Review CueSheet for Android

joewein

Maximum Pace
Oct 25, 2011
2,445
922
133
Setagaya, Tokyo
joewein.net
#1
Earlier this week I tested CueSheet, a GPS app for Android that is designed for giving you riding directions from a course file. It was designed to be used in conjunction with RideWithGPS' course mapping feature.

The non-electronic alternative

Paper cue sheets with turn by turn instructions are used extensively in brevet rides, but frankly I hate them. I only ever bring them as emergency backup in case my electronic solution should fail, hoping I'll never have to use them.
  • Unlike back-lit smartphone screens they're difficult to read at night.
  • These sheets run to a double sided A4 page or more and even then the font is not generously large for this old cyclist's eyes. It takes up a lot of space somewhere on or near your handlebar that needs to be secured against wind and rain.
  • Unlike a smartphone, paper does not know where you are right now on that list of turns. You got to track that by yourself and good luck if you make a mistake.

Progress of sorts

The first time I downloaded the free version of CueSheet, I ditched it again almost immediately, after I realized it was only capable of showing distances in miles. I fail to understand the logic of this. It's not like they don't have metric support: Add the Pro Pack ($3.99) and you can use km. Out of the 7 billion people on this planet today, some 6.6 billion happen to live in countries whose road signs are in km, so why are metric distances not considered a basic feature? A non-metric cycling app on the global app market makes about as much as sense as a non-English app would in the US market.

I only gave CueSheet another try when Google rolled out version 7.xx of Google Maps, which removed numerous features of its predecessors, including the ability to follow KML tracks, which is what I've been using for navigation on every single brevet ride I've done so far.

So I decided to reinstall and then add the Pro Pack, mapped a ride to a place 10 km from here and back on RWGPS and went for a ride. The app will log in to your RWGPS account (it asks for your user name or email address and the password) to download courses. You can then select a course to follow and it will give you turn by turn voice prompts in English, just like a car GPS unit. Sounds good, but how well does it actually work?

When you start the app, you get a choice of three tabs, "Rides Nearby", "My Rides" and "Downloaded". The latter are the rides you've recently created and downloaded to follow and hence the most useful, but for some reason "Rides Nearby" is the default tab. It's a list of rides by other people and it only gets populated via a lengthy sync with RWGPS. I would rather have "Downloaded" as the default selection so that the rides I've mapped for use with CueSheet are always easy to get to.

Giving it a try

For the first few km I was quite impressed as it guided me through narrow streets near my home, telling me about upcoming turns and the distance to those turns ("in 300 m turn left!"). You don't have to keep the screen on to get those voice prompts, so it would even work in a water-proof bag in a jersey pocket. With the screen on you can also get a map view of the course or a list view (Cue Sheet view) of the turn-by-turn list.

As I approached the first major road I must have missed one turn on the course. I turned the screen back on, looked at the map and resumed the course, but from then on the voice prompts and my position where out of sync. Manually moving forward and backward in the cue list, I tried to get it back into sync again, but wasn't successful. From that point onward, I could really only rely on the map view, not the voice guidance.

If you ever push the Android button to go back to the previous screen, it will take you back to the list of routes. If you reselect the currently active route, it will start at the first turn again. You will then have to manually advance to where you interrupted the course. Quickly pushing the Next button several times in a row, it doesn't just move to the last instruction, but sequentially reads out aloud every instruction corresponding to each list entry skipped, which is just annoying.

From the Cue Sheet view you can go to the map with one touch, but from the map to the Cue Sheet view you need to use the menu. It's not an easy toggle. Also, the Cue Sheet view doesn't list relative or absolute distances and the map view doesn't show any ruler (scale bar). The Cue Sheet view does not indicate which entry is the next one coming up.

The algorithm to sync the turn announcements to the position definitely needs improving, as I found after my unintentional detour. It should be easy enough to find two turn points in the list, an earlier one that you're moving away from and one immediately after that you're moving towards and then resume issuing the directions from that one. It looks to me as if the auto-selection of the next announcement had been added as an afterthought.

I will try CueSheet on a longer ride out of town to get more data, including power usage with the app. My initial impression was that battery life was much shorter than it had been with Google Maps, but I'll re-verify that.

Summary

There definitely is a market for an app with these features. I only wish it worked more smoothly. At this stage CueSheet for Android has potential, but still feels more like a beta-test version than a finished product to me.