Overview: Anquet for Mac is a decent solution for route planning and mapping on a Mac. Its basic functionality is good and its maps are competitively priced with no initial outlay for the software itself. However, a lack of more advanced features and some usability issues means I’ll be keeping an eye on the opposition, including Routebuddy 3 which launches next month.
Anquet for Mac was launched back in July 2010, joining Routebuddy as the second native mapping application for the Mac. I've been using it now for around eight months, for both plotting routes and printing maps for use on my trips, and have been generally pleased with the software. With the news over on Andy Howell’s blog that Routebuddy is almost ready to release version 3 of their software for the Mac, I thought I would take this opportunity to review my experiences so far with Anquet for Mac.
The Anquet for Mac desktop software is free to download (from VP Maps) and the user then pays for maps. The software initially comes with some sample maps which are helpful to get a feel for using the programme and the routing tools before investing in more maps. Once going beyond the samples you must pay for mapping and Anquet offer a modest range of different digital maps from providers such as Harveys, Ordnance Survey, Philips and others. I imagine that most hikers, backpackers and outdoor folk are interested in the Ordnance Survey range and it seems that this is where the best deals are to be found. I took advantage of one such good discount offer (these are typically sent out via e-mail every 1-2 months by Anquet) and got all of northern Britain at 1:50,000 for less than £45. This gives me all the OS Landranger Maps for the entire area north of an east-west line drawn around Sheffield (below which be dragons anyway, right?) which easily covers my areas of interest (Scotland, and the Dales and Moors of Yorkshire). Typically their offers are very good with recent ones including a significantly discounted price for whole country maps, as well as extra vouchers to spend on 1:25,000 mapping etc.
The download process isn’t perfect but your experience will probably depend on your internet connection. When I purchased the half country maps the downloads came as a number of smaller areas. This caused the downloads to queue up and for ones far down the list to eventually time out. I needed to manually restart them from the download manager which was fine once I realised the problem. However, overall this was a minor niggle and I have not encountered any problems/corruptions with downloaded maps, all of which are happily sitting on my computer for use whenever and wherever I happen to be (and one of the main advantages over online mapping applications such as those offered by Walk Highlands or Grough).
The rendering of the maps by the software is good with the standard zoom level easily readable and providing a wide area to plot routes upon (obviously this is dependent on your screen size and resolution) with it being possible to get rid of the sidebars to increase viewing area. You can zoom in to read small details and check contours with no degradation in sharpness of the rendered map. My four year old MacBook handles rendering well, only slowing down if you zoom right out at 1:50,000 and a large number of map tiles are required for display. This is an issue as it would be preferable to change automatically to a different map type (e.g. road atlas style map) as you zoom out, rather than rendering the same map at such extreme zooms. Switching between maps is a little clunky (the zoom level changes) but easy enough once you are used to the requirement.
Overall the software suffers from being quite un-Mac-like in that it isn't particularly intuitive to use. Features seem to be hidden away, and even doing the more straightforward things isn't always easy. Routing for example, can be quite arduous, particularly to begin with, as the commands are not always self-explanatory and the offered tutorials and programme help lack detail. However, once you are used to routing and the database system (where your routes are stored) it is easy enough to plot out routes and then review the distance, elevation change and so on. One thing I miss here is that you only get the complete stats once you end the route, rather than seeing mileage appear and increase as you plot the route. However, a neat feature is that you can customise your walking and climbing pace to get a more accurate estimated time, rather than relying on something like Naismith's Rule. Furthermore Anquet for Mac fully supports the OS grid system so you can get detailed grid references for routes and camp sites etc as you plan, as well as jump to specific grid refs if you are taking information from the internet or guide books.
For many people a key part of the user experience with mapping software is interfacing with your GPS device, whether it be Garmin, Satmap or some other type. Unfortunately, as far as I am aware, Anquet for Mac does not support any of these devices. This is a pain as it means you have to export your route(s) as a GPX file and then use something else to upload them to your GPS device. I have the basic Garmin RoadTrip software which came with my device which I use to manage routes and tracks but it is a shame that this extra piece of software is required to do a relatively simple task. In addition, it doesn't appear possible to display a track file, recorded on a device whilst outdoors, to compare it with your original route. Happily though Anquet for Mac does at least support importing GPX route files so, for example, routes available on Walk Highlands can be viewed and printed in using the software. Anquet for Mac also has its own database of routes which can easily be downloaded and viewed from dialogues within the software. I haven't explored this feature extensively yet.
Finally, printing from Anquet for Mac is excellent. There are a number of different options to go through to make sure you use the minimal paper required and as long as you are zoomed out a little way you can preview the area of the map that you will be printing. I typically only print a route so I'm not sure how easy it is to print just an area of the map without a route. The route printout is good and you can customise colour and line weight as desired. The quality of the printed route, printed using a basic Epson inkjet printer, is very good and more than adequate for use in the field. I now very rarely take a full Landranger map out with me.
I'd be keen to try out the new version of Routebuddy, particularly as the features described in Andy Howell's post do seem to address some of the shortcomings that I've encountered during my time spent using Anquet for Mac. It will also be interesting to see how their pricing structure works out, as it sounds like they may offer discounts to transition maps across when they have already been purchased for use with other software. This would be good as obviously, having made an investment in maps, I wouldn't be keen to start from scratch and have to buy maps over again in order to switch software.
For now though, here are my summary thoughts on Anquet for Mac, having used it as my primary mapping tool for almost the past year:
Good quality map viewing and printing
Customise walking and climbing pace to get accurate route timing
Import and export GPX route files
Map download manager works to give full uncorrupted maps despite some timeouts
Route plotting works well once you get used to the quirks
Clunky interface that takes some getting used to, particularly using the routing tools
Maps don't change automatically as you zoom in and out
No direct support of GPS devices
No support for track files
The database system requires some management to avoid cluttering up maps
No preview of the route mileage and ascent as you are plotting a route