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Discussion: Mapping with Windows tablets?

in: Orienteering; Gear & Toys

Nov 2, 2016 9:13 PM # 
Has anyone found it possible to use a Surface or other Windows tablet for mapping in the field?
Nov 2, 2016 9:39 PM # 
A few threads have had similar topics
OCAD 8 on windows tablet
Better Bluetooth GPS for windows tablet
Recommend a laptop/tablet
Some few others in personal logs, but these might be a start.
Nov 3, 2016 1:16 AM # 
I used OCAD on a Windows tablet twenty years ago, with mixed results, but the technology has changed a little. One key take away was that tablets are magnets for jumping dogs. It arouses their curiosity.
Nov 3, 2016 1:37 AM # 
One thing I've found out recently is that Windows 10 rejigged the way it handles external GPSs - and of course the Surfaces don't have an internal GPS because who would need to know where their portable device is?

Short version is that Windows 10 'apps' will struggle to use an external GPS without the use of a 3rd-party driver to translate the GPS output to Windows' Location Services. (and no, this doesn't happen automatically, because stupid.)

OCAD and its ilk should be ok because they're happy to talk directly to the GPS, but it's something to keep in mind if you want to use browser-based tools or 'modern' apps.
Nov 3, 2016 4:07 AM # 
Back in the day we used Windows98 based pen-top computers in conjunction with a Trimble backpack Rover GPS for mapping of power poles.
Nov 3, 2016 4:25 AM # 
Back in the day (i.e. yesterday) I used a printout of a photo. My how times have changed.
Nov 3, 2016 9:01 AM # 
I don't see the availability of a GPS as all that useful if you have access to a lidar base. Unless its a real time corrected unit. I have used one of the latter in the past (with a HP iPaq) and found the correction signal very easily lost under canopy.
Uncorrected GPS is too inaccurate to bother with. I was more interested in the basics of drawing in the field using the stylus. I have experimented with OOM on a Surface. I found the drawing process frustrating. It worked intermittently.
The following from one of the other threads explains my problems I suspect-
"I have a Win8 tablet and I got it to use with Open Orienteering Mapper. But OOM doesn't have active stylus support, so I really haven't used it much as I wanted to. If you're going to use OOM, it's better to use an Android tablet for fieldwork."
So it looks like I have to shift my OCAD license to the Surface if I want to use it for mapping. Not sure I want to do this. Maybe I have to buy an Android tablet. Or maybe just use a bt mouse somehow in the field. Experimentation required.
Nov 3, 2016 1:16 PM # 
I agree that uncorrected GPS may have limited use for competition ISOM maps, but having used it to map trails onto a government topo, it was sufficiently accurate for that most of the time (showing which side of a twenty meter wide ridge to the trail was on), and so may be sufficient not only for Rogaine and mountain marathon mapping but also for training maps made from LIDAR.
Nov 3, 2016 3:06 PM # 
Rogaine mapping

Hahahahahaha. Our maps are 1:50,000. There's no such thing as 'which side of a 20 metre ridge' at that scale (plus our rogaine setters have a tendency to not do updates anyway because having an incomplete map is part of the fun).
Nov 3, 2016 7:19 PM # 
I use a Surface Pro and Surface Pro 4 with a bluetooth Garmin GLO (I think that's what it is anyway). I'm running Windows 10 Pro and OCAD 11 Std and it works well. The downsides are that I can only get 3-4 hours of battery life out of each computer so during my lunch break I switch my files from one computer to the other and I do worry a little bit about dropping the them but so far in several years of mapping with them I have yet to drop a tablet in the field. I also sometimes get random trouble iwth the Surface 4 stylus. It periodically becomes super sensitive and becomes a real pain in the *** to draw with.
Nov 3, 2016 9:50 PM # 
Thanks for that Jeff.
Nov 3, 2016 11:17 PM # 
I'm not as up to date as Canadian. I just spent the summer mapping with OCAD 11 Standard on a Trimble Yuma (runs Windows 7, unable to upgrade to Windows 10 so support will disappear in some not all that large number of years) but using a Garmin GLO rather than the built-in GPS. It's on the heavy side, ridiculously rugged (been dropped several times in rocky terrain by now), and battery life with the extended battery packs I have is, at 12 hours plus in balanced mode with the screen only bright enough to read easily under forest canopy, longer than my brain or body can stand doing fieldwork. The stylus is usable for most drawing tasks in the field but some things I much prefer to do on a desktop with a mouse, particularly drawing bezier curves of any length. For edits to contours, that often means I'll just sketch in desired changes using some non-brown symbol and revisit them in the evening to edit/draw the whole contour with the mouse. Ditto for vegetation mapping - I generally take GPS tracks of the edges of noteworthy patches of vegetation and draft them nicely at home - and really edits to almost any lengthy linear feature.

