Google My Tracks
By Matt Marine
I recently upgraded my cell phone from an old Blackberry Curve (what some people my call a Crapberry) to a Motorola Photon Android based cell phone. One of my favorite features on this platform has been My Tracks from Google. And it's FREE. This app was designed for the outdoor enthusiast: hiker, biker and runner. If you routinely do these activities, My Tracks is an awesome piece of software you may want to use.
As is, this app probably won't replace your trail GPS for finding your way, Geocaching or locating interesting places. To my knowledge, it doesn't have a "go to" feature. You can't input a Geocache and tell it to find the best way there. But that's not what it was intended for.
This is meant as a recording and sharing app, which it does very well. If I go out four-wheeling on a new trail, I'll plug it in to my car charger (the GPS drains my cell phone battery rapidly), set it to record, then forget about it until I get back home.
I still use my trail GPS to record Waypoints (though My Tracks does this), make sure I'm on the correct route and check out interesting places shown on the Topo map. My Tracks sits in the background for the trip. Part of the reason is that when you're out of cell phone range, none of the Google Maps are downloaded to your phone. You will see exactly where you are - against a plain background. Not too helpful. It is my understanding that you can download third party maps to use as a background for this, but I have not tried it yet.
When I get home, I enjoy watching the movie of my track played on Google Earth. This is done in accelerated "real time", which means that if it takes you an hour for a hike, it may play in five minutes, but will correctly show the speed at which you traveled. If you take a ten minute break at the top of a mountain, the Google Earth movie will show the correct portion of the time you took at that spot (an unmoving icon).
During this playback, you can pause and rotate, zoom in, out, etc. on Google Earth. Very handy. I've already found places nearby that I didn't see on my adventure that I will have to go back to check out using this feature. The Google Earth .kml file can be sent and downloaded to your computer for a more in depth look.
You can also view the stats of your adventure. How much time did you spend resting? What was your average speed? Max speed? Elevation gain?
I believe you can also send your track information to Google Documents, then analyze this against historical files of the same track to see how you're doing. I haven't done this yet, but for runners and bikers, this can be handy to see how much you're improving.
How to use the files created by Experience Arizona
For the adventures containing My Track's Google Map links. Click on the link and you will be sent to Google Maps. After the track loads, you can use Google Maps just like any other Google Map.
For the adventures containing a Google Earth file (.kml) you can download the file, then use Google Earth (obviously you have to have Google Earth loaded on your computer - it is a free program) to play it on your computer. Right click on the link and select "save target (or link) as..." to save the file directly to your computer. Double clicking the file (or opening Google Earth, then opening the data file) will open it in Google Earth.
It can take a while for this too load. Once it has finished, you should see at least two "waypoints" on the left file menu: start and end. You should also see the name of the trail with a blue triangle marker next to it. Click on the name of the trail (see red circle in the first image). You should see the play tour button below and to the right change to the icon that looks like a play button with interconnected waypoints (red circle in second image). Click this button to play your movie. Google Earth should move you to the starting position and play your movie. Now you can use the slider along the bottom left (red circle on third image) to pause, play and move to different locations along your track. You can pause the movie and look around any time you want. I'm sure Google Earth has many more features, but this is just the basics to play your tour. You can click each one of these images to go to a larger image.
Image 1: click on name of trail
Easy to use.
Wide range of export modes. Share with friends, upload to Google Maps, Google earth, TOPO, Fusion, gpx formats.
Create Waypoints, complete with name and notes.
Displays current location on Google Maps/Earth.
View your stats (speed, elevation gain and distance).
Analyze your data to see if you've been improving on the same trail (for runners and bikers).
Will play tour (movie) of track on Google Earth.
Drains your battery quickly.
Good user Directions almost non-existent.
When you're out of cell phone range, you don't get the maps on your phone (I believe you can use some free third party maps that can be downloaded pre-trip, but haven't tried this yet).
Probably won't replace your good trail GPS - more of a recording than a "find your way" app.
Google Earth not that intuitive to use and play tour
This is a great free app from Google. I use it to record my track whenever I do a new tail. I don't use this as my main trail finding GPS, but more as a really cool recording device. I love playing back the trip on Google Earth. Well worth the download.