Hardware Guide

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So you plan to buy some hardware to start mapping or enhance your current mapping? First, decide what kind of device(s) you need, then have a closer look at the available models. If you are not familiar with Photo mapping and Audio mapping, you may want to explore these before deciding on hardware which is unsuited for these techniques.

Possible hardware combinations

This list may seem trivial, but there may be combinations that you did not think of before

  • for GPS tracks
    • mobile phone with integrated GPS
    • mobile phone with external GPS (via bluetooth, serial cable)
    • PDA with integrated GPS
    • PDA with external GPS (via bluetooth, serial cable, USB)
    • laptop / ultra portable pc / tablet pc with integrated or external GPS (via bluetooth, serial cable, USB)
    • GPS track logger (with or without display)
    • GPS navigator
    • Explorer's Pal
  • for geotagged photos
    • digital camera
    • mobile phone with camera
    • PC / PDA with webcam
    • GPS navigator with integrated camera
  • for voice recording
    • dictaphone (voice recorder with little tape or digital memory)
    • most portable mp3 players
    • most mobile phones
    • MD player / recorder
    • digital photo camera with microphone
    • camcorder
    • GPS navigator with integrated microphone
  • for graphical notes
    • pen & paper
    • pen & hand :-)
    • tablet pc
  • for POI and house numbers

Closer look at some kinds of hardware

GPS devices

There is an extensive list of all kinds of GPS devices at GPS Reviews. Be sure to choose one that is compatible with the rest of your future equipment. If your GPS has a record feature of its own, it's the only mapping hardware you need!

Devices especially for OSM

There is not a lot of mobile hardware designed especially for OSM. The following list tries to provide an overview with the main features:

  • Explorer's Pal (still under development)
    • GPS Receiver
    • Store GPS Tracks
    • House number logging function
    • POI storage function
    • JOSM plugin (planned feature)

Mobile phones

Most phones can be excellent GPS recorders with convenience functions like waypoint templates or voice recording. Even phones with weaker hardware usually still have limited ability to show maps of your current location. More powerful smart-phones running Android, iOS and similar mobile operating systems usually support powerful map applications, e.g. using vector maps that contain many map details and offer also very high zoom levels despite requiring only limited memory.

Before getting a new phone with integrated GPS, check if you can do it with your current phone and an external GPS (around $30). If your current phone is too old: Usable phones are available from as low as $40 plus the GPS, and that is the starting price for a used smart-phone with integrated GPS and sufficient powerful hardware for state-of-the-art map apps. Also, think about a device with full keyboard like BlackBerrys or Sony Xperia pro, as this eases entering object details on the go.

No matter if you will have internal or external GPS, your phone should be able to run some GPS recording software. Have a look at Software/Mobile to get an overview - there are many programs available for Android, iPhone, Windows Mobile, Symbian, Palm OS, further operating systems. Moreover, many of those platforms support also software written in Java Mobile Edition, a.k.a. J2ME a.k.a. MIDP 2.0. If you plan using J2ME / MIDP software, be sure that your phone allows these programs access to the local file system and bluetooth (JSR-82) or internal GPS - this is popular, but not always the case.

A word on memory usage: An hour of detailed GPS tracks may use up to 1 MB, often much less. If you plan to use your phone to take photos and/or voice recording, you will need much more. Modern phones are extensible through memory cards. Please note, that not all phones are able to do GPS / voice / photo recording at the same time. It may depend on the combination of model and your GPS software. For voice recording, be sure to get a headset.

As of 2021, some recent smartphones claim to support Galileo but in fact do not work with it. This includes the Fairphone 3 and 3+; Motorola Moto G Power and Moto G30. On the other hand, the Xiaomi Mi A2 Lite does not claim Galileo support (even on the manufacturer's own page), yet it works.


For software, look at this list. Please add more information.

Laptop / Tablet PC / UPC

A laptop will be useful for mapping by car, but please do not try to use mouse or keyboard while driving! It can do what a GPS navigator can do, and much more. It will also record audio without problems. Maybe a cool solution for a mapping tour with a friend, if you drive and he maps in real time. For pedestrians and cyclists this just won't be practical, but possible: Take your laptop in your hand or rucksack and let it record. Please be sure it won't overheat in there. An old laptop may be available for $150.

Another alternative are tablet PCs and ultraportable PCs. These can be held in your hand and even be operated while walking. They may be as small as a PDA and feature Windows XP, Vista or a GNU/Linux system. On most of them, you can draw and write with a digital pen as well. While this is much too expensive for the sole purpose of mapping, they may be useful in other situations. Think of $500 to $2500 for one of these.

For software, look at this list, too.

Digital camera

While you mostly will not buy a camera especially for photo mapping purposes, there are some things to think about when buying one anyway: If it has a microphone, maybe you can use it as a Dictacam. If it has a good video feature, you may use it like a camcorder to record your tours including video and audio. And if you try to make photos from bike or car while you drive, it should have an image stabilizer and a good (low) aperture and high ISO values, because both mean short exposure times which means less motion blur. And do the test: can it be unpacked, turned on, a picture been taken, turned off and packed again - all this with one hand, under shaking conditions and without taking all your attention to do this? This will be a k.o. criterion for most cameras if you plan to use it on your bike or car.

Consider also recording imagery and uploading it to Mapillary or KartaView so others would benefit as well. While mobile phones are the most popular option and perfectly suitable for most cases, an action camera like GoPro might be more suitable for biking on rough terrain. GPS was added in the GoPro Hero5 Black model, but older models can be also used when paired with the Mapillary app in iOS.[1]

360° imagery is also great for an all-around view of the surroundings. It can be recorded with a suitable device like the GoPro Fusion 360 or the GoPro MAX, but requires a more thoughtful mounting, usually on the roof of a car or a helmet. Some people have also attached a solid pole in their backpack and a camera on top while biking, which provides a steady base for the camera. A helmet mounted camera is going to move when for example crossing the street, so the pole method should eliminate that problem. More information about recommended 360 cameras can be found here.

Dictaphone / MD recorder / MP3 recorder

Most players can record, but not all. If they can record, some only record WAV, which means your memory will be filled up rather soon. Some MP3 players allow you to connect a mic or headset, which also helps you. Before buying, check the recording feature of your mobile phone.


A camcorder is a portable consumer electronics device for recording video and audio using a built-in recorder unit.

A key issue in OSMapping is battery life camcorder battery. When you undertake a journey, you'd better bring two batteries with you, or get a high capacity battery.

For documentation of events, the field of view can overlay items such as time and date of the recording. Compass direction at time of recording and geographical coordinates may also be possible.