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post #1 of (permalink) Old 01-15-2013, 03:53 PM Thread Starter
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Default GPS Apps on Smartphone

Recently there have been questions raised on CT regarding the suitability of gps apps on smartphones for backcountry navigation, rather than using a "real" gps. Here's an outline of how a now-outdated phone can be set up for navigating. The phone is a Nokia N8, which, being two years old, will fall short of what newer phones can do.

I have four gps/map apps on it: Trekbuddy, Nokia Maps, ViewRanger, and Google Maps. All of them can be running at the same time. The reason for having multiple such apps is that they have differing capabilities, which will become apparent as we explore them. The pictures in this article are screen captures taken on the phone. Most of the pictures are in portrait, but they can be displayed in landscape also.

It's important to distinguish between being online and offline. Online is when you have a cellular connection, or, for phones so equipped, a wifi connection. Offline is when you're out of cellular range and/or wifi range, or have those functions turned off. For backcountry use, gps mapping apps on phones must have an offline mode.

If you access mapping information using the cellular connection, it will cost you data download charges that will vary according to your plan, but can be very costly. If you use wifi, it's "free". If want to avoid cellular data downloading and the resulting fees, it's important to configure your phone so it won't do this. Because it probably will by default.

Trekbuddy

Trekbuddy has all sorts of settings, even one to control the power level used by the gps receiver. It can record tracks, waypoints etc. Here's a screen capture showing the winter backcountry access route up Hollyburn. The map is from the shareware source, Ibycus. Getting Ibycus set up for use on a cell phone is not for people with exciting lives.

I've detailed TrekBuddy/Ibycus installed on a Blackberry, on this earlier topic.
https://www.clubtread.com/sforum/topi...gps,smartphone

A TrekBuddy/Ibycus topographical view of a track up the winter route on Hollyburn Peak:



TrekBuddy compass:



For those who are really into this stuff and want to know what TrekBuddy can do, here's a bunch of setup and configuration screens:



Nokia Maps

Nokia Maps is a free app for Nokia phones. After you register on Nokia's website, maps are free.

This app has a few modes. The first is a typical gps setup for vehicle navigation. You can set a destination, and it will display 3D maps and give verbal directions. It issues warnings if you're speeding. For safe vehicle use, you need a bracket so you don't have to hold it in your hand.



It has full lists of various types of countless thousands of Points of Interest (POI). If you're online, it can display traffic conditions. It also can display transit facilities.



So far, all this functionality is contained in maps you can download for free from Nokia, with maps available for most of the world.

The next features are more relevant to backcountry use. Nokia Maps does have a "Terrain View" mode that includes streets, but it's basically mountain shading and is useless. Nokia Maps, so far as I know, does not have a version with topographical information.



Nokia Maps has a "Satellite View" mode. The satellite views are not local (stored in the phone) by default. You have to browse along a route or around an area while you have a cellular or wifi connection. The data will be stored at whatever level of resolution you used for browsing. This doesn't take a lot of time, and compared to multi-gigabyte memory cards, the filesize is not a problem.

For instance, here is a view of Hollyburn Lodge. This can be extremely useful for bushwhacking, and finding trails in situations where just having a gps and topographical map is inadequate. But a lot of areas in Nokia Maps satellite view are in "fuzzyland" compared to, say, Google Earth.



Nokia Maps shows your location using the gps receiver, but it doesn't seem to have provision for basic gps functions such as tracking, waypoints etc.

ViewRanger

ViewRanger is the cat's ass for backcountry use. It has so many different modes, it's not funny. There's satellite views, ski area maps, topographical, street and bicycle route maps. It has full capabilities for backcountry navigation, but does not do turn-by-turn street navigation. You can buy cheap maps online for pretty well anywhere you'd want to go.

If you have a Nokia phone, you can get ViewRanger itself for free, because it's hooked into the Nokia website. Like Nokia Maps, whatever you can browse while online will be stored locally, for free, and down to the level of resolution used for the browsing.

Satellite view of backcountry track and trail up Hollyburn, and a closeup of the summit. The tiny pond beside the summit is visible.



Ski area view has trail and facility maps for downhill and XC areas. These include a lot of summer hiking trails. Here are views of XC runs at Hollyburn, and the base area of the Cypress Mountain downhill area.



And a more detailed view of Hollyburn Peak. Interesting to note here are a couple of old ski runs, Slalom Run and Little Slalom Run, that have been allowed to grow in with trees.



Next, ViewRanger's topographical view. Note that it shows the cabins, roads, creek names, and hiking trails.



ViewRanger also has a street view mode. Here's one shot of this version of the Hollyburn XC area, and two of the Granville Island entrance area:



Here are three views of ViewRanger's bicycle mode. First, Vancouver's core area. Then, the Granville Island / Burrard Bridge area. Lastly, zoomed in even farther. At this level it even displays places to get coffee.



