A brief and simple comparison of Viewranger and OSmaps

A brief and simple comparison of Viewranger and OSmaps

A QMD publication

Bill Fear 2020

These views and opinions are my own and are not representative of, or linked to, any organization or group

Viewranger and OSmaps are roughly equivalent geographical mapping software systems available on computers and mobile devices. Viewranger is a commercial platform and OSmaps is owned and run by a UK government agency. For this comparison only the UK mapping provision is considered.

Both systems can be run on a home computer or a mobile handheld device with, in principle, the same level of functionality across platforms and devices. Both systems make the OSmaps maps of the UK available for more or less the same annual subscription fee. The systems allow the user to view the maps, plot routes, save routes, and to track their actual movement across the ground in real time. Saved routes can be exported out of the systems and imported into the systems. Routes can be edited within the systems. There are the expected lookup and search functions to find locations. Both systems have inbuilt ‘navigational aides’ such as compass bearings and direction of travel indicators.

In terms of differences there are some minor, but important, differences between the two systems that are amplified when in comes to route planning and ‘desktop recce-ing’. There are also some substantial failings in both systems with regard to the same.

Advantages and failings of each system

OSmaps

  • Less stable than Viewranger. Regular problems with saving routes, accessing saved routes, accessing downloaded maps. Takes a long time for these problems to be resolved (days or even weeks or longer).
  • Can download electronic copies of full map purchased. E.g. if I buy a paper OSmap I can download the full electronic version. However, this function has failed for months with downloaded maps unavailable.
  • Can’t upload a set of single points/locations. E.g. I can’t upload five distinct grid references as individual, unlinked, locations to view on a map.
  • Can’t plot a set of individual points (as grid references/locations/etc.). E.g. I can’t plot five distinct grid references as individual, unlinked, locations to view on a map.
  • Can’t plot a route with variations. Only plots from last point to next point.
  • Does give grid reference. You can mark a single point and get the 12 figure grid reference for that point.
  • Can’t search for a grid reference.
  • Does give distance, assumed time, height gained and lost, etc. for a route.
  • Can zoom in more on the map and enlarge the map more than Viewranger. For example, I can zoom in to see the wall marked in the map at the Bealach Coire Giubhsachan. I can’t do this on Viewranger as it won’t zoom in that far.
  • Good arial views including 3D aerial views. Easy to switch between map and arial views.
  • Can’t download a map of the route. I can’t plot a route and download a map of that route. It will show if I have the set of maps loaded into a GPS device if I transfer the GPX file.
  • Can download others’ routes for free if they allow it.
  • Can set own routes as ‘public’ or ‘private’.
  • Can import and export GPX files.
  • Can use on a mobile handheld device such as a smartphone or tablet.
  • Can track route on a mobile handheld device.
  • Can use as a ‘live’ system on a handheld device with GPS enabled including accessing map from the system in real time.
  • Unusable for any viable length of time on a mobile handheld device due to battery usage.

Viewranger

  • Stable system and platform with no related problems. But this comes with a distinctly commercial ‘feel’ and a lot of commercial ‘gimmicks’ that don’t add value but are popular with technophiles.
  • Can’t upload a set of single points/locations. E.g. I can’t upload five distinct grid references as individual, unlinked, locations to view on a map.
  • Can’t plot a set of individual points (as grid references/locations/etc.). E.g. I can’t plot five distinct grid references as individual, unlinked, locations to view on a map.
  • Can’t plot a route with variations. Only plots from last point to next point.
  • Doesn’t give grid reference when dropping a pin in a single location and marker points don’t give grid references.
  • Can search for a grid reference.
  • Does give distance, assumed time, height gained and lost, etc. for a route.
  • Can’t zoom in to same extent as possible on OSmaps.
  • Good arial views but not superior to OSmaps.
  • Can download map of route. I can plot a route and download the map of the area covered by the route. This has its advantages and uses but facilitates deskilling. (Loss of overview and bigger picture locating route in wider country.)
  • Can download others’ routes for free if they allow it.
  • Can set own routes as ‘public’ or ‘private’ or set a credit value on them (credits used for in-system purchases only).
  • Can import and export GPX files.
  • Can use on a mobile handheld device such as a smartphone or tablet.
  • Can track route on a mobile handheld device.
  • Can use as a ‘live’ system on a handheld device with GPS enabled including accessing map from the system in real time.
  • Unusable for any viable length of time on a mobile handheld device due to battery usage.

