Marine Charts Lite is a free Android app that like a chartplotter shows you your boat's position on a chart, assuming your Android smartphone or tablet has an internal or external GPS receiver. It uses standard NOAA raster charts, the same as many other apps - which display the same as standard paper charts.
The enticement here is that while the app is free, the method by which you download chart sections (which the app calls "tiles") for use is so clunky that if you want to use this app in more than just a tiny geographical area, you're motivated to upgrade to the Marine Charts HD version, sold for $9.99, to avoid the slowness and problems of the free downloads (and to remove the banner ads). So it's not actually free except for those who boat in only a small geographical area that can be more easily downloaded for offline use on the boat - or for people who are constantly connected (a risky thing to trust on a boat).
In addition, NutiCharts lacks many of the features of other low-cost charting apps.
Version reviewed: Marine Charts Lite (free) and Marine Charts HD ($9.99) version 2.7(22)
Tested on Lenovo A1 Tablet running Android 2.3
What It Does
Here are the key features of Marine Charts Lite:
- On startup, when online, you see a base map chart of your location. You can then pan around and zoom in somewhat to select small chart areas (tiles), a little at a time, to download for offline use.
- Once you have appropriate chart tiles, view your boat's GPS position on the NOAA chart - zoom and pan to look ahead and around.
- Return online later to download additional chart tiles.
- Option to track your boat on the chart and save the track.
- Option to mark waypoints by dropping pins on the chart.
- "Guide to waypoint" function (but not full routing functions).
- Option to measure distances between two points.
- Online (but not offline) help screens.
Marine Charts Lite and Marine Charts HD are not a full chartplotter like many other apps, but essentially just show your position on the chart and allow simple use of waypoints and other functions. It does not include typical functions for routes and navigation (no multi-waypoint routes, no speed and course, etc.). Its simple functions might be fine for a free app, except that its free downloading of chart tiles is so frustratingly limited that to use it well you inevitably want to upgrade to the paid HD version ($9.99 - obviously the developer's intent) in order to download larger sections of charts. Even then, downloading is slow and tedious and may result in a chaotic stitching of chart sections at different zoom levels and resolutions.
It's appropriate, then, to compare Marine Charts HD to other paid apps with many more features, like Memory-Map, MX Mariner, and Navionics Marine & Lakes - and then it really doesn't even begin to compare.
Users also complain that it runs very slow.
Its limited features alone would cause me to recommend virtually any other charting app over Marine Charts, which in contrast looks like software written a decade ago. But worse still is its chart functioning. Even with the paid version, it is very tedious to download chart tiles, and it's easy to make a mistake and end up not really sure what you're getting. For example, you select a certain area of a small-scale chart to download (when online). Later, offline (as in many real-life boating situations), you start to zoom in to see your boat in that chart area and suddenly realize you don't have enough detail because the zoom doesn't go far enough in or becomes blurry (you have to remember to select the best zoom level when you first download the chart section) . You have to go back online and download some more in the same area with a higher level of zoom. Do this several times in a larger area and you can end up with a crazy quilting of chart sections that can be zoomed to different levels. If you have more detailed chart tiles in one place compared to the place just beside it, when you zoom in that other place will simply become blurry or a hole in the chart.
This is not something I'd trust my boat or my life to in a tricky navigational area! If you like raster charts (the NOAA charts that look identical to paper charts), then spend a few bucks more and get MX Mariner or Memory-Map, which are full-featured apps that download entire NOAA charts and keeps them all in focus when zoomed and seamlessly shifts into smaller- and larger-scale charts. Or if you like vector charts, check out Navionics Marine & Lakes.
Note: When I uninstalled Marine Charts on my Android tablet, the data and chart files remained, using up precious resources. I had to manually delete that folder with literally hundreds of files via my computer to regain some 130 MB in storage room (and I had not downloaded all that large an area with the app).
Here’s a comparison of 5 Android apps for boat charts and navigation to help you choose the one best for you.
This app as described here is available for Android devices. For Apple devices, check these apps.
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