I’d be royally lost without the Ordnance Survey (OS) Maps app. That’s not because I can’t read a map, but when doing a 3,500-mile hike, I’d be toting more paper than a newspaper boy. And I’d be about as skint as one, too.
I will admit going totally digital was as terrifying as running out of chocolate supplies. Well, nearly. But it made sense. Not only would buying maps require me to be a millionaire, I’d have to be organised enough to have pre-plotted my route when I found maps to purchase. I am most definitely neither. So after 450 miles of paper maps, I crossed to the dark side and reluctantly went digital.
And to be honest, I never looked back. Except when I was daydreaming and missed my path…
OS Maps App Review – Overview
Price: £26 per year or £20 per annum on a rolling subscription. (Buy here)
Runs on: Android, iOS
It’s simple to use. Waaay simpler than a GPS. It covers Britain, Isle of Man (50:000 scale only), but not the Channel Islands or Northern Ireland.
There are a range of maps:
25,000 OS Map scale – my personal favourite as it marks all the boundaries on it
50,000 OS Map scale – shows a larger area in a smaller space, no boundaries shown
Satellite – like Google Earth
Satellite 3D (new and I’ve not updated my app to get this yet)
Standard Map / Green Space – a free, basic map
The OS Maps app pinpoints your location using your device’s GPS with an arrow that moves along as you do, even when you’re not connected to the internet. You can download tiles for use offline or plot the route when you have internet and it’ll cache it for use when you’re not connected. I always do the latter as it saves me having to plot as I walk.
To estimate route time you have a choice of ‘leisurely’, ‘moderate’ or ‘challenging’ options as well as activity; walking, cycling or running. You can save your routes as ‘private’ or ‘public’, which also means you can use other publicly saved routes in the area. Bonus!
OS Maps App Review – Ease of Use
It’s really easy. If I can use it, anyone can. As I use my tablet with the app, it means the screen is a decent size (but have used it fine on my phone, too). The menu is simple, you can plot your own routes, but you have to draw the route yourself, it won’t snap to the best route for you like Google maps. It is pretty self-evident for how to use it, but if you get stuck, check out the OS Maps guide here.
OS Maps App Review – Functions
- Different maps available
- Plot directly on the app while you’re already out (much easier than a GPS for this due to screen size on a large phone or tablet)
- Sync to routes that you’ve plotted on your laptop
- Plot your own routes and save them
- Use other people’s routes if they have saved them publicly
- You can follow your plotted route with the app telling you how many miles you have left (uses more battery for this) or just follow your route without this function
- You can write notes and a description
- Add points of interest such as campsites
- Download maps for use offline
OS Maps App Review – OS Maps App Versus a GPS
I much prefer the app to a GPS, particularly when it comes to plotting the route on the hoof. My tablet screen is far bigger than my GPS screen, is lighter, is easier to charge and much, much easier to use. So much so, I didn’t even use my Garmin GPS and sent it home after a month of lugging 500g of needless weight. The OS Maps app won’t have as many advanced features, but I wouldn’t know how to use most of them on the GPS anyway! Of course, if you’re going abroad, the OS Maps app won’t work as it covers Britain only but I’d be inclined to find an app rather than use my GPS for all the reasons listed above.
OS Maps App Review – Internet and Battery Usage
Best way to save your battery is to put your device on airplane mode. That’s providing, of course, you don’t need to be connected to the internet (which you won’t need to be if you’ve already plotted your route or downloaded the area you need). It will gobble up battery the more you have it online but otherwise, my Samsung Tab 2 tablet (4,000 mAh battery) goes through 1 to 1.5 days of using the app before it needs charging.
OS Maps App Review – Tips
- If you’re going to be out of internet service while using the app, make sure you’ve zoomed in and moved around the entire area beforehand so it can cache the tiles. Otherwise you’ll be missing parts of the area.
- If you’ve plotted a route on one device and want to use it on another, you’ll need internet connection to open it initially.
- If you’ve cached an area/plotted a route a long time ago, make sure you open it again when online before using it offline as the device will have forgotten the tiles.
- Take a battery pack and/or solar panel with you – if you run out of juice then you’ll be lost!
- Put your device on airplane mode when using the app to save battery.
- Don’t come off the app to use anything else on your device while you’re plotting your route or you will lose it.
OS Maps App Review – Conclusion
I love the app to bits. I used it for 10 months of my year-long hike without issues. It can sometimes crash but it opens up again, and thankfully it never did that while I was plotting my journey. It’s simple to use, saves all your maps/routes and costs a million times less than buying a GPS as well as paper maps. Of course it’s always a great idea to have old-school paper maps, too, but I didn’t (shock horror) and had no dramas at all.
You can also try a 7-day free trial if you’re unsure about the app. Click here for more info.
Jane Batchelor completed an original journey of walking 3,500 miles through British history in May 2018.