Dipping a toe into the world of digital mapping10th May 2007
Having seen in an old TGO that Anquet now allows you to buy digital mapping like you would buy digital music, I decided to take a look at what was on offer. For now, I am sticking with 1:50000 mapping; I cannot justify the cost of the 1:25000 equivalent. For instance, 1:25000 mapping for the Western Isles would set you back over £300 while you could have 1:50000 for around £12. This makes the latter look much cheaper than paper mapping and the former appear very much more expensive. The differential is enough to make me ask if one is subsidising the other. At least, you don’t have to pay extra for the software required; it’s a free download from the Anquet website and the installation seems straightforward, at least for a computer literate type like me.
Speaking of the required software, not only does it act as the viewer of any digital maps but it is also the interface through which these maps are purchased and downloaded. Because the files are not small, a broadband internet connection is a must. For instance, 1:50000 mapping the size of the Western Isles area is just over 65 MB and this is at the smaller end of the scale. I can only imagine what size the 1:25000 map files must be.
While you can print off maps, I don’t see this as the main use of digital mapping. In fact, I plan to continue with paper maps for a good while yet; I like the idea of having a wider when I am out walking too much and cost of digital 1:25000 mapping is a factor too. That leaves route planning capabilities and it is here where digital mapping scores. For one thing, the ability to measure the distance of a walk without having to get down on your knees on an outstretched paper map on your bathroom floor is a definite plus. You can also save the routes for later and the software will generate route cards for you as well. A compatible GPS receiver would be able to download a route for use in the outdoors but this is one feature that I am unable to test since I don’t have a GPS receiver and I have to admit that acquiring one is not that high on my list of priorities.
It all seems very useful though there are some features about which I am not so convinced. One example is the Virtual Landscape mode, though I suppose that it can be used to confirm your interpretation of contours. Another is the ability to download Country Walking and Trail routes through the Anquet website; I tend to plan my own, often using ideas generated by the perusal of walking magazines rather than slavishly following their route descriptions. Aside from these, the planning capabilities have me impressed and I hope to continue using these and learn more.
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I’m similarly demonstrating the main contenders at the moment with a view to an eventual puchase. But yes – paper map on the hills will stay the main method for me.