Osmand is a navigation app built around OpenStreetMaps. It’s main feature is the use of offline map files and this makes it the perfect adventurer’s companion.
The map display
Where many other apps follow Google’s design of displaying roads as thin white lines on a light grey background, Osmand takes a traditional approach by using a theme that closely resembles the official German road-atlas. This theme is designed to be as easily readable as possible. It’s high contrast and different road and area types are clearly identifiable. Different styles can be chosen in the config menu and by editing xml-files it’s possible to create your own as well.
Osmand’s interface is simple to use, although it takes some getting used to, The settings screens are a mess however, being split over different parts of the app. There is some logic behind, but even after three years of using it I still find myself clicking everything in order to find that one setting. Customization isn’t Osmand’s strong. There are some options like light/dark-theme and displaying certain info in a certain corner of the screen, but to take for example the GPS info and move it from the right to the left corner is not possible. It’s only a detail though and is easily overshadowed by its features.
The fact that Osmand is designed to work offline is what distinguishes it from the rest. It only uses an internet connection for downloading new maps, or when using certain plugins. Other features range from calculating directions to real-time recording of GPX-tracks and editing the OSM maps directly. Through the use of plugins it also features heightmaps/hillshades/slopes, nautical maps, online maps like Microsoft Earth and OpenTopo and many more.
When it comes to the calculation of routes Osmand provides different profiles (i.e. car) and it’s possible to create new profiles as well. By editing the XML files it’s even possible to create a whole new routing system, which for example would prioritise unpaved roads. This is a very nice feature for tour-cyclists as being stuck on roads with a lot of traffic is even worse than working at a call-center.
The performance in calculating routes isn’t the greatest, especially when compared to Google Maps. But we have to remember that Osmand does all the calculating locally on the phone instead of using a remote server through the internet. For this it’s quite impressive!
Using OpenStreetMaps as base is both a blessing and a curse. OSM is a community project. It’s people like you and me that slowly define the map. As such, it has information on many things where Google Maps is lacking, but which can be very useful. An example is the marking of water sources, from a spring to a public tap. Churches, cemeteries, gas-stations, bakeries, markets; it has all the info if someone put it on the map. Now in the crowded parts of Europe it has an abundance of information. Here in Greece information outside the touristic areas can be limited and for the small villages in the hills it often knows only the name. So taking Osmand as the only map for an unsupported tour through Mongolia might not be the best idea for now.
- (can I make this blink?! Yup, I can :D )
- OpenStreetMaps. Google Maps might have more detail, but open source projects are the future.
- Customizable route calculation and map theme.
- Every feature you can possibly want.
- OpenStreetMaps. Being a community project it lacks information in areas that are less developed.
- Route calculation is done offline, so calculating the quickest non-motorway route from Paris to Moscow is just not going to happen.
I really like that for once there is a map that isn’t targeted only at car drivers and permanent internet connections. I can use it offline, and the program doesn’t care how often I update the map (Google Maps requires you to update the downloaded area every month, and simply deletes it if you don’t). Being an OpenStreetMaps based application actually saved my life when I was stranded in an arid mountain area as someone marked the location of a spring on it. With Google I wouldn’t have made it to the next day.
I would recommend this to any traveller, whether by foot, bicycle, car or public transport. I definitely recommend it to hikers and adventurers. People who need accurate and fast route calculation from one address to another can best upgrade their mobile data plan and stick with Google Maps.