Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Outdoors Electronica
Display Avatars Sort By:
Craig Marriner

Locale: Central Plateau
Outdoors Electronica on 09/29/2012 07:26:53 MDT Print View

Outdoors Electronica

Was unexpectedly given a Samsung Galaxy S3. I’m a smartphone dinosaur and instantly thought ‘sell’, but I’m now suspecting that, with the correct protective case and battery backup, this thing could be a bonanza of hiking kit elimination and weight saving.

Obviously it’s a phone. It’s got a good enough camera. Mp3 player. Video player (no need for that for me, but still...). E-Book reader. Barometer. Most crucially, given the GPS capability on it, I’m starting to suspect it might also double as gps unit and maybe even an epirb.
I already carry an epirb and a Garmin Oregon (and a camera, and a phone, and a book, and a notebook...)but I’ve never had to use the former and the later I only ever use for taking position fix coordinates; I’d never leave home without a trusty laminated paper map and compass.

So I guess what I’m asking is if anybody knows of any apps/settings/tips for using smartphones/Galaxy in this capacity. Again, gps-wise, I’m not interested in map-reading off it, just in obtaining my current position in the various geodesic datum coordinates used on the topographic mapping grids of different areas. And I’m only interested in how/if this can be achieved through direct satellite communication, like a dedicated gps unit, rather than through cell tower/internet connectivity. I'm too often out of range to rely on that in any way.

And if it can double as a reliable epirb that would be about a 400 gram bonus for me.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Outdoors Electronica on 09/29/2012 09:48:46 MDT Print View

To me, no cell phone can double as a reliable epirb..not really.

Christopher Yi
(TRAUMAhead) - F

Locale: Cen Cal
. on 09/29/2012 10:21:17 MDT Print View

To get a location on GPS without cell service, you need to have the area pre downloaded/cached/etc before hand, otherwise you'll see your location, but a blank background. Im use the Locus app, but I heard Gaia was good too.

Craig Marriner

Locale: Central Plateau
Re: . on 09/29/2012 13:37:31 MDT Print View

otherwise you'll see your location, but a blank background

It won't even give coordinates?

Matthew Naylor

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Outdoors Electronica on 09/29/2012 14:57:04 MDT Print View

I have not had problems getting my GPS coordinates without cell network; but it can take longer than usual for the initial fix without it. (I have a Droid Incredible 2)

My preferred Android apps for outdoor use:
Backcountry Navigator - simple app that doesn't waste much screen space with menus, quick, lots of frequent updates. There are a variety of excellent free maps available, and you can buy others for specific uses.
GPS Essentials - an app that gives you a quick link to a variety of GPS-related functions (compass, maps, waypoints,tracks, satellites, charts, etc)... maybe more what you're interested in since there are no maps
Some sort of airplane mode switch on your home page - this is essential for saving battery power.
Juicedefender - this also does a lot of good reducing your phone battery use (but I don't think it makes a whole lot of an improvement if you're using Airplane mode... not sure)
Battery Monitor Widget Pro (or some other battery monitor) - these are much more informative with better life prediction than the built in software.
Invisibright Pro - this is a widget that I always keep in the top right corner of my home screen; tapping it pops up an overlay that lets me drag to adjust the brightness of my display (optionally a second overlay on the left to adjust volume); this lets you save battery by adjusting the brightness to whatever you need. It's way easier than any other way of setting the brightness.

Also, the Otterbox Defender cases are bomber... they make it much fatter, but the protection is superb.
I also have something like this for rain+sweat protection while using the maps:

Edited by mrnlegato on 09/29/2012 15:01:27 MDT.

Matthew Naylor

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Re: Outdoors Electronica on 09/29/2012 15:24:09 MDT Print View

If you do actually use the thing for music or audiobooks on the go, I recommend finding a hands free adapter like this

You can set the single buttons on these to automatically start/stop playback, skip tracks, etc without having to fumble around with the phone itself.

Craig Marriner

Locale: Central Plateau
Re: Re: Re: Outdoors Electronica on 09/29/2012 18:00:35 MDT Print View

Matthew, that's fantastic. Great of you to give me all that; saved me a millennium of googling.

Most excited about pushing on with this now.

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: Re: . on 09/29/2012 23:34:00 MDT Print View

There are GPS apps that give the raw data from the sensor...not sure how reliable they are without cell signal (cells are used to speed up triangulation and improve accuracy). Most people tend to just think of the map apps that are included though (those backgrounds obviously won't load without cell/internet access).

Cosmic Osmo
(cosmicosmo) - F
Not a replacement for GPS on 09/30/2012 09:41:44 MDT Print View

If you *need* GPS on your trip, a cell phone won't do. Cell phones have tiny GPS antennas compared to a standalone unit and make up for this in civilized areas by getting some help from the cell towers (this is called AGPS, assisted GPS). In the wilderness, even on flat ground, on a beautiful day, I've waited half an hour for my cell phone to get a GPS fix while stationary (eating lunch), which it only maintained for about 10 minutes once I started walking. There's also the battery life issue which is compounded by the long time to get a fix.

In terms of getting your coordinates, you can download specific Android apps that give you more low-level access to the GPS than the standard "maps" software which is included for navigation. I think the app I've used is called GPS Test and is free. It gives coordinates, the uncertainty (eg, "accurate to within 30 meters") lets you reset the AGPS data (which is supposed to help get an initial fix? Didn't seem to do much for me) and shows you how many satellites you're seeing and the signal strength of each one. The latter feature is nice if you're waiting for a fix, so you can see if you're likely to get one or if it's futile.

As a multipurpose device, a phone makes a pretty lightweight combination of camera, e-book, notepad (if you can stand typing on them for long), non-emergency communications, and *maybe* GPS, but you have to consider how you're going to manage the battery life on a multiday trip.