There are no doubt equally good/better options out there that may even cost less than you can pick up a used Yuma for but I can't attest to any particular setup being workable. What I have definitely is.
Nov 4, 2016 12:41 AM # 
...our rogaine setters have a tendency to not do updates anyway because having an incomplete map is part of the fun

That'd by why there were only formlines between some of the contours at WRC2016.
Nov 4, 2016 4:55 AM # 
in balanced mode with the screen only bright enough to read easily under forest canopy

For edits to contours, that often means I'll just sketch in desired changes using some non-brown symbol and revisit them in the evening to edit/draw the whole contour with the mouse. Ditto for vegetation mapping - I generally take GPS tracks of the edges of noteworthy patches of vegetation and draft them nicely at home - and really edits to almost any lengthy linear feature.

(A rare serious question from me) there actually much/any advantage to mapping with a tablet compared to the traditional paper & pencils method? My impression seems to be that you're exchanging time on the computer for time in the field, and I'd much rather spend more time sitting on a comfortable chair in front of the PC than out in the field getting tired/burnt/bitten/hungry.
Nov 4, 2016 5:38 AM # 
Juffy such a Luddite, shocking
Nov 4, 2016 7:35 AM # 
What? I just said I'd rather spend time on a computer than wandering around in the bush, and you're calling me a luddite? :)
Nov 4, 2016 9:32 AM # 
To me, the advantage of a tablet would be to see the final map in the field, and thus judge best depiction. As a few others write, this doesn't yet seem to be feasible. So, despite trying OOM for Android, I currently use pen and paper, and then do a second pass using what I've drafted at home.

I haven't yet decided how much of the inability to effectively draft in the field is down to software (tailored to mouse and big screens rather than stylus), hardware, or less physical ability to draft in a standing position holding a tablet in uneven lighting. Perhaps some clever use of multi touch gestures could make drawing beziers easier in the field (like jtorrance, I found that hardest). Or perhaps multiple passes will remain necessary. (It would be nice to reduce the time needed to map, though, and finalize finished product while in sight of what it's depicting.)
Nov 4, 2016 9:55 AM # 
Just look how easy it to draw on a Microsoft Surface

MS has been flooding the TV with adverts like this
Nov 4, 2016 10:53 AM # 
Two weeks old poll (FB account needed I guess):
Nov 4, 2016 1:00 PM # 
Juffy - a serious answer to your serious question:

1. GPS
2. Ability to switch background maps and different symbols in and out while doing fieldwork
3. Ability to draw something as it will look in the final product so you can determine what features you can draw without it being too cluttered

For what it's worth, I don't have any trouble drawing bezier curves in the field. Perhaps it just comes down to practice?
Nov 4, 2016 4:54 PM # 
As for me, I use GPS a lot. Formerly that meant I went out in the terrain to collect GPS waypoints on point features and tracks on linear and area features, went home to import all that GPS data into OCAD, then had to return and cover the same terrain again in order to decide whether I liked how everything looked, make slight adjustments in the positions and shapes of things relative to each other and so on. I haven't rigorously studied it but it certainly feels like a massive savings in time spent traveling to and from the terrain and walking around in the terrain to use live GPS data in OCAD in the field in the first place and be able to edit the GPS data immediately after collecting it.

Canadian's points 2 and 3 are good too.

