Just under 18 months ago Routebuddy 3, mapping software, was released and now this has been superseded by Routebuddy 4. The intervening 18 months have seen a regular flow of updates to Routebuddy some of which have seen major improvements to the program. By the time that Routebuddy 3.5 was released the program had become a fully functional topographical route planner. Routebuddy 3 also saw the introduction of a version for Windows effectively giving the owner of the Routebuddy maps the opportunity to use them on Mac OSX, Windows and IOS tablets and smartphones.
Perhaps, the major omission from Routebuddy 3 was any kind of useful print functionality. Routebuddy 4 brings with it the ability to automatically print routes and print route cards. For a number of people the omission of route printing was a deal breaker, so how does Routebuddy 4 shape up?
I should begin with a clear declaration that this is a review of the OSX (Apple Mac) version. As far as I am aware the functionality of both versions is the same but I have not used the Windows version. Also, the competition on the OSX platform is more limited and my review looks at options across these options.
Nevertheless, Routebuddy on all platforms should now be a serious contender. It does somethings that the competition (on either platform) does not do while rivals have some features that are not yet found in Routebuddy. Some features may be more important to you than others and I have tried to give a feel for what is here and what is not — which program is right for you is very much a personal preference. But, back to the OSX review.
Many of the main features of Routebuddy remain un-changed since version 3.1 (there are doe cosmetic changes and I think a speed bump), but you might want to refer back to these reviews for a detailed loo at features. Here I will focus on the main features and concentrate on the new print options. The past reviews can be found here:
Routebuddy 4 — An Overview
Routebuddy is a serious route planning tool. The program is quick (on my not too recent Macs) and stable. Over the last year I have planned a number of long walks on Routebuddy, a coast to coast walk across the Scottish Highlands, my version of the Cape Wrath Trail as well as a number of multi day walks in Wales, England and in France. Since upgrading to Routebuddy 4 I have planned a multi week hike in France without any difficulties at all.
The ability to plan a route is key to any mapping software. Routebuddy’s tools are pretty comprehensive. Routes can be modified, split, ‘continued’, duplicated and easily converted to tracks for easy export to a whole host of GPS devices. For those who hike in far flung places and rely on tracks, both .gpx and .kml tracks can be imported and a quick work around can convert these to routes as well. Routes are more flexible than tracks but tracks can be also be edited (split, duplicated and so on).
The properties of a route are always available through the contextual menu (right click). This option will give you a lot of information, total distance, minimum and maximum altitude, total ascent and descent and so on. UK topographical maps also carry height data and a useful elevation graphic not only shows you the ups and downs on your route but allows you to trace these with a corresponding readout on the map itself. Height data is not (as yet) available for other mapping systems (see below).
Between versions 3.0 and 3.5 route planning improved a lot in Routebuddy. Planning routes is now fast and efficient.
Routebuddy Likes a Structured Approach to Planning
It is possible to dive right in and create a route with Routebuddy quite happily. However, this is a program which likes you to take a structured approach to your route planning.
The Routebuddy window has the standard OSX file and device panel on the left. Here you can access the entire library of waypoints and routes but you can also create Place files and Folders (into which you can group a series of Place files).
If I am planning a multi day walk I tend to create a Place file for each day. A Place file can hold a series of waypoints and more than one route but the more you edit the route the more risk you are at crashing the machine. Splitting routes, deleting portions of them, continuing routes and so on all can leave unwanted END points hanging around. Work on one day route and Routebuddy will cope with this but the more editing you do (and I mean a lot) the greater risk you are at of confusing the machine. However, select your Folder for the trip and you will be able to see all of your days routes as one route — and it can be exported as such. For example, if I export my folder of day routes to my iPhone the whole route shows up on the map.
There is more written about routes in my previous reviews.
The main Routebuddy Window has a series of menus in the top menu bar, these include: move, select, zoom, waypoint and route.
The main Routebuddy Window
Routebuddy likes you to be in the right mode when you are operating. You can be creating a route and then switch to move and stay in that mode. Click on the route itself and you will be able to continue the route and pull up the contextual menu associated with routes. But the whole program is more foolproof if you learn to stay in the right mode.
The modes works very well but moving between them is a bit clunky at times. For example, if I am creating a route and a get to the end of the window I have to switch to Move to move the map along. When I switch back to Route my route picks up exactly where I left off and I can simply continue plotting it but moving between modes regularly when creating a long route can be a bit annoying. Routebuddy has included keyboard short cuts for moving between modes and these work well but I — and others — have found that unless you are using the program a lot it is all too easy to forget them. In a future version it would be nice to have the facility where the screen automatically scroll in the direction that you are creating your route. There is more about modes in previous reviews.
