Ok, so I am sure a lot of people here are familiar with smart phones and how they can be used to lighten the load of backpacking. But I thought I would make a special thread for people to share comments, concerns, and tips for other smart phone users or those considering buying one to add to the outdoor gear arsenal.
It offers weight savings, LOTS of weight savings (depending on what you normally bring packing).
Some of you might say "Don't want one, it is what I want to escape from, ect" which is understandable. But like any electronics, these things can also be turned off and tucked away. Just because you brought a flashlight, you don't have to use it all night...So lets just curb that attitude right now. =)
It's all about the apps! I didn't have much interest in smart phones, as recently as about two years ago. I liked to think of my phone as a phone and anything beyond that was frill. However I quickly learned how wrong I was when all my friends began to show off the nifty apps that unleashed the true potential of their phones. I am now a complete convert.
My current phone is a Samsung Nexus S (129 grams), it runs Android and since I have never used an iPhone I cannot speak on the kinds of apps available to Apple users, but I know the market is bountiful. So for just a moment I'd like to talk about how I use my phone to enjoy the outdoors and to lighten my load.
Keep in mind all these applications are free from the Android App market with the exception of my mapping software.
Mapping/GPS - My ONLY paid app, Viewranger mapping software. It allows you to store map data directly to the phone so you can still use it for navigation even when you are without a cell signal (or if you decided to turn it off). You can pre-cache ahead on longer trips, I think it pays to be prepared.
I like the Viewranger software, but as a secondary GPS app I also have GPS Test which provides me with loads of data like lat/long position, heading, speed, altitude, number of GPS satellites Im connected with, and the connection strength.
If you can still connect to a cellular tower, you can also run the bevy of free map options like Google earth, latitude, and maps.
Astronomy guide - I admire the stars, and sound confident about naming constellations with Google sky maps. Using the accelerometer, digital compass, and some magic, it will help to identify what stars you are looking at in the night sky.
Just one more way to remind you how insignificant we are in the scheme of things.
Translator - Google Translate and Google Goggles allow you to not only convert speech to text but you can also use the camera to scan barcodes and documents. The list of supported languages is fairly comprehensive, however I wouldn't rely on it entirely, as the speech to text can sometimes substitute the wrong words (it is a work in progress, but loads better than a physical dictionary) and it never hurts to know some rudimentary phrases "Beer please! Sorry. Thank you. Do you speak english? Where is the bathroom? How much?" for when you visit abroad.
Conversion tool - Converter allows you to do make on the fly conversions for nearly everything. From area to mass, fuel consumption, wave lengths, temperature, and more. An amazing app for any wonks who like crunching the numbers, or figuring out if those liters and ounces really add up right.
Library - I use Amazon Kindle to keep a literal library of books (200+) for on hand reading and reference. I grab mostly the ones in public domain (free) but nothing will stop you from buying the latest best seller either. I've also found free survival guides and wild plant identification books at the Kindle market. With Adobe Acrobat, I can also have the pdf manuals for any gear on hand to reference whenever.
Medical reference - I use the Medscape app as free medical reference that also provides me with a medication index and cross reference to make sure that providing emergency pain killers won't interfere with any prescriptions someone is already taking. I also have iTriage, which lets me find treatment, doctors, and look up symptoms.
Knot tying guide - Knots Guide has every kind of knot you could think to tie, and step by step instructions on how to tie it (some have a series of pictures as well). They have fishing knots, climbing knots, even decorative knots! It doesn't require an internet connection to run so it is a good reference anywhere.
Light - With the app Nexus Torch, I can turn on the flash LED from the camera to light up things. It is a great secondary light source and moderately bright (includes a high setting if you have a rooted phone), it also features an adjustable strobe setting.
Camera/Camcorder - My phone features a 5 megapixel rear facing camera that can also capture 720 x 480 video and a front facing 640 x 480 camera. I use it as my primary camera for when I am out, it takes great pictures if you can manage to hold it steady, and I also have the ability to adjust shooting modes for things like macro and high/low light (adjustable exposure). The video is recorded in H.264 MPEG4 and looks/sounds good.
Internet Browser/Email/Phone/Messaging/Remote photo gallery management/ect - This thing is literally a pocket computer! With a 1ghz CPU, 16 gb of storage, and all the antenna for connecting anywhere in the world (CDMA/GSM/HSDPA/802.11N/G/B WiFi/Bluetooth/NFC/GPS).
You can also turn them OFF (airplane mode/ect) to save battery power or just stay truly 'off the grid'.
I use Firefox, Gmail, Picasa Tool, and eBuddy for keeping people up to date on travels from anywhere I can get WiFi or a cell signal. Great option to hauling around a whole computer on longer trips...if you can tolerate working on a 4" screen (probably not for old people).
I am also a bit of a hacker and can use tools to SSH/FTP/VPN from anywhere in the world. So my server at home is just a login away.
Mp3/Movie/Game device - I use Winamp for playing music I have stored on the phone and it has a headphone jack so I can bring along my earbuds to enjoy a better quality audio experience (great for relaxing after a long days hike) and I use Netflix to watch movies if I could ever be that bored. I have several PopCap games that the Amazon app market released for free for a limited time. I believe they now cost around $3-4 each and are worth the hours of fun provided.
I purchased a Powerfilm AA/USB charger a couple months back, and with it I am able to charge the AAA (with a size adapter) batteries for my head lamp, and also charge my phone from it. This helps to make the charger multi use and just handy to have around in general. With these two items, my pack is saved a great deal of weight, as I no longer need a camera+camcorder/gps unit/phone/mp3 player/lamp/books/ect for any of my travels not to mention I don't have to pack as many batteries - one AA pair for charging the phone, and three AAA for my headlamp.
Now I know you might say, "Ok smart guy, what happens when solar winds/water/gremlins blow up those fancy tri-corders?" Well, I always carry a real compass, map, and very basic emergency medical diagram of arteries and vital organs just in case. However these are simple backups to what has become my go to outdoor device.
Anyone else know of some great/free/useful phone Apps please contribute! I feel that the smart phone really is the next big Multi-use device for the outdoors person. My phone is just one of many very capable phones on the market today, but always check features like antenna/gps/camera before spending money for one!