Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Let's throw away £935 and then spend another £175. But I'm not mad.

If you love maps, as I do, and have always used them, then you want high-definition mapping at a large scale, covering the entire country. And you are prepared to pay for it.

A few days ago, I ordered Memory-Map's own digital version of the Ordnance Survey Explorer map at the 1:25,000 scale, covering all of Great Britain. Yes, all - even remote islands like St Kilda. It arrived this afternoon, 11 GB of it, and is now installed on my laptop and on my smartphone.

I can now go anywhere, however remote, and still consult good maps offline. It looks great on the phone, but of course even better on the larger laptop screen. For example, here's Whitby in Yorkshire, on the laptop. Click on it to appreciate its full glory.

How much for this 'all-GB' map? £175. That's not a small amount. But I think I've got very good value. It's better than what I have now. It's clearer and more attractive. It's all up-to-date, showing every revision published by the OS to mid-2017. And - I repeat - this is an offline map, stored on the device, which I can refer to regardless of what the local mobile internet connection is like. That's very, very important out in the countryside, or deep inside buildings.

I think Memory-Map's version of the OS's Explorer mapping is excellent. They have surely beaten the OS at its own game.

Let me show you a three-map comparison. The city centre of Newport in South Wales. Three matching screenshots, taken on my smartphone:

1. The top screenshot is a section from the OS's free 'redeemable digital map download' you can claim if you buy one of their rather-expensive traditional paper Explorer maps. Currently you'll need to spend over £4,000 on these paper maps to get 'all-GB' coverage. They cost £8.99 each, and you'll need well over 400 of them. You view the free electronic version using the OS's current OS Maps app.
2. The middle map is another OS map, this time a section from a downloaded 10 km x 10 km high-definition map tile, bought individually online from the Google store. These tiles are no longer on sale. I built up a collection of 500 of them while I could, but this has given me only partial coverage of Great Britain, mainly in the south and west of England. It would have taken as many as 2,500 tiles for 'all-GB' coverage, at a total cost of around £5,000. The price was usually £1.99 per tile. I can still view them all, and often do, using the OS's older MapFinder app. Although bought singly, most of the tiles touch each other and merge to form one large, seamless map. Very useful - but it covers only part of the country. And not every part I might want to visit on my holidays.
3. The bottom map is from the high-definition 'all-GB' map I've just bought from Memory-Map. It's one vast map, covering an area 1200 km north-south, and 700 km east-west. This is viewed using MM's own app. Naturally, it will cover any part of the country I might wish to see.

The OS's free digital map (top) that comes with buying an expensive paper map seems a bit second-rate to me. It's pale (if not downright anaemic), compared with the maps beneath. 'Free' clearly means 'not as good as the maps you pay money for'.

The next two map sections - OS and MM, both of them 'high-definition' - are much easier to read, and have better colours. This is what the printed paper map looks like - but easier to view, because back-lit and somewhat enlarged. The two maps are very similar, but I think MM's (bottom) has the edge - stronger colours, and slightly crisper lettering. And it's tidier - no controls obscuring the map detail in the corners.

Another comparison. This time it's Lyme Regis in the far west of Dorset. Same map order.

And exactly the same remarks. The free download with the paper map (top) looks washed-out. Colour and clarity really do matter - they help make the map easier to read on a phone screen, and assist tired eyes.

I think I can disregard the 'free' mapping without a qualm. I don't want it on my phone.

Now a final comparison between the two 'high-definition' maps, the OS's 10 km x 10 km MapFinder tile (top) and Memory-Map's all-GB map (bottom) - this time to see how they handle a lot of green. It's part of the New Forest.

Once again, I think there is no doubt about it. The Memory-Map version just looks better. It's more attractive, less cluttered with controls, and subtly easier to read. If these were photographs, I would say that the bottom one had captured the scene with more saturated colour, and with slightly sharper focus.

So despite being £175 poorer, I think I have gained overall. I have better 1:25,000 mapping. I am very pleased to add this latest all-GB map to my Memory-Map stable. This gives me OS-derived mapping at four scales for the entire country, all of it accessible using a the same Memory-map app. It's easy to switch between the four scales, depending on the mapping needs of the moment. I use all of them. The two smallest are great for planning a route. The 1:50,000 (Landranger) scale is best for checking exactly where I am, while driving along country lanes. And the one now added, the 1:25,000 (Explorer) scale, is excellent when finding my way on foot, whether in a town or in the countryside.

One benefit of having all four scales in the same app is that if I add an overlay or marker on one map, it will automatically show up on all the rest. For example, the red flags I use to show my favourite Caravan and Motorhome Club Site locations. If I pop a new one on the 1:25,000 map, it will be reproduced on the 1:50,000, 1:250,000 and 1:1,000,000 scale maps also. It was gratifying to see that markers already on these lower-scale maps showed up immediately on the new mapping, as if by magic.

So, justifiable pleasure!

But there is also a bullet to be bitten. All those 500 map tiles I bought from 2015 to 2017 - for a total cost of £935 - are now redundant. They are all completely superseded by the new MM 'all-GB' map. I don't need them any more. They are, however, tied to my Google and OS accounts, and can't be given to anyone else. They are taking up space on my laptop and phone, and yet serve no purpose any longer. I need to delete them.

That does seem an awful waste. But the first-bought (in 2015) are no longer quite up-to-date. And the old MapFinder app they totally depend upon for viewing is no longer being developed by the OS. So one day MapFinder will surely crash - perhaps when the Android OS gets its next really big overhaul. In short, MapFinder is doomed, and those 500 maps with it.

I might as well clear these maps off my phone now, and not regret spending so much money (and effort) installing them in the first place.

Job done. All 500 map tiles gone. I revere OS mapping, and it seems strange that a third-party's product can be better than the official version. Certainly, MM's app is nicer to use. The OS's current app is too heavily slanted towards the specialised needs of serious outdoor types, whom it must imagine are its main customers. I'm just a goofy tourist of course.


  1. We spend cash on what we want / need when it is available. Tech changes so quickly, it can never be thought of as an investment. So many folk spend even more on absolutely ephemeral stuff like pop concerts or watching sports.

    No excuse for ever getting lost!

  2. No, no excuse now!

    I had Western Scotland in my sights for 2019, and maps at a decent scale help enormously to find places and interpret the landscape.


  3. Thank you Lucy. I've been waiting for this review ever since you first voiced an interest in Memory Map. Unfortunately my present smartphone doesn't have enough memory for me to upgrade to Memory Map, so for now I'll have to stay with MapFinder and my small collection of OS maps, supplemented with the online BackCountry app.


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