Summary of advantages and failings

For the serious user I would have to put OSmaps as a superior system at this point time, were it not for the poor operational quality and the amount of time it takes to resolve problems. This is down to the quality of viewing – zooming in to detail, switching between maps and arial views, grid references – especially for desktop planning (when it works). The limited zooming-in on Viewranger means that important details that are visible on a paper map are not replicated on the system. The lack of a grid reference for marked points is also a substantial failing. However, in terms of functionality and ease of use Viewranger is slicker and problem free. These distinctions are critical for any grown up serious about being outside in ‘remote country’. They are pretty much irrelevant for anybody who walks on Public Rights of Way and keeps to the lower ground.

With regard to use on handheld devices, there is no doubt that Viewranger is a slicker application and the option to download a map of a plotted route is a substantial advantage. However, both systems are unusable in real time in open and remote country due to:

  1. Battery usage;
  2. Limited coverage/view of country.

With respect to 2) OSmaps has a substantial advantage, if it works, as you can download copies of purchased maps. However, at the time of writing this provision has failed with no fix in sight.

Expanding further on point 2), it is possible to view the entire system of maps in real time on a handheld device (in both OSmaps and Viewranger) but this exhausts battery life extremely quickly, as does tracking a route.

In either case it is hard to credit that the average grown up outdoors person who challenges themselves in open and remote country would make substantial use of either system on a mobile device. A mobile phone especially is part of one’s emergency equipment and battery usage is always kept to an absolute minimum. In addition to this, attempting to move across open and remote country while staring a small digital screen defeats the object absolutely. Furthermore, reliance on handheld navigational aides leads to substantial deskilling if relied on other than in discrete and exceptional circumstances.

6 thoughts on “A brief and simple comparison of Viewranger and OSmaps

  1. Hi, I think it would be helpful if you provided a bit more information on the devices/platforms your experience is from, or what sources you are using to guage the wider user experience. For example, as a regular user of osmaps on ios devices (iphones/ipads) and Macs, I have not had any difficulties with downloading maps including the feature to download a map for a route. With maps downloaded I often use the app in airplane mode which significantly saves on battery life. However, I tend to only use for occasional double checking of location compared to paper map.

    Hope these comments help.

    1. Totally agree. I have no issues with battery life for either of these apps. My phone is 3 years old now too. Once or twice I’ve followed the phone totally on a new route and still not had issues with battery.

      1. Thanks to all for comments so far. Unfortunately I don’t seem to be able to make a general comment – but it may be because I haven’t used the system for a while and forgot my way around! It is always interesting to hear peoples’ views and thoughts, their arguments for and against and so on and so forth. For my own part I think electronic devices have a role to play. I don’t think that if used sensibly there is really anything to choose between, in my post, OSmaps and Viewranger other than Viewranger is more reliable but overcomplicated. This in turn seduces the user into a reliance on the device. Advocates of technology, and those with a vested interest, will of course argue otherwise. I carry a GPX device (Garmin 64ST) and I have Viewranger and OS maps and OSlocate on my phone. I don’t use them (other than using OSlocate or the GPX to get a GR when I am feeling lazy, or tired, or fed up and under time pressure). I dont’ use them because I value my Navigational ability, my mountain sense, my sense of direction, my ability to read map-to-ground and ground-to-map and I don’t want to degrade those skills and abilities I worked so hard for so long to develop. Sure, as I said, when I’m lazy or under time pressure etc. I will resort to finding a GR electronically but I know I’m being lazy and taking a risk that I will become reliant on the device. That, in simple terms, is the basis of my argument and comparing Viewranger and OSMaps is simply an exercise to try and determine the various pros and cons and merits and demerits of each one. Incidentally, I can plot routes on my laptop and upload them, I can download them, and I can plot them on my phone and on the Garmin. I have all the software and can translate routes plotted on OSmaps into routes than I can load onto the Garmin etc. etc. etc.

  2. The single fix option for automatically disconnecting the gps after a fix has been found dramatically reduces battery usage. Ive used this cycle touring using offline downloaded tiles of open cycle maps and it performed flawlessly. I simply clicked the location button when i needed a fix, the rest of the time gps and data were off, this extended battery life enormously. In my opinion this feature is the reason i would choose Viewranger over other apps.

  3. I am a Mountain rescue team member and Mountain Instructor and have directed many Mountain Leader assesment courses
    I use viewranger on my mobile all the time and much prefer it to a paper map.

  4. Interesting post, but not sure I agree with the conclusion. I use viewranger for walks all the time, my battery easily lasts all day ( MotoG6) and I much prefer using my phone to paper maps. Staring at a screen whilst traversing open country is the same as staring at a map whilst traversing open country. As for deskilling, thats true but also what they said about the abacus, making fire with sticks and using the North star to navigate a ship. 🙂

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