Poll: Handheld GPS vs. Smartphone with Offline maps - ClubTread Community

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post #1 of (permalink) Old 05-29-2017, 01:24 PM Thread Starter
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Default Poll: Handheld GPS vs. Smartphone with Offline maps

I haven't seen any recent threads (in the last couple of years) with discussion of people using their Smartphone as a navigation tool, vs a dedicated handheld GPS. (Garmin, Magellan, etc). With the advancement in technology of smartphones (longer battery life, faster processors, more rugged (ipx rating water/dust resistance) - my question to everyone is:

Who is using their smartphone as their #1 navigational tool?

- This includes recording tracks/waypoints/routes
- Also includes using to follow an existing track/route

Who is using a standalone traditional handheld GPS?

- This includes recording tracks/waypoints/routes
- Also includes using to follow an existing track/route


Though I have both (A traditional handheld GPS) - As of late, with the purchase of a new water resistant (it can be submerged in 1M of water for 30 minutes) and dust resistant phone, I have opted to use my phone as a standalone navigational tool to record my tracks and follow pre-recorded routes).

My reasons are as follows:
- Battery life in airplane mode with high accuracy (A-GPS) turned on lasts 2 full days of hiking and only having used 50% battery. (I have not been on a long enough trip to test the full battery capacity).
- Far easier to navigate and use compared to handheld GPS.
- More in depth information available.
- More software options available.

What are everyone's thoughts/input? Just curious!

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post #2 of (permalink) Old 05-29-2017, 01:58 PM
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I a traditional GPS (Garmin Oregon) with the Backroads map set for Alberta and BC (I really like the level of trail information these map sets provide). While a dedicated GPS and smartphone will be just as accurate when locked onto the GPS constellation, a dedicated GPS can lock under a wider variety of conditions (clouds, bad weather, forests, canyons etc).
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post #3 of (permalink) Old 05-29-2017, 03:23 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by kellymcdonald78 View Post
I a traditional GPS (Garmin Oregon) with the Backroads map set for Alberta and BC (I really like the level of trail information these map sets provide). While a dedicated GPS and smartphone will be just as accurate when locked onto the GPS constellation, a dedicated GPS can lock under a wider variety of conditions (clouds, bad weather, forests, canyons etc).
Funny, I never noticed any difference. For example: This winter I was using my new Asus Zeofone 3 in airplane mode (No cell reception, but had GPS turned on to high accuracy) tracking my ski day on one of the interior mountains in a white out/blizzard,50 kmh winds, in temperatures going down to -26c, so the conditions couldn't possibly get any worse... The phone locked on to a signal relatively quickly (within 30 seconds), and subsequently, I had my handheld GPS tracking the same stats for comparison sake, took about the same time to lock on to a signal, and both tracks were literally identical when overlayed in google earth.

Perhaps GPS technology in phones has changed/improved over the last few years.

Note: Phone I have is an ASUS Zenfone 3. According to maunfacturer specs, has A-GPS, GLONASS.
Handheld GPS: Magellan Xplorist 510

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post #4 of (permalink) Old 05-29-2017, 03:42 PM
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Originally Posted by pdomansky View Post
Funny, I never noticed any difference. For example: This winter I was using my new Asus Zeofone 3 in airplane mode (No cell reception, but had GPS turned on to high accuracy) tracking my ski day on one of the interior mountains in a white out/blizzard,50 kmh winds, in temperatures going down to -26c, so the conditions couldn't possibly get any worse... The phone locked on to a signal relatively quickly (within 30 seconds), and subsequently, I had my handheld GPS tracking the same stats for comparison sake, took about the same time to lock on to a signal, and both tracks were literally identical when overlayed in google earth.

Perhaps GPS technology in phones has changed/improved over the last few years.

Note: Phone I have is an ASUS Zenfone 3. According to maunfacturer specs, has A-GPS, GLONASS.
Handheld GPS: Magellan Xplorist 510

It's a matter of radio and antennae design. GPS units are optimized specifically for GPS constellation frequencies, whereas Smartphones have to be built to handle a much broader range of frequencies, not just on the cellular side, but WiFi, NFC and Bluetooth. Wind doesn't affect reception to any great degree and colder is generally better (less water in the air). Rain and heavy cloud is when you tend to see a big difference (and I have when comparing my iPhone 6 and Garmin)
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post #5 of (permalink) Old 05-29-2017, 04:35 PM Thread Starter
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It's a matter of radio and antennae design. GPS units are optimized specifically for GPS constellation frequencies, whereas Smartphones have to be built to handle a much broader range of frequencies, not just on the cellular side, but WiFi, NFC and Bluetooth. Wind doesn't affect reception to any great degree and colder is generally better (less water in the air). Rain and heavy cloud is when you tend to see a big difference (and I have when comparing my iPhone 6 and Garmin)
Good to know. I usually carry my Magellan as a backup in case anyway for redundancy, so at least I now know where the failure may be if it can't lock a satellite.Thanks for the info.
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post #6 of (permalink) Old 05-29-2017, 05:55 PM
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Originally Posted by pdomansky View Post
Good to know. I usually carry my Magellan as a backup in case anyway for redundancy, so at least I now know where the failure may be if it can't lock a satellite.Thanks for the info.
For the last two years I've pretty much parked my GPS. The Galaxy S6 I have just seems to do it all what with a nice suite of tracking and mapping apps to choose from, most with great offline pre-caching abilities as well. I just put the thing in low power mode, turn off the mobile data and map away with many hours of battery life.