Ariel and Map Views
Look again at the top window menu and you will see commands for Ariel, Web and Earth. The Ariel command is very powerful and (as far as I am aware) does not have an exact equivalent on other machines.
Clicking Ariel view takes you to a satellite view of your route within the same window co-ordinates. Superimposed on your satellite photo will be your plotted route. The Ariel icon has now changed to map. Click map and you return to the exact same point using the Routebuddy Map.
When I first saw this command I thought it was nice but as I have used it I have begun to realise just how powerful this can be. For example, on a number of occasions I have studied satellite images and realised that there were paths and tracks that are not marked on maps. As you are still working in Routebuddy it is easy to continue to plot your route on the satellite image. I’ve used this function a few times to plot a route on a satellite track when the corresponding map section shows only open ground. In reality this is a quick and powerful feature.
Here is an image of a route on the map and underrate it a slightly zoomed satellite image of the same route.
This is a powerful feature that can really help when plotting a route across open ground. On this year’s TGO Challenge — for example — I was able to plot a route across Eskdale Moor following tracks that simply did not appear on the latest OS maps.
The Web and the Earth icons will call up the exact same coordinates on a web map (which service you use is definable by you) or Google Earth. These views open in a web browser or either a native app — you get the same view in front of you but you cannot create a route in same way as you can from within Routebuddy. Nevertheless, it has been helpful to me — when plotting a route through an urban area — to be able to bring up a web map at exactly the right coordinate. Web maps can be configured to use Open Maps — it would be nice to be able to open an Open Map within Routebuddy as this would help route planing in areas where there are no computer maps; perhaps, something for the future.
This is another advanced featured which is worth mentioning as I’ve found it quite useful in the past.
Basically, Routebuddy allows you to view two different (and adjacent) map types on the same screen. The different maps can be of different scales yet they are ‘stitched’ together perfectly. Here is an example. The screen below shows two maps — the 1:25k OS map of Snowdonia stitched on to the 1:50k OS map of North Wales. The popular village of Llanberis sits almost on the boundary of the 1:25 map. Yet, I can view the surrounding area and if I am creating a route I can take it from one map and on to the other. Click on the image to get access to magnified views.
I have found this feature useful when plotting routes in the UK. As Routebuddy adds more maps this feature will become very welcome _ imagine being able to view Spanish and French maps of the Pyrenees on the same screen, or French, Swiss or Italian maps of the Alps.
This is one of the features that gives a glimpse of where Routebuddy might be going in the future. The extensive engine re-write that happened with RB 3 apparently makes this kind of stuff quite straightforward.
New Print Options
So, now to the main features of RB4.
As you might expect if you have selected your route the computer can print it in page size tiles which follow the length of the route. One nice is that it is easy to magnify the size of the map — you could, for example, choose to print a 1:50 map at 1:40 size which will help those who’s eyesight is not quite as good as it was.
My only quibble with this system is that it is sometimes possible (depending on the shape of your route) for some of the route to come very close to the page boundary; here is an example:
You can see how the route will be printed. It is the ‘shape’ of this route that has caused the issue — to be fair most routes avoid this. Perhaps, the answer will some kind of user-defined data that can set the route boundary in map terms (if that makes sense).
However, this is now a very welcome feature. I am not someone who prints routes out on my computer; I prefer to be using a rap map. However, I can see situations in which this would, or will, be useful.
Another feature of map prints can be seen in the following graphic. A grid can be overlaid which carries grid co-ordinates on the vertical and horizontal borders of the map. This can be very useful when the piece of map you are working on has no co-ordinates easily visible.
I have seen some people comment that the grid lines themselves are too thick but they don’t worry me at all (I’m sure a future version will allow you to adjust the thickness of the grid in the same way that you currently can change the thickness of the route line). Also, note that the rid is arranged to true north. I like this feature.
Routebuddy 4 also features Route Cards which are popular with mountain runners, marathon runners and so on. Here is an example of a route card (again click on image to access larger views).
The card is smart and well designed. The top section carries a very useful summary of the route giving details of: distance, ascent, descent and so on. The card also uses Naithsmith’s formula for calculating walking time.
