Thursday, 3 May 2012

There in my hand as I cross the foaming Orinoco

Well, the tablet is coming along nicely. And I've just installed something that, on its own, would justify buying this lifestyle gadget. I'll reveal all shortly.

Meanwhile, let's take stock.

The Sony tablet - or any tablet, iPad included - is basically a memory card, with a processor and decently-sized touchscreen tacked on. All in a handy flat lightweight package. With almost no moving parts, so it's inherently robust.

A tablet hasn't got the storage capacity of a laptop, let alone a desktop PC, but my Sony's 32GB is enough to accommodate an awful lot of stuff - mainly of course applications, and the various types of file they use to provide an audio-visual leisure or work experience.

I've now squeezed in about 2,200 photos, 1,200 music tracks, and 500 documents and spreadsheets. Together with apps for a lot of things. I can play the piano, or a drum kit, or cards, or a video, or a radio podcast, or (given a really fast wi-fi connection) the BBC iPlayer. I can calculate and make a typed note or checklist. I can (of course) browse the Internet, or read my emails and reply to them. I can check the time in New Zealand, or set an alarm, or find out when sunset will be, or when it's low tide at Bognor Regis, or what my house looks like on Google Earth, or buy something online. All these useful things. Never a dull moment indeed! Who needs a life?

Plus The Things that I'm not yet disclosing. And I've still got about 10GB left. I can't see myself using up much more of that 10GB in the useful lifetime of the Sony - which is maybe three or four years, I think. (I expect it to be working fine in 2015, but by then tablet technology will have moved on, and a hardware update will be in order!)

Just now the Sony tablet is my 'entertainment and information device'. The Nokia mobile phone remains my 'communication device'. And the Hewlett Packard iPAQ has become simply my 'organiser and scribble pad', with its extremely good calendar, to-do-list and notetaking software. The iPAQ works with a stylus; but although quick and precise to use, it's old, has-been technology. The phone works with hard buttons; it's also somewhat old technology, but it's a slim, elegant device - although, mind you, making space for the buttons means a small screen that's a bit too small for my tired old eyes. The tablet is larger than either of these pocket devices, but not much heavier; it will travel well in a handbag (or rucksack), and not be a burden for a day out; and all you need to use it is a finger. I don't know about you, but I've got...let me see...oh, a lot of fingers to choose from. I could lose a few to piranhas while crossing the Orinoco, and still fire up the old Sony tablet over the evening camp fire. No worries on that score!

All this expedition talk brings me onto what I see as the Sony tablet's best reason for existing. Remember that it's a handy, lightweight screen that you can comfortably hold in your hands.

What if you loaded it up with maps?

Aha, what if you did? Well, I have. Cue Memory Map, the website that specialises in downloadable digital Ordnance Survey maps. I've bought maps from them before. Now I've got their free Android plug-in, and I've purchased a set of 2012-edition maps covering the whole of Great Britain at the 1:50,000 Landranger, 1:250,000 Motoring and 1:1,000,000 Route Planner scales. Actually the last two came free with the 1:50,000 Landranger map, which set me back a cool £99. But this represents a fantastic bargain, when you consider that to achieve the same coverage with the 204 paper Landranger maps would (at £6.99 each) cost you an eye-watering and purse-busting £1,426! I've also loaded up two digital 1:25,000 Explorer maps that I had before - the New Forest and the South Downs - obviously at no fresh cost.

This is what the 1:25,000 Explorer maps look like on the tablet screen:

Imagine having this to refer to on a hike. No struggling with a flappy paper map in a breeze. Or finding you haven't brought along the next sheet to the west. No squinting in the failing light, not with a backlit screen. Zoom in, zoom out, pan with a finger, add an overlay with your waymarks and destinations on it. And these maps are all seachable. Type in a placename or feature, and you're taken there instantly. Pouring down with rain? Snowing? Crossing the Orinoco? No problemo: pop the tablet into a sealable clear-plastic freezer foodbag, and your finger will still do its stuff. You say that it'll fall from your hand. No, it won't. There's a lanyard for your wrist. No wi-fi in range? Irrelevant. These are downloaded maps that work offline. But if you can obtain a wi-fi signal, or contrive a G3 mobile phone hookup, then you can use these maps with GPS as well. And the tablet's battery will last for hours...

If motoring along rather than footing it, then the larger scales look really good too. Here are some examples from the vast 1;50,000 Landranger map, having searched for 'Lerwick', 'Aberdyfi' and 'King's Lynn':

Oh yes! And for a wider take on the area, to plan the nicest way to Wisbech, Cromer or Norwich say, here are the 1:250,000 and 1:1,000,000 maps:

If you love maps - and I have adored them since I was a young child - this way of viewing them is a dream come true. Before I was ten, I passionately wanted a handheld device that would scroll a One-inch OS map of Great Britain. I thought then in paper terms; and couldn't see how it could be done. But now that child's dream has been realised electronically, in digital form. Another lifetime ambition fulfilled!

And the tablet won't just load up with OS maps: any compatable maps - foreign ones maybe, ones I've scanned maybe - can in principle be viewed. Wow. What a thought.

So perhaps Julia Bradbury is on TV tonight, frighteningly fit, tackling some remote corner of the Lake District, or Scotland. Well, sitting in my armchair, eating my Aberdeen Angus steak or sea bass fillets or whatever, I can follow her on the OS map. And maybe decide that some day I'll go to that amazing spot as well, and see that astonishng view for myself.

I'll mark it on my digital map now, and save it for the future.

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