Distance-measuring instruments have evolved a great deal from the rudimentary surveyor’s wheels to contemporary laser rangefinders and theodolites. Although accurate distance measurement still remains expensive and unwieldly for professional applications, the modern smartphone has nevertheless miniaturized and simplified this complicated engineering problem.
A smartphone is now all you need to quickly tackle macro measurement tasks such as estimating networking/electrical cable runs within the house or figuring out how far your daily jogging route takes you. Unfortunately, for every distance-measurement app that is barely competent, there are a dozen that are virtually useless. Luckily for you, we have waded knee deep through the mediocrity of the Google Play Store to bring you three of the best distance-measurement apps for Android.
We recommend installing all three apps because each one of these is suited for different distance-measurement scenarios. Furthermore, since smartphones aren’t specialized measurement tools, they utilize a number of sensor arrays to estimate distances. In other words, while one of our recommendations is good for intermediate distances since it relies elementary trigonometry, you might want to use another one of our recommendations leveraging perspective estimation for longer distances.
1. Smart Measure
A part of a larger suite of smartphone measurement apps, Smart Measure is a widely-used and even more widely-acclaimed distance measurement tools. The app is developed by a Korean Android whiz by the handle of Android Boy, who seems to have a knack for programming fairly accurate smartphone-measurement tools. Smart Measure relies on basic trigonometry to estimate the distance from and the height of a particular object.
Using the app is fairly straightforward:
- Aim the crosshairs at the base of the object you want to measure, and tap the “Get Distance” button on the right side of the display. This will immediately display the distance to the object.
- To measure the height of the same object, tap the height-measurement button represented by a tree on the left side while still keeping the crosshairs planted at the base of the object.
- Take the crosshairs from the base to the top of the object, and tap the “Get Height” button to record the height.
- Both the distance and height measurements will be locked into the display until you tap the “Reset” button for a fresh reading.
The apparent simplicity of this process is also the reason for the odd reviews with negative ratings complaining about inaccuracy. Having tested the app thoroughly and validated its measurements with a good old-fashioned measuring tape, it’s safe to say that most of these negative reviews are down to user errors and calibration oversight.
Since this app relies on the Pythagorean Theorem, the phone has to be at the correct height for optimal measurement accuracy. That means measurements will be wildly inaccurate if you use the app while you’re seated or if you otherwise aren’t in the same horizontal plane as the object that is being measured. The app assumes the height of the user to be 5 foot 9 inches by default, so it’s best to manually calibrate it if you’re taller or shorter.
In fact, it is best to spend a few minutes referring to the comprehensive calibration guide on the official blog for best results. Once the app is dialled in, Smart Measure even beats Google’s own AR measurement app in terms of speed and ease of distance measurement.
2. Smart Distance
Smart Distance is another app from the creator of Smart Measure that is optimized for measuring distances further out to a range of a kilometre. While Smart Measure employs trigonometry for distance measurements up to 50 metres, this app relies on perspective estimates to measure objects much farther than that.
Using this distance-measurement app is even simpler compared to Smart Measure. The only catch is that since it uses perspective estimation, you must either know the height or width of the target that you intend to range. The idea is to choose subjects of known dimensions such as people (height of an average person is 1.7m), cars (easy to look up dimensions online), or common objects built to a specific code such as lampposts.
Distance measurement is as simple as aligning parallel green lines to the width or height of the target and entering the same dimensions. This app comes in handy for golfers, who can easily measure any hole in the course by targeting the flags, which have a standardized height of 2.1 metres. Smart Distance also works well for travelers. Measuring famous tourist attractions is easy considering the data about their height is just a quick web search away.
Smart Distance is surprisingly accurate – that is, provided you follow the instructions and know the width or height of the reference subject. Calibration isn’t a hassle because the developer of this app claims to have calibrated it for more than 700 major smartphones, with regular and timely updates being committed to accommodate the latest smartphones.
3. GPS Fields Area Measure
So far we have a fairly intuitive app that’s good up to 50 metres and another that can go up to a kilometre. Both of these apps, however, work on line of sight. That isn’t ideal fr measuring distances longer than a kilometre or in cases where maintaining line of sight isn’t feasible. This includes distance measurement scenarios where you’d want to figure out the length of your long and winding jogging track.
The GPS Fields Area Measure app might have a long name, but it is suitable for equally longer measurements. While it can be argued that Google Maps works well for measuring distances between popular locations, it isn’t particularly intuitive for customized measurement of complicated paths between two points, much like the aforementioned jogging track example.
GPS Fields Area Measure can be used to calculate the distance between two points on a GPS map across a user customizable path. Want to find out how quick the shortcut to the grocery store is? Use this app’s intuitive UI to set a custom route to the store and get an accurate distance measurement. Additionally, you can also use the built-in GPS tracking to actually move from point A to point B to measure the distance between them.
The GPS-enabled nature of the app makes it fairly accurate. This is something I verified by setting a custom path between two points in my locality and then verifying the measurement using the odometer of my car. Not surprisingly, both measurements matched within the margin of error. As an added bonus, the app even allows calculation of area either using the map or by traversing the perimeter in the GPS mode.
Distance Measurement in Your Pocket
There are plenty of apps that promise accurate and convenient distance measurement, but very few manage to achieve a balance between reliability and ease of use. Our carefully curated and thoroughly tested trio of apps are your best bet for distance measurement on Android smartphones. Keep these apps installed on your phone, and you’re ready to tackle distance measurement tasks of virtually any magnitude and complexity.