Some of ViewRanger's menu screens. These screens hint at the wealth of configuration and navigation options available in ViewRanger.



Prior to an outing, you browse your route using whatever type or types of views you expect to be useful on your trip. During your trip, you can easily switch between them, all the time with your gps location and your recorded track displayed. For instance, while bushwhacking in our complex mountain terrain, being able to switch between satellite and topographical views is very powerful compared to just topographical information.

Last, Google Maps

Even if I knew much about what Google Maps can do, I won't even attempt to do more than scratch the surface here. There are some important things Google Maps can't do, at least not on this phone. I used to be able to do Street View on the phone, but not anymore. I don't know if it's an o/s version issue, or whether Google took it away from Nokia. While Google Maps will store locally maps and satellite views accessed online IF you have an Android or iPhone, it won't do this for the lame duck Symbian o/s used by the Nokia N8. So far as I can figure out, Google Maps can't use the phone's gps, at least on this phone. So Google Maps on this phone is pretty useless if you're offline.

It will display traffic:



And a closer road map view of Granville Island. Not as good as ViewRanger's version.



Google Maps has satellite views with closer resolution than available on ViewRanger or Nokia Maps. Here's the top of the Romstad XC run at Hollyburn, in winter, where the upper backcountry access route starts. You can even see a couple of skiers. Plus a Google Maps view of one of the picnic shelters at Garibaldi Lake.



IF you can get satellite views in Google Maps with greater detail than you can obtain in other apps, but can't access them offline, a workaround is to browse them online and use a screen capture utility to save them as pictures in the phone. You can then look at them when you are in the field. But this is a rather clumsy way of doing it.


Wrapup

This should give you some idea of what the gps/mapping apps can do on smartphones. I agree battery life and receiver sensitivity generally are not as good on phones as dedicated gps units. Carrying a spare battery is simple enough. The sensitivity is at least adequate. For instance, a Garmin Hcx has no problem getting positions in a passenger lounge on a BC Ferry, while this thing has to be by a window. Even an Hcx will be defeated by dense woods, but this phone will be defeated sooner. It works just fine inside a car with no external antenna. It can get a position anywhere inside a typical frame house except the basement. I think that's good enough.

What impresses me is that whether I want bike route information, voice guidance to find some place while driving, looking at satellite views to find clearings while bushwhacking, saving a track, looking up the nearest bicycle repair store, checking traffic, needing a downhilll ski run map, etc., it's all in this one device.

Besides these four gps/map smartphone apps, there are many others available. But most of them don't have offline modes. A bunch of suitable ones are mentioned in this topic:
https://www.clubtread.com/sforum/topi...TOPIC_ID=50830

Something I haven't done yet is try to install a mapping app with marine charts.

Newer smartphones should be even better for gps/map tasks. I'm not up on what the latest dedicated gps devices can do, but I understand they're just beginning to implement satellite view capability. I doubt the dedicated units have anywhere near the flexibility of how this phone is set up. The phone's touchscreen works better than touchscreens I've tried on dedicated gps units. And for any generation of the devices, the smartphones have larger screens.

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post #2 of (permalink) Old 01-15-2013, 07:57 PM
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I actually built one myself for the Android. It uses Google Terrain/Topographical maps (which can be used offline if you pre-explore the area you're going to be traveling in). I also made it download accurate elevation data once you're in data/wifi range.

And yeah, like all apps that use the GPS, it does drain the battery somewhat but nowhere near as much as the phone trying to seek a 3G connection when you're out of range. If you want the battery to last you can always turn off the antenna while in the backcountry. All you need is the GPS receiver to be on. Also, to extend it even more, you can just pause the tracker while you're stopped for lunch, etc.

As an example, I'm using a Nexus One, and I don't bother turning off any antennas. I can easily track for about 6 hours with the battery staying above half full.

I've been using it for almost two years now but I have only just released it two months ago on Google Play. I've mostly been using it for hiking, biking, snowboarding and backcountry skiing.

Here are some screenshots:



More details and screenshots here: Snail Trail GPS Sports Tracker
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post #3 of (permalink) Old 01-15-2013, 11:14 PM Thread Starter
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Impressive stuff! This points out another thing I believe favors the smartphones. It's really easy to install and configure applications and maps on them. I haven't done it, but it looks like developing apps for them is not a monumental challenge, compared to, say, changing the software on a dedicated gps unit. (If it's even possible.)

