Must Have Android Health Apps, Part I(a)

This app was not on my original list of must-haves. However, when planning a training ride the other day, I realized that none of the apps I had reviewed for cycling actually had the ability to import a gpx (route or track) file, and instead of recording where you had been, could tell you where to go.

Well, ok. I have enough people telling me where to go without really wanting to add to the list. But not infrequently, I will spend some time on a site like ridewithgps.com, or gmap-pedometer.com, creating a “custom” training loop. The varied topography of Litchfield and northwest Connecticut makes it possible to design a route with the amount and type of climbing you want, depending on your climbing goals.

Unfortunately, routing apps don’t work very well for creating loops, nor do they take into account your training desires in point-to-point route design. Thus the use of sites like those mentioned above to create the ride of my dreams — or at least my dreams for that day.

And on those occasions when you are riding on a pre-planned group ride, having your route in your GPS (or in this case, smartphone) saves you from fumbling with cue sheets in the wind, rain, and at busy intersections while you try to figure out which way you are supposed to turn on Reallybighill Road. Or, better yet, prevent you from riding those extra “bonus miles” that you get awarded for veering off course. (My worst day involved 15 bonus miles, but that’s another story).

Which is where Must-Have App I(a) fits in. Called OsmAnd, this app allows you to import a .gpx file, either a track or a route, and will give you on-screen or verbal directions as you move down the road.

OsmAnd is free and open source, which means a number of developers are welcome to add their coordinated input to the project. It is also intentionally designed to minimize resource use, both on your phone and in terms of internet access — a big bonus now that unlimited service plans have gone the way of Vioxx.

Another big bonus is that OsmAnd itself is not only open source, but employs open source maps as well, from the Open Street Maps project. Which means the maps are more accurate, as a larger number of people are available to evaluate the data and make corrections. There is also the OpenCycleMap project which, while currently largely UK-based, holds the promise of creating cycling-specific maps worldwide. OpenCycleMap currently has maps for part of Litchfield County here in Connecticuty. It’s an effort worth keeping tabs on, if not actively supporting.

This app does exactly what I wanted it to do. Using ridewithgps, I mapped out a short 20-mile route that would end by taking me past the farm, where I could pick up some milk and eggs on the last few miles and get them home before they spoiled (a route that also, I might add, require me to carry the groceries up a minimum of hills).

Ridewithgps created the .gpx file, which I then downloaded to my Android. I fired up OsmAnd, which on command immediately found my file and created the route. The program worked almost flawlessly, guiding me through  the unfamiliar stretches and turns. The screen updated my location on the map, and an icon in the upper left hand corner told me how far to the next turn and which direction I was headed.

As I noted in the previous review, satellite coverage in my area can safely be graded as somewhere between “less than spectacular” and “I get better satellite coverage in caves.” So there were a few spots were the app wasn’t quite up to speed on my current position. But it handled the confusion with aplomb, updating itself as soon as it got reacquainted with its satellites. And the constant turn reminder permitted me to estimate the location of the turn, even if the app itself was behind me.

If there are any hiccups in this app, it is only in the installation. It does not automatically create the file folder where you need to place the gpx files, though it does tell you exactly where the folder should be and what it should be named. Similarly, the voice configuration data has to be downloaded separately, from the OsmAnd website. Those sorts of issues are of little consequence, though, compared to the value of the application.

But once those two tasks are accomplished, you’re ready to go. This app is not resource intensive, downloading map tiles only as needed and working offline as much as possible; nor did it seem to draw down the battery power any more than any other application using the gps features.

If you are a cyclist or runner that likes to design their own routes, then OsmAnd is the application for you. You can download it from the Android Marketplace or from the website.

Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at alj@docaltmed.com or by calling 860-567-5727.