Forum Index » GEAR » Android + Backcountry Navigator vs Garmin GPS devices.


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Kevin Burton
(burtonator) - M

Locale: norcal
Android + Backcountry Navigator vs Garmin GPS devices. on 12/25/2012 15:21:11 MST Print View

I want to carry an Android device for photos, videos, movies, pictures, wikipedia, Internet and tons of other features.

It doesn't make a ton of sense to have a full Garmin GPS device with identical technology.

There *IS* Backcountry Navigator:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.crittermap.backcountrynavigator.license&hl=en

which is an app for using the phone's GPS to determine location and use topo maps.

I suspect that the Garmin is probably better at GPS nav since it's been around FOREVER but *how* much better is the main question.

Has anyone had any experience with this?

James Reilly
(zippymorocco)

Locale: Montana
pros and cons on 12/25/2012 17:00:25 MST Print View

I use Android with Trimble Outdoor as my Gps. I always have a paper map that gets me through most things but Trimble helps me when I off trail or need to locate myself quickly. The battery life of the phone keeps me from using it for very long at a time. I usually carry and extra battery in case but really I use GPS as my backup navigation and battery life isn't a concern for a night or two out.

I plan to hike the CDT in a couple years and will most likely bring a dedicated mapping GPS on that trip. That is unless Android and the handset manufacturers improve battery capacity greatly before then or I can figure out a good plan to recharge along the way.

As far as the GPS functions of Android (2.3 and higher) and the apps go. I wouldn't hesitate to use it as my primary navigation tool if the power issue was sorted out. Of course not all handsets are created equal. Some of the Samsung line has had issues with GPS locking and some just work better than other.

I like the idea of one device for everything and hope it gets there soon.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Android + Backcountry Navigator vs Garmin GPS devices. on 12/25/2012 17:36:02 MST Print View

Most dedicated mapping GPS receivers do better than a smart phone with GPS. I won't say that it is consistently better, but often it is. Most have a slightly better GPS antenna than a smart phone, partly because dedicated GPS receivers only need to do one thing, receive signals from space. Smart phones, by contrast, do that plus transmit and receive terrestrial signals, plus sometimes WI-FI and Bluetooth.

If you are operating in wide open country, you will get excellent GPS reception on either rig, so it doesn't matter. As you start to move into challenging terrain, the advantage of the dedicated GPS receiver may show. This is especially true in a difficult multipath interference situation, such as with lots of wet tree leaves overhead and some large rock surfaces nearby. However, even if your system starts having some difficulties, this doesn't mean that you are lost forever. Typically it means that your location seems to be jumping around erratically by a little extra.

OTOH, some smart phones use cell phone augmentation to GPS. If the GPS signals are marginal, sometimes the cell phone augmentation can help locate you, or more quickly. However, if you are way out in the boonies, you probably don't have any cell phone service, so you don't want to be counting on that augmentation.

Some people are getting so dependent on their smart phones to do everything that I wonder if they aren't missing the main purpose of wilderness travel. I do carry a tiny GPS receiver, but sometimes I don't use it for days and days.

--B.G.--

Nelson Sherry
(nsherry61)

Locale: Mid-Willamette Valley
Garmin vs Android on 12/25/2012 21:23:08 MST Print View

My Garmin sits in a drawer at home. I have access to more different maps on my Andriod phone. Backcountry Navigator manages noisy signal better than my Garmin. My phone is way multi-use. My phone fits in my pocket better. My phone has a bigger display. And, since I don't consider my GPS to be mission critical, I don't feel I need the bomb-proofness of my Garmin.

Gregory Stein
(tauneutrino) - F

Locale: Upper Galilee
Smartphone? on 12/26/2012 03:11:50 MST Print View

Where do you charge your smartphone when you're away from any electricity?
In most smartphones the battery depletes quickly. Not to mention all the fancy "functions" of it: photo, video, gps, internet...