The eTrex gps we have works well but the smartphone offers a lot more flexibility, even if accuracy of output is not quite as good.

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Last edited by xj6response; 05-29-2017 at 06:13 PM. Reason: missed words
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post #7 of (permalink) Old 05-29-2017, 08:23 PM
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Picked up a Garmin GLO external antenna for my iPhone, which adds the Russian GLONASS network and improves accuracy to 3m. Its also wireless and about the size of two fingers. Won't be taking my eXplorist any more.
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post #8 of (permalink) Old 05-29-2017, 09:18 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by xj6response View Post
For the last two years I've pretty much parked my GPS. The Galaxy S6 I have just seems to do it all what with a nice suite of tracking and mapping apps to choose from, most with great offline pre-caching abilities as well. I just put the thing in low power mode, turn off the mobile data and map away with many hours of battery life.

The eTrex gps we have works well but the smartphone offers a lot more flexibility, even if accuracy of output is not quite as good.
What offline mapping software/tracking software are you using? I have tried a few, tried Backcountry Navigator Pro, Map my hike, but I find the one with the best maps, features and ease of use for price is Viewranger with the $7.99 offline Canadian Topographical map. It's available for Android or iPhone.

Since using my phone as my primary, I have yet to fall back to my handheld. After this year, if I don't use it, it will be going in to my "retired" bin of gear and I will solely use the phone.

“Real adventure is defined best as a journey from which you may not come back alive, and certainly not as the same person.” - Yvon Chouinard

Last edited by pdomansky; 05-29-2017 at 09:18 PM. Reason: Typo's
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post #9 of (permalink) Old 05-29-2017, 09:23 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Trail Talk View Post
Picked up a Garmin GLO external antenna for my iPhone, which adds the Russian GLONASS network and improves accuracy to 3m. Its also wireless and about the size of two fingers. Won't be taking my eXplorist any more.
From what I understand, Apple has incorporated GLONASS in each iPhone since the 4S... Does the external antenna make a big difference in terms of signal strength/speed?

“Real adventure is defined best as a journey from which you may not come back alive, and certainly not as the same person.” - Yvon Chouinard
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post #10 of (permalink) Old 05-29-2017, 11:50 PM
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Originally Posted by pdomansky View Post
What offline mapping software/tracking software are you using? I have tried a few, tried Backcountry Navigator Pro, Map my hike, but I find the one with the best maps, features and ease of use for price is Viewranger with the $7.99 offline Canadian Topographical map. It's available for Android or iPhone.

Since using my phone as my primary, I have yet to fall back to my handheld. After this year, if I don't use it, it will be going in to my "retired" bin of gear and I will solely use the phone.
When I bought the Samsung Galaxy S6 it was in part because of the inclusion of GLONASS as well as GPS, but yes many phones now use both. Among others there's a network of new positioning satellites coming fully on stream soon called BDS, from China. It's called BeiDou/COMPASS and it will soon offer a build out of more than 30 global satellites. It already works very well in Asia and most upcoming smart phones will use these signals

As for mapping apps I really like AlpineQuest. It has many online map bases to choose from (I like Open Cycle/HIke), good recording options, compass etc. Open cycle/hike has plots of thousands of trails from all over the world. AlpineQuest is easy to pre-cache an area, at high resolution when you're online then have it available offline, but large area map caches can take a lot of memory.

Avenza PDF Maps is a very good app for viewing and track recording on BC's TRIM georeferenced data set

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post #11 of (permalink) Old 05-30-2017, 06:07 PM
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Originally Posted by pdomansky View Post
From what I understand, Apple has incorporated GLONASS in each iPhone since the 4S... Does the external antenna make a big difference in terms of signal strength/speed?
That is what I'm hoping. User reports seem to show improved accuracy by 3X, faster satellite acquisition, more satellites tracked, better performance under partial cover, and more data points recorded than iPhone GPS alone.

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post #12 of (permalink) Old 09-15-2017, 10:05 AM
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Originally Posted by pdomansky View Post
Who is using their smartphone as their #1 navigational tool?
I do. Also, I carry a power bank, cause the lifetime of a phone is way too important.
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post #13 of (permalink) Old 09-15-2017, 02:24 PM
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I would never ever rely solely on a Smartphone for navigation; but to answer the immediate question I use a dedicated GPS Garmin unit . I think far more importantly it's telling that not one comment here made any mention whatsoever of implementing real live paper maps along with a compass.............which I believe is an enlightening segway to the "Lost in the Back Country" posting. See: https://forums.clubtread.com/11-hikin...k-country.html
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post #14 of (permalink) Old 09-15-2017, 03:08 PM
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I would never ever rely solely on a Smartphone for navigation
Navigation in the backcountry is so critical that I think relying on any sort of electronic device to keep you alive is foolish, but a tool can still be extremely useful without being something that you have to rely on (perhaps I am arguing semantics here). I have a dedicated GPS and a smartphone but the dedicated GPS is so clunky that I use the smartphone almost 100% of the time. A lot of smartphones don't work well as GPSs though: their GPS unit is terrible or they have bad battery life, or they aren't durable, or they run iOS and the available map software for iOS is kinda "meh".

I personally like OsmAnd a lot. It's easy to download maps, and they often have a fair bit of detail, like forest boundaries, cliffs, ridgelines (at least around here). It does eat up battery though, but the alternatives do to.
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post #15 of (permalink) Old 09-15-2017, 04:00 PM
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