To clarify about the bezier curves, it's not actually so hard to draw them (though I can definitely achieve more precisely the curve I want with a mouse sitting at a desk) but editing them with a stylus is often a PITA with my setup - it's very hard in parts of the curve with a lot of points and whatever you call the things that define the local curvature to get the stylus to select the one you want to move and not one one the other nearby ones. Possible evidence of the superiority of the stylus on the Surface Pro line to what I have.
Nov 4, 2016 5:50 PM # 
I don't know the official name for those extra points, but I call them handles.
Nov 4, 2016 6:07 PM # 
Jon, have you used the adjust curve tool available in OCAD 11?
Nov 4, 2016 6:32 PM # 
Do you mean the reshape tool? I haven't used it previously - an instance of my failing to thoroughly read the documentation each time there's a new version of OCAD, I guess. It certainly ought to save some effort compared to cutting a section out of a curve, redrawing it, and then connecting the curve segments up again.
Nov 4, 2016 7:34 PM # 
Yes, apparently that's what I mean. It's definitely easier than clicking and dragging points around or cutting, drawing, and reconnecting.

Though with a poor stylus it can be a pain because it's sometimes overly finicky about starting and ending on the line.
Nov 4, 2016 7:57 PM # 
Finickiness about ending on the edge of an area feature when you're trying to cut a piece off has certainly been the bane of my existence at times when working with a stylus. Sometime even with the mouse it's a problem.

I believe I recall reading of at least one mapper who became an enthusiastic convert to using a wireless mouse in the field but I didn't find it workable when I gave it a try.
Nov 4, 2016 10:51 PM # 
Yeah, Marcello Pradel, who was staying with me at the time a couple of years ago, got some fancy tablet and found it difficult to use. Before his second day out, I tossed him a cordless mouse and told him to try it the next day, nothing to lose. He came home the next night and immediately went to WalMart and bought one. He uses the mouse on the thigh of his pants. (I haven't talked to him lately, so I don't know for sure that he's continued using it.)
Nov 4, 2016 11:25 PM # 
Terje Mathisen:
My plan, which I haven't actually tried seriously outdoors yet, is to use my Bluetooth mouse in a vertical orientation, with a small plastic cutting board tied to my leg:

This provides the flat surface which makes it much easier to do those click&drag operations.

I do have a Surface 3 Pro with the fancy pen with mouse buttons (my daughter got my original Surface Pro), but I have not been able to use that pen in a meaningful/productive manner while walking around in the forest.
Nov 5, 2016 10:23 AM # 
Thanks everyone. This is fascinating. Especially the different opinions on the utility of the Surface Pro stylus.
Nov 6, 2016 3:43 PM # 
The past two summers I’ve mapped extensively with a Surface Pro 3, with a Garmin Glo*. Before that it was an iPad running GhettOcad; before that a notebook computer with wireless mouse (for only a few months–it was too cumbersome); before that mylar and pencils.

For me, the SP3 is a fantastic mapping tool, by far the best of any options I’ve used. It took a week or so to acclimate to the active stylus, but after that I was doing all my drafting in the field, with no need for touch up work at home.

Two issues:

... Cost. If you’re thinking of using an SP only for part-time mapping, cost might be an issue.**

... Garmin Glo and Windows 10. As many (though not all) have reported, I could not get a Garmin Glo to work with windows 10. Two older GPS’s (a Holux and a Dual) worked fine with windows 10. After rolling windows back to 8.1, the Garmin worked fine.

* Used only to get my approximate location. I still think the eyeball, with a good basemap, is best for fixing precise locations.

** I’ll ask my mapping partner these past two summers if he wants to weigh in on his experience mapping the same area, but with an inexpensive windows tablet with a passive stylus.
Nov 6, 2016 6:08 PM # 
I took the less expensive option while mapping with Rick and have been very pleased. I went this route initially due to my concern about damaging the tablet with my normally clumsy nature. I have it in a basic case and only dropped it twice with no damage.

I have been using an ASUS Aspire Switch 10 now with Windows 10, Garmin Glo and a mouse. The only issue with the tablet was the initial connection to the Garmin. It took some tweaking and re-installing, but the connection has been rock solid ever since. I tried several types of passive stylus, but none were satisfactory to grab the handles of a contour line to adjust it easily. I went to a bluetooth mouse and have been pleased using it on my pants leg. No need for a board or anything else. Just make sure the mouse has solid sides. I purchased a smaller mouse and it had "buttons" that wrapped down the sides. Very difficult to use and went back to my HP x4000b which has lips on the side allowing me to hold it for extended periods without fatigue.
Nov 6, 2016 7:37 PM # 
Personally, the timing of this thread is perfect. I'm planning on
starting some mapping projects.