The table section is pretty comprehensive and gives details for: waypoint name; grid position, altitude of waypoint, bearing, distance (to next waypoint), distance, ascent, descent, paces — I’ve not seen this before, and time to waypoint. Some people I’ve shown this to have got very excited about paces, which are sometimes required by event organisers. In a future update it would be nice to be able to enter in your own pace length and your own bespoke walking time. For example, Naithsmith’s in useful but it doesn’t obviously include rest time (which is an individual thing). Over the years I have found that I cover the Scottish Highlands (breaks included) at about 2 miles an hour. I would like the option to be able to enter this speed into the system. This could be taken further. I could have my route mapped out but could select a starting point and then ask the computer “how far would 8 hours walking take me at my bespoke walking speed? That would be useful.
For me the route card is useful only by way of the header, there is simply too much information in the table for a hill walker. However, I would like to have a version of this which did not simply follow every waypoint — too much information.
Routebuddy suggest a quick work-round for this. Copy the route to a new place. Trace over the route in loose terms placing waypoints on your route only where there are significant route changes; this way the route card will have far less data and will be more useful to me. This is fine but like many long distance walkers I like my routes to follow the actual line of the track as much as possible and this means a lot of waypoints — ignore these over a multi day trip and you can significantly under-estimate the distance involved. My solution would be to create a new type of waypoint that could be selected by a right click — these new points could be used to create the route card.
The print options now make Routebuddy fully functional. For me, there may be other features that I would like to see but none that are critical. And when we talk about OSX Routebuddy is now by far the best option available. There is more competition int he Windows environment and so I will leave that to others.
There are some things that are missing though and some things I would like changing.
Recommendation for future editions
Grid reference Read Out
Click on the map and the grid reference (and spot height if using OS maps) will be shown at the bottom right of the window’s frame. This is easy to miss. I’d like to see this data associated with the pointer/cursor — offset a little.
Other systems include the OS Gazetteer data with their maps. This allows you to search on place name and go to that place on your screen. Routebuddy does not allow you to do this as the Gazetteer is not supported. What seems odd to me is that the Gazetteer is supported on the IOS Routebuddy Atlas application. Routebuddy claim that the OS Gazetteer is very limited. They recommend that users buy a copy of their UK Road Map —a vector map sourced from Tom Tom. Using the vector map alongside the OS Maps, they say, is far more comprehensive. In practice though I really don’t like this solution. It is unclear where to enter your search term — there are two places —and sometimes the search is painfully slow, especially on my laptop. There is another fault. I have just searched for Oban and RB4 found this quickly. Now I want to find Strathcarron but the search bar simply won’t allow me to put in any other detail! I have discovered the problem is that RB is searching its vector database for all Oban references (streets and so on) and is still chugging away in the background while I have already found my spot and am looking for the next one. This is my biggest RB frustration. Personally, I’d like the Gazetteer supported even if it is very limited!
Foreign Map Height Data
Different systems use height in different way. Currently the height function nay works with OS or UK maps. I would really like to be able to use height data on my French maps (and ditto any other new national maps that become available).
The Map Store
There are some frustrations here.
Firstly, the maps are difficult to install. By a map and you are emailed a download link with license codes and a URL for downloading the map. Once the map has been downloaded it has to be manually moved into the right place in the system manually. The problem is that the Library Home for maps is in the Library Function which is hidden by default by the OS operating system. We really need a system where an installer is included in the archive file that is downloaded. Map installation should be one click!
Secondly, we need more national maps! I think these are coming though!
Future Development Path
To be fair, these are minor gripes. Routebuddy is now there. Some will like features such as 3D views that are not available on Routebuddy but I understand that this feature — and many others — are in the pipeline.
When Routebuddy 3 was produced the company promised a regular and significant upgrade path. I wrote at the time that much of routebuddy’s effectiveness would be judged by how this upgrade path panned out. After 18 months it is very clear that Routebuddy are committed to regular updates. By contrast the other mapping system that I use on my Mac has seen no functional improvements since it was launched three or four years ago — upgrades have simply dealt with new OS features and with server IP address changes.
I essence Routebuddy now give us a simile product to most good software packages, regular updates with major new features and the occasional update that has to be paid for. Personally, I don’t mind this so long as the upgrades are coming.
Routebuddy is a company committed to talking to, and working with, users to improve the system. I know there are some very interesting features coming in the future.
But for now, Routebuddy 4, offers us more or less everything we need to plan our routes on Mac OSX. In moving from v.3 to v.4 Routebuddy is now a clear winner in the OS X mapping market.