I prefer NOT to take GPS at all. And I bring my 60 gram Nokia 1280 which is a monochrome display phone with "emergency" flashlight and it takes from week to 10 days to discharge its battery.

Why smartphone + 5x charged extra batteries OR solar charger which you never know either will be helpful or not?

IMHO

Gregory Stein
(tauneutrino) - F

Locale: Upper Galilee
Smartphone? on 12/26/2012 03:11:50 MST Print View

Where do you charge your smartphone when you're away from any electricity?
In most smartphones the battery depletes quickly. Not to mention all the fancy "functions" of it: photo, video, gps, internet...

I prefer NOT to take GPS at all. And I bring my 60 gram Nokia 1280 which is a monochrome display phone with "emergency" flashlight and it takes from week to 10 days to discharge its battery.

Why smartphone + 5x charged extra batteries OR solar charger which you never know either will be helpful or not?

IMHO

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
ditto James Reilly on 12/26/2012 10:11:26 MST Print View

James Reilly's comments exactly match my own feelings. Assuming you have a half-way decent smartphone and spend some time beforehand to learn it's "little ways", I too would rather save the weight and bulk and just sort of "fiddle factor" of carrying yet another device. A smartphone does well enough, with battery power being the big caveat.

And as James plans to, I did bring a standalone GPS on the CDT last year and would do so again, with battery power a/the major reason. Easy and comforting to carry a pair or two of lightweight lithium AA batteries as spare in order to use the GPS whenever I'm inclined to in that sort of setting. And the particular GPS unit I brought is quite weather proof, unlike my phone. So that I always had it a bit more ready to hand in any conditions (though always off except for relatively short bouts of use).

Ben Wiles
(benjita) - MLife

Locale: Annandale, VA
battery on 12/26/2012 10:40:45 MST Print View

Battery life is definetly an issue with a smartphone. At best, I've never been able to get a few hours worth of life out of the phone. I also don't have a way of recharging. My GPS has replaceable batteries. I have heard though that you can turn off the radios in some phones while only running the GPS.

John Harper
(johnnyh88) - M

Locale: The SouthWest
Re: batteries on 12/26/2012 11:38:08 MST Print View

I use my iPhone as my GPS with the Gaia app and it works fine. I turn off my wifi, 3G, and other stuff and keep it in airplane mode. When I want to check my position, I switch it out of airplane mode, wait a few seconds, verify with my map, and then put it back into airplane mode. I usually do this a few times a day. Even in a deep slot canyon with absolutely no cell reception, my phone matched my Garmin (which I have since stopped taking most of the time).

Used in this manner, I once only used up 28% of my battery power on a 4 day trip through forests and canyons. I turned it off as soon as I got to camp and kept its battery warm.

So yes, a smart phone can work fine depending on your usage of it. If you want to track yourself and leave it on the whole time, a dedicated GPS would be better.

Jason G
(JasonG) - F

Locale: iceberg lake
search on 12/26/2012 11:48:56 MST Print View

There are miles of thread discussing this.. search!


^ I do exactly what john does and it works great!

Edited by JasonG on 12/26/2012 11:50:02 MST.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: west coast best coast
Re: Android + Backcountry Navigator vs Garmin GPS devices. on 12/26/2012 12:01:36 MST Print View

I have a garmin extrex 30 that I received as a gift last summer. It's not something I would have bought on my own, but I like it and will use it. The real issue here is battery life. If I have my smart phone, I will end up using it for a lot of other things. On short trips or on trail trips, it doesn't matter as much. I am really getting into off trail travel so it should help me out a bit. Also, if you don't own a smartphone, a gps is generally cheaper than buying a new phone (without a contract).

Lyan Jordan
(redmonk)

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Android + Backcountry Navigator vs Garmin GPS devices. on 12/26/2012 12:09:39 MST Print View

If i need a GPS, i would avoid bringing one with a breakable screen. Most smart phones have a large breakable display.

