Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Empire expands

No, this isn't a Star Wars post. It's about my growing collection of downloaded 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey 10km x 10km Explorer map tiles, purchased online for viewing on my mobile devices, chiefly my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone. Each tile bought adds to a little more to the territory covered by this large-scale mapping. The OS's latest Explorer mapping is very clear, and rather beautiful, and easily lets you imagine the landscape it represents. For someone fascinated by detailed maps since childhood, it's hard not to buy a few more tiles every week or every fortnight.

Six weeks ago my coverage - the yellow and orange squares coloured in on this base map - was this:


Now it's grown to this:


As you can see, there's been a push into the west of England - mostly across Devon and North Cornwall - so that I have one continuous map from Newquay to Dungeness. And I now have a presence in the Cotswolds, which I will be visiting again soon. Far to the north, off this section of map, I also have a number a tiles covering the middle part of Shetland.

With Sussex as my base, I am gradually extending my personal Explorer Map Empire into all my favourite holiday areas, whether regular or just at the planning stage.

I admit that almost every part of this coverage is duplicating paper maps I already possess, some of them bought as recently as last year. But although paper maps give you a wide view of the countryside, they are awkward to carry and handle. Whereas what could be more convenient, a small section of the same map on the screen of one's showerproof phone? A lit-up section one can magnify and see clearly? It's an incentive to get out of the car and start walking, which must be good for anyone. And I need the exercise badly!

So long as I keep the expansion within sensible bounds, it's perfectly affordable. I pay (at most) £1.99 per tile. This isn't much for 100 square kilometres of mapping! What else could £1.99 buy me? The equivalents - within a few pence - are things like these:

# 2 hours' on-street car parking in Brighton, away from the city centre.
# One hour's car parking in The Lanes underground car park in central Brighton.
# One city centre single bus ticket in Brighton.
# One soft drink in a pub.
# 2 mp3 tracks from Amazon.
# One ice cream.
# My usual cash donation to a charity, if moved to contribute.
# The tip on a £20 meal.
# One copy of Radio Times (well, almost).
# One birthday card.

Nothing substantial or lasting in that list! I'd argue that £1.99 spent on a section of mapping that I can keep forever, and use as often as I wish, isn't bad value for money.

Mind you, the overall cost does mount up. But it can't mount up too much, because all these map tiles take up space on one's phone, and there is an upper limit to what can be downloaded and stored. I presently have 3GB left in my phone's memory. At perhaps 10MB per tile, it would take only another 100 tiles to use up 1GB of that remaining space. So the Advance Of The Invincible Empire will grind to a shuddering halt fairly soon - by the early summer I'm guessing! But 100 more tiles might be all I need. I don't actually want nationwide coverage. There's no point in having Explorer coverage of [the names of various unattractive places were inserted here, but I thought better of it].

If however the Empire is unstoppable, and must gobble up the country unchecked, then the only proper solution will be another phone with a bigger memory on board.

Tomorrow the Samsung Galaxy S7 is going to be announced, and I understand it will be on sale worldwide from 11th March. Obviously, I'll be reading its specification - and the first reviews - with great interest. I'd want one with a minimum 64GB memory (128GB would be even better). But a version with a mere 32GB (what I have now) is likely to cost - at launch - about £600 to buy SIM-free, or £55 a month on a two-year contract. Ouch.

Fortunately I can't upgrade until late May, and my current contract doesn't run out until early August. That's not any kind of problem - indeed, I'm rather glad of these timing constraints! I don't actually want to spend a lot of money on a new phone, not this year! Or if I do, I want time to think it all out very carefully.

Sequel 1 (Marshmallow to the rescue!)
I said above that there was only 3GB of internal storage left on my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone. Further OS Explorer mapping has to go into that, and nowhere else. It can't go onto the 64GB SD card, like my music and pictures can. But I may not need to buy a new phone in order to get more storage space for my maps! 

Android Marshmallow (Android 6.0) should be coming to my S5 sometime in the next couple of months. And one of its features is that you can format an SD memory card so that it becomes part of the phone's ordinary internal storage. It must an ultra-fast card, and a durable one too - my Sandisk UHS-1 card will be OK - and so I could expect that all the spare storage on the card - some 24GB at the moment - would become usable for any purpose, OS Explorer mapping included. 

Wow, 24GB to fill...

If all of that really is possible, then I can definitely defer buying a new phone until 2017, or even 2018. (I like my S5 very much, and dwindling internal storage is its only problem)

Sequel 2 (Damn, too many snags...)
Oh dear. Further reading suggests that making my 64GB SD card part of the phone's internal storage won't work without some drawbacks: 
# The phone will slow down, because adding or retrieving data from a card isn't as swift as it is from regular internal storage. (The phone will use the card as its preferential storage place) 
# The card will be much more intensively used - it will get fried - and it won't last so long.
# Everything on the card will get encrypted, so that nothing on it can be read by a PC; nor can anything be copied or transferred from the card to a PC, nor from a PC onto the card. Which (for one thing) makes selective manual backups impossible. 

Clearly this isn't the answer after all.

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