OsmAnd: Travelling with offline maps

Time for a summer vacation blog post! Whenever I go abroad, people ask me about the maps I use on my smartphone. „Whaaat? You turned on data roaming? That’s so expensive!“ Then I would say: „No. I have OsmAnd, one of the best apps ever, it provides offline maps from OpenStreetMap.“ Hardly anyone knows it! That’s why I’d like to introduce OsmAnd as one of my favourite Android apps to you.

What I love about OsmAnd

  • You can download map sections depending on the available space on your mobile device. You can configure where to put them (internal or external SC card).
  • You get very regular map updates (one or two a month if you want).
  • It has everything you need for navigation in different languages and localizations. (Just in case you are wondering: Yes, GPS works without an internet connection.)
  • You can choose what to display: Do you want to see public transport, Wikipedia articles for the surroundings or open wifi access points? Configure it the way you want.
  • It’s OpenStreetmap, so you are invited to edit it! OsmAnd allows you to do simple edits directly in the app, e.g. to add or to update locations („points of interest“). You can upload the changes later when you have a wifi connection. With OSM, you contribute to a free map made by many people. It’s not owned by a single company that claims to be the reference for the digital world map.
  • You can save your favourite places on the device (not on someone else’s server).
  • The app is „mostly“ free software (GPLv3), so you can contribute to the source code (Android, iOS).

And these are just my favourite features…

Cool plugins

  • You can record gpx tracks, display them in the map or use them later, on your computer, to edit OpenStreetMap.
  • You can tie additional information to your personal maps, e.g. photos, audio or video notes. They will stay on your device.
  • The parking plugin allows you to safe where you left a car and – if you want – reminds you to come back in time if it’s in a paid parking lot.
  • The editing functionality comes as a plugin, too.

Reality check – my experience with OsmAnd

I’ve travelled with the app as my primary map for about three years. Well, I actually integrated it into my everyday life to remember (names of) places or update stuff in my home city, too. So here are some keywords on how good it actually is:

  • The level of detail of the map extracts obviously depends on how active other OSM mappers were before you went there. The difference between downtown Seattle and rural Ireland is huge! And still, in Ireland, the maps contain all the villages and roads. The missing parts are rather pubs, accommodation, all sorts of infrastructure. And I know that I went to places where the coverage isn’t that bad altogether…
  • I found out that mapping is fun. Find a nice place and add it… or ask yourself if it stays the same nice place if all the other tourists find it too easily. 😉
  • I like keeping my saved locations on the device rather than giving the whole collection to a third party. But then, of course, at some point I want them on a different device so that the whole synchronization issue is back. It’s possible to export the list to ownCloud as a .gpx file. It’s possible to manually import them on the other device (loosing all the colors). This isn’t quite ready as a workflow though.

Find the OsmAnd version that suits you

There are several download options depending on the app store you use. I’d like to emphasize the work (and love 😉 ) that people put into making it. So it’s fair to donate or to get the paid version for those who can. We know that the „free“ in free software doesn’t primarily stand for „free of charge“ but for the freedom to do things with the source code. Here is a list of the different versions / sources:

  • OsmAnd version free of charge in Google Play Store, limited to 10 map downloads.
  • OsmAnd+ (Google Play Store, 6,49 €), umlimited number of maps, Wikipedia POIs, AND you support the project. In my opinion, the app is worth the money, absolutely!
  • OsmAnd~ (F-Droid), unlimited number of maps, free of charge, donations welcome. F-Droid is a volunteer-run free software app repository, so it sometimes takes time to get the latest version of OsmAnd~. (Right now, it’s up to date though.)
  • Also, OsmAnd is one of the few projects that offer .apk files for Android on the project’s website. But neither will you get automatic updates nor will you download via an encrypted connection. So this is not really recommended.
  • This year, they released OsmAnd for iPhone which has less features at the moment (e.g. no navigation).

What others wrote about OsmAnd

Okay, so if you are preparing your summer vacation or if you feel like seeing the OpenStreetmap side of your home town, give it a try! Happy mapping!

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  1. I fully agree, OsmAnd+ (the paid version, and if I remember correctly, I paid €7,99 but still think it’s worth every cent) is just great.

    However, was a bit puzzled recently when I traveled to Western Poland and found that the navigation gave me the old German (i.e. pre-1945) names of cities and villages. That was a bit strange… (OSM on my desktop lists both names, the old German one and the current Polish name), but OsmAnd+ drops the current location name. Not only inconvienient, but I think Poles could see this as an offense…

    • Hi Thomas, it’s a setting – you can opt to have the map names displayed in its local language/ spelling. China then displays in mandarin, Thailand in Thai, Poland in Polish. The setting is a bit hidden and I dont recall where exactly 🙁