Your tips for reducing power usage on the cellphones are useful also. I haven't needed to worry about it, but I should set up a "gps" profile that minimizes other power consumption. Or just use the airplane profile.
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post #4 of (permalink) Old 01-16-2013, 08:38 AM
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Yeah, the airplane mode is the easiest way to turn off the radios.
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post #5 of (permalink) Old 01-16-2013, 11:58 AM
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Quote:
quote:Originally posted by cdanes

I actually built one myself for the Android.
Excellent work! I will have to try it out.



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post #6 of (permalink) Old 01-16-2013, 12:05 PM
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Quote:
quote:Originally posted by sgRant

IF you can get satellite views in Google Maps with greater detail than you can obtain in other apps, but can't access them offline, a workaround is to browse them online and use a screen capture utility to save them as pictures in the phone. You can then look at them when you are in the field. But this is a rather clumsy way of doing it.
You can take the screenshots of Google satellite view and use Maprika to make them available offline with GPS and tracking.
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post #7 of (permalink) Old 01-16-2013, 04:24 PM
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Great thread thx for posting. cDanes I'm going ot give your program a try.
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post #8 of (permalink) Old 01-16-2013, 04:29 PM
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Quote:
quote:Originally posted by cdanes

I actually built one myself for the Android. It uses Google Terrain/Topographical maps (which can be used offline if you pre-explore the area you're going to be traveling in). I also made it download accurate elevation data once you're in data/wifi range.

And yeah, like all apps that use the GPS, it does drain the battery somewhat but nowhere near as much as the phone trying to seek a 3G connection when you're out of range. If you want the battery to last you can always turn off the antenna while in the backcountry. All you need is the GPS receiver to be on. Also, to extend it even more, you can just pause the tracker while you're stopped for lunch, etc.

As an example, I'm using a Nexus One, and I don't bother turning off any antennas. I can easily track for about 6 hours with the battery staying above half full.

I've been using it for almost two years now but I have only just released it two months ago on Google Play. I've mostly been using it for hiking, biking, snowboarding and backcountry skiing.


Here are some screenshots:



More details and screenshots here: Snail Trail GPS Sports Tracker
What does your trial version do for test purposes?
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post #9 of (permalink) Old 01-16-2013, 04:32 PM
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Also does your app have navigational features or is it just a tracker?
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post #10 of (permalink) Old 01-16-2013, 06:59 PM
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Quote:
quote:Originally posted by pmicheals

Also does your app have navigational features or is it just a tracker?
It's just a tracker for now but I'm adding more features as I find the time. Following pre-loaded tracks and sharing of trails is high on the feature list of things I want to add.

The trial version is the same as the full version but limited to tracking only 50 waypoints (about 2km or so.) Basically just enough to get a feel of whether or not you like it.

If there's enough interest from Clubtread, maybe I'll add some features to post the stats directly from the app. I'll also gladly listen to any feature suggestions. No promises though. I do this in my spare time (when I'm not outdoors) after all...

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post #11 of (permalink) Old 01-19-2013, 11:01 AM
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Oh, I reduced the price of my app to $0.99 for Canadians only. I was going to make it free in Canada only but Google wouldn't let me...
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post #12 of (permalink) Old 01-19-2013, 11:07 AM
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I highly recommend MyTracks from Google for Android.
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post #13 of (permalink) Old 01-19-2013, 03:55 PM
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Do these use tons of data?
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post #14 of (permalink) Old 01-19-2013, 11:09 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
quote:Originally posted by sixwings

Do these use tons of data?
As you can imagine, the amount of downloaded data for any given need can vary greatly, depending on area covered, type of map and depth of detail, number of types of maps downloaded, density of data within the area etc. Topo maps plus satellite images of, say, the Garibaldi Lake area might be 4Mb.
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post #15 of (permalink) Old 01-19-2013, 11:22 PM Thread Starter
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The reason why I posted this topic is because some claimed that gps apps on cellphones are not adequate substitutes for "real" gps units. Has anyone been impressed by the capabilities of these apps, or had their minds changed, or had their doubts confirmed?

I have a Garmin Hcx, which is a half-decent gps unit that's about as outdated as my cellphone. So it's fair to compare their gps functions. The cellphone is vastly more flexible, easier to manipulate the software on it, can display satellite views and has a much bigger screen. The Hcx has much longer battery life and the sensitivity is better. The Hcx is waterproof, while the phone is very vulnerable to water damage.

When it comes to deciding which gps to take on a trip, there's no question about taking the phone since I'd have it anyway. The only question is if I bother to make sure it's set up for the area to be visited. The question about the Hcx is whether to take it at all. Generally it only gets taken if having a gps is extremely important on a trip. Like if having a backup is important and no one else on the trip will have another gps. Or if a gps will need to operate for many hours. These conditions don't happen often since we fossils did without any gps units until recently. And I really like having the satellite views.
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