The Nexus 7 and Open Street Maps

26 October 2012

So with the launch of the mini iPad that is a lot of comparisons between this and the Goggle Nexus 7. I don’t have a iPad of any size and so don’t have any way of offering any sort of objective comparison. But what I do have is a Nexus 7 and the experience of using this while traveling around Europe.

We recently drove through Europe for a 2 week holiday. We skipped through France, Belgium, and Germany fairly quickly, as we wanted to visit Prague, and then go on down through Austria to Hungary. So Maps were very important for this.

We have a TomTom, not sure of the model, but has all of Europe in it. I have tried to update the maps in this but am not able to keep both sides of Europe as the size of the maps has expanded. TomTom only allow broad groups of countries to be loaded, so western Europe (UK, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal,…) or Eastern Europe (Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary,…). Not much use to us as we Live in the UK and often visit Hungary.

We also had paper map book, Michilln whole of Europe, OK for motorways, and getting a sense of the general direction, useless in cities and towns.

I also had the OSMAnd application on my Nexus 7. This is an open source application for viewing maps from The crucial feature needed when traveling is offline maps. OSMAND allows maps from each individual country to be downloaded, and can operate completely with no data connection.

Given the expense of GSM roaming in Europe, this is a feature that makes all the competition unusable. Goggle maps dose now allow downloaded data, but to use this feature you need to be in the location and then save the map tiles for that location. No pre-loading by country, and no offline searching, or route finding.

Here are a couple of scenarios where OSMAnd proved invaluable. First find the hotel we had booked. We had the address, and were in the approximate place, just needed to find the place. Putting the street name into Tom Tom showed a number of entries for the same street name, in different districts. This had no indication as to how far away and our limited knowledge of the city meant we didn’t know the districts. Searching for a street name in OSMAnd the matches are listed ordered by distance, either from the current location, or a location can be set. There is also a arrow giving an indication of direction.

Remember where we parked the car, not always easy if you are exploring. OK so I had a favorite location called Car, that I updated when we parked in a back street. Just get the nexus to get a fix, long tap on the current location, and save as a favorite. Then it was easy to find our way back to the backstreet where we parked.

Fancy a coffee? search from the current location for restaurants, add a filter “cafe”. This gives a nice list, showing direction and distance. Tap the map icon and the locations are highlighted on the map display. We found some wonderful breakfast cafes this way.

Traveling on some back roads we came to a line of traffic, it transpired that there was a major crash up ahead and we were not going to get through for quite a while. OSMAnd came out to find an alternative route, by taking some even more back road roads, that didn’t have any useful roadsigns.

This all relies on the quality and freshness of the data. generally this seemed to be pretty good. The listings of shops and businesses are pretty good in the larger towns, but small villages generally only had the street data there. The street data however was remarkably accurate.


Data Roaming

5 January 2011

We are all agreed that the future of mobile is in data not voice (and text as that is the same legacy bucket)

I remember seeing an announcement from BT as it was back then, probably about 1991 saying that the volume of data calls had exceeded voice calls on their network. They were talking about modem calls here, but today voice is carried as a data stream, and is a small contribution to data volumes on networks.

This reality is not reflected in the pricing structures. Voice is charged depending on the destination of the call, so a local call is cheaper than a international call (sometimes) but with data (Internet) there is no concept of distance. You go to a web address which may have a country designation but that may be connected to a server farm anywhere in the world.

When we get into roaming then the cost differentials really show up. So the old world voice services, that have been traded, and commoditised over many years, although still priced at huge markups over the cost of the same call on a local account, are consistent and predictable.

Data roaming charges, however are the wild west, with per megabyte charges 10 to 100 times that of local accounts. There is a chance that smart-phone users will be educated by these charges to avoid roaming data at all costs. This is an option on most smart phones, certainly Android has an option to disable data connectivity when roaming, and I believe iOS has the same option. But the usefulness of these phones then drops to a dumb phone.

Andrew Gill had a nice post on his London Calling blog about avoiding inflated roaming charges, mostly by using a local pre-paid SIM card.

My experience from a recent trip to USA and Canada is that there is enough free WiFi available in the Americas in most places so you don’t need to do this. All the hotels had free WiFi for guests, most coffee shops, thorough in some places you need to open the web browser and click an accept T&C button before it works. And in airports, free access for the first hour.

Sadly this is not the case in the UK where almost every access point wants to milk your credit card before allowing access. But there is the popular FON system, which because it is enabled by default on all BT Home Hubs, is widely available.