Also, water resistance. My phone has two exposed ports, one covered but not water tight port, and two speakers plus a microphone that look likely to leak.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: west coast best coast
Re: Android + Backcountry Navigator vs Garmin GPS devices. on 12/26/2012 12:19:40 MST Print View

A guy working at REI told me that my GPS is waterproof down to a few feet. That is good to know. My smart phone stays in a waterproof bag.

Eric N.
(LugSoul)

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Went back to Garmin after trying smartphone on 12/26/2012 12:49:09 MST Print View

I've used Garmin GPSs for years, and currently have a 62s. But I've always wanted a bigger screen, and I've never thought the Garmin maps were that great. So, a year ago I got a Droid Razr Maxx and have used several different navigation apps on it, including Backcountry Navigator, Orux, Gaia, Locus Pro, and Viewranger. Overall, I like Viewranger best, because their maps are the most readable: nice terrain shading with trails in red. Locus Pro is also very good, and is probably the most sophisticated navigation app out there. It takes a while to master. The Droid's screen is quite large, which was nice. Nonetheless, I've ended up going back to the Garmin, because the Droid's screen is almost useless in sunlight, while the Garmin is fine in sunlight. On a recent week-long backpack, I carried both, because I still used the Droid for reading books on the Kindle app, and also used an Audubon wildflower app. Plus, I was surprised to find that, even in the relatively remote Eagle Cap Wilderness in NE Oregon, I was able to send and receive texts when I was on high passes. I did carry a small auxiliary power supply to juice it up once.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Neither on 12/26/2012 12:55:56 MST Print View

Great warning sign I found in Joshua Tree last week. The National Park Service says neither may work :)

Warning Sign

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Went back to Garmin after trying smartphone on 12/26/2012 13:00:09 MST Print View

My paper topo map has a bigger screen than your Garmin.

--B.G.--

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: west coast best coast
Re: Re: Went back to Garmin after trying smartphone on 12/26/2012 13:11:10 MST Print View

"My paper topo map has a bigger screen than your Garmin."

That's why you should bring a paper map as well. You can see everything, get a good idea of scale, and plan your routes. Trying to scout around on a tiny screen sucks.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: west coast best coast
Re: Neither on 12/26/2012 13:12:27 MST Print View

Why wouldn't GPS work in Joshua Tree? Are they just trying to stop people from relying on it?

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Neither on 12/26/2012 13:37:08 MST Print View

"Why wouldn't GPS work in Joshua Tree? Are they just trying to stop people from relying on it?"

Don't know, but I thought it was a cool sign.

I have played around with a smart phone and GPS. The problem is battery life and they can too easily break or malfunction.

In my youth I could navigate in jungles in strange places with only a map and compass. Over the years I rarely needed a compass, just a topo map would do. A couple years ago I was in some very difficult canyon country and found my compass skills had deteriorated, not to mention my UL baseplate compass was less than desirable. So I dug out my old Cammenga lensatic compass when I got back home. Now my skill is back to where it needs to be.

Based on my experience I am not an advocate of this new technology. And why would a light hiker want multiple tools (compass to back up the GPS). If one is not expert with map and compass, then they can be at serious risk. I'll take my 5 oz compass over a GPS or Spot any day. Just my opinion.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Neither on 12/26/2012 13:46:30 MST Print View

"Why wouldn't GPS work in Joshua Tree?"

That is difficult to say.

It might be that the park officials just don't want you to be dependent on something that could possibly fail due to high temperatures. Maybe they refer to the map database inside some GPS receivers. JTree doesn't have a lot of good roads and streets.

From spending years in the GPS business, I can tell you that there are a number of places where GPS is _intentionally_ unreliable. Those tend to be near military bases (e.g. 29 Palms) where GPS jamming tests are run. Warnings about jamming tests are publicized periodically, but few people pay attention. If jamming tests are underway, your civilian GPS receiver will go completely haywire. Military receivers will keep working since it is mostly the civilian frequency that the test fools with.

--B.G.--