, but can be seen from overhead.

Anquet and OS Maps are the only software to ignore web maps altogether. If you had identified a location on an OS map and wanted to jump to that location in Google Maps (for example to get directions to the start point), you would need to add a waypoint, copy the lat and long coordinates, and paste them into Google Maps manually. I work in software development and take it from me that it would be extremely simple to provide an option to open a web browser with Google Maps centred at the right location, so it’s a shame that this hasn’t been done.

Mapyx Quo has a Google Maps button which opens Google Maps inside a separate window inside Quo. It has a useful “synchronise cursor” feature which draws crosshairs on the OS map as you move your mouse over the Google Maps window, letting you find exact locations easily. This works with the standard Google Map and with satellite view. You can even view Street View imagery inside Quo, which is excellent for spotting lay-bys or checking out unfamiliar road crossings for routes planned by DofE groups. This is my favourite implementation from all the providers.

Memory-Map and RouteBuddy have an option to open Google Maps showing approximately the same area as the mapping software was showing. This does not allow you to pinpoint specific locations very easily. One small benefit of opening Google Maps in a standard web browser window is that you are “logged in” to Google Maps, so any favourites or other custom places you have saved will appear as they normally would.

ViewRanger integrates a large variety of web maps directly into its main view window. The only problem with this is that the web map layer is presented as an unresponsive image and does not respond to clicks. So, for example, you can’t click on a business name to view opening hours and contact details as you usually would be able to. To me, this defeats the point of having a “web map” available at all!

Searching

There is a huge difference between the search features available in the best and worst mapping software. The worst has to be RouteBuddy, as its search feature only works if you purchase a set of UK road maps from 2012, for £19.99. I can’t comment on how well this works, because I couldn’t justify making that purchase for this review, and I doubt that many other people will be able to justify it either.

Then there are OS Maps and ViewRanger, which all have a single search box which provides a simple list of results. There is no filtering by type, or by area, and although the map will jump to the search result area, there is no quick way of adding your search result to the map as a waypoint.

Slightly better are Anquet OMN and Memory-Map, which lets you filter the search results to specific types of feature. On Anquet you can search for places, road names and postcodes. The options on Memory-Map are more granular and include towns, summits, woodland, and water features. Memory-Map also lets you double-click a search result to add it as a waypoint, which comes in handy.

The best search feature is available in Mapyx Quo. It lets you limit your search to specific feature type, or to a specific area, which is excellent for finding features that have a common name. Even better, it will draw your search results on the map with labels.

Other useful tools

Mapyx Quo is the only mapping software from the ones reviewed that lets you quickly and easily copy a coordinate to your clipboard. To say how basic this is, and how often I use it, I’m surprised that none of the others have this. Maybe my use-cases are not very common, like pasting into risk assessments or joining instructions for courses, but surely the idea of sharing a grid reference with a friend is fairly universal? You can achieve this fairly easily on OS Maps as well, as it displays the grid reference when you click on a point on the map, and it’s fairly easy to copy and paste it manually. On all the other software options, getting the grid reference for a specific point is a laborious process which requires you to add a waypoint, then edit the waypoint in order to copy the grid reference, before deleting the waypoint manually.

Mapyx Quo and Memory-Map also have nifty features to let you view multiple map scales or series at the same time. Mapyx lets you view an alternative map as a tooltip, and Memory-Map shows the two maps side-by-side with synchronised panning. I don’t use this feature very often, but it’s sometimes nice to have, for example when you’re planning a long cross-country route on Landranger (1:50K) maps but you also want to occasionally reference the Explorer (1:25K) maps to check whether there will be any walls in your way.

Remarks

To me there is no clear winner here, as each system has its own pros and cons, but Anquet, Mapyx, Memory-Map and OS Maps are all strong performers.

Notable mentions

Areas for improvement

Updates

Do you agree with my ranking? What features are most important to you? Leave your thoughts in a comment below.

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