My only mapping experience has been using mylar and pencils...(years ago when that was status quo).

Being not so tech savvy, I'm appreciating the guidance.

Keep it coming!
Nov 7, 2016 2:48 AM # 
My mapping time has dropped off the last year or so but I have a Surface (window 10) and Garmin Glo. I did have troubles initially getting the GPS to sync up but haven't the last few times (although it does take longer than you expect).
As I don't have strong arms, my arms get very tired carrying the tablet and I can only go about 4 hours. I believe I have used it for 6 hours in the past.
Both the surface and my previous tablet have difficulty being seen in the bright sunlight. You just have to try shading it.
I don't use a stylus. I use the table to record GPS locations/tracks but also draw on paper those things that are relative to other features (I.E. how it should look mapped vs exact locations). Overall I found using the GPS/tablet cut my field time in half as I didn't have to keep going back and rechecking areas to see if what I drafted matches the way it looks.
Nov 7, 2016 3:24 AM # 
Ted, have you tried putting the computer on something like a ski-o map holder to relieve thre stress on your arm?
Nov 29, 2016 5:51 PM # 
I liked using an iPad original with GhettoCad to update maps. I have not used it to make a new map, but to update, it was much faster than using mylar over the original map and then sorting out the changes at home on the computer.
I make the changes in the field and I am , mostly, done. I do fills and cuts at home, as those are time consuming to do in the field.
Groupon is having a sale, and I am tempted.
Nov 29, 2016 11:35 PM # 
does anyone know if any of Ppen, Condes or OCAD course setting are tablet capable, and anyone ever used them as such? Probably not a serious question, just a thought that occurred to me the other day when finding in the field control sites that needed moving and having to rely on memory to assess which options would have the least impact on affected courses...
Mar 3, 2017 2:39 AM # 
Groupon is back with the Surface 3. $299.
Tempted still, will this work in the field with ocad 9, which I have, or OOM?
How has the wireless mouse worked out ?
Mar 3, 2017 3:40 AM # 
The active stylus of the Surface will not work with OOM... at least not last time i tried. It should with OCAD.
Sep 5, 2018 6:01 AM # 
Update. I am finding the surface stylus with its right click button but no left click button, to be frustrating. Planning to move to bluetooth mouse. Perhaps someone has solved this Surface Pen problem?
Sep 5, 2018 8:47 AM # 
Terje Mathisen:
I have a BT mouse for my Surface but have not actually tried in the field so far. The plan is to have a smallish plate hanging vertically, it probably needs to be inside a bag so that the mouse can rest in the bottom of the bag when not actively used.
Sep 5, 2018 10:57 AM # 
Get out there and test! You will be in winter soon. ;-) Look forward to some photos of your solution.
Sep 5, 2018 10:00 PM # 
I've used an active stylus with a Surface Pro 3 for mapping for several years now, and like it a lot. A tap on an object with the stylus is the same as left clicking with a mouse. Double tapping with the stylus is the same as a left double click with a mouse. To grab and hold an object, e.g. a vertex of a Bezier curve, touch it and hold the stylus on the screen--this is the same as left clicking and keeping the button down.

I recall the first few days of using the stylus in the field was frustrating--using the stylus had a quite different feel than using a mouse. But once I got used to it, I liked it better than a mouse.
Sep 6, 2018 4:17 AM # 
Thanks. I missed that double tapping. Will persevere.
Sep 6, 2018 6:24 AM # 
Terje Mathisen:
Thanks RickD! I've tried to use the stylus but just got very frustrated. :-(

I'll try again now using your tips.
Sep 7, 2018 12:44 AM # 
Interesting that there is no mention of this here. I should say no mention of left click. Is the behaviour of the pen you describe unique to the application?
Sep 7, 2018 11:19 AM # 
I have surface , which software did u use?
Sep 7, 2018 6:22 PM # 
The stylus works the same in all applications, at least all applications I've used. It seems curious that Microsoft does not explain how the stylus emulates left mouse clicks--it's like they assume everyone will just intuit how it works.

I think I was using OCAD 9 when I started using a Surface Pro a bit over 3 years ago, and since then I've used 11, 12, and now OCAD 2018.

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