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Must-have smartphone features for the outdoorsy type
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Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Must-have smartphone features for the outdoorsy type on 03/27/2013 11:36:54 MDT Print View

My iPhone is on it's last rope. Our company is on Verizon, so I'll be sticking with their offerings for a replacement. I'm looking at the Samsung Galaxy 4, iPhone 5. My questions is, what features do you guys consider must-haves for us outdoorsy types? There's lot's of features I rely on every day, but for my time in the outdoors, it always comes down to three simple requirements: Ability to acquire signal in remote areas (Verizon seems best to me so far), Ability to preserve battery for 4-7 days, and a great camera (photo quality, timers, hardware camera button, etc). I dont use my device for outdoor maps or research or anything like that, but I can see how those types of features would also be huge benefits for those that use them. So how about all of you? In what ways do you use your smartphones which you consider to be really important?

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
consider battery recharge and bugs in software and ... on 03/27/2013 12:12:32 MDT Print View

I've used android phones on backpacking trips, but I walked with a fellow for a month or so that used an iPhone and it worked well for him. It seemed less buggy; at times I would have to reboot my phone to get something working again, and this never seemed to happen to him.

OTOH, I really like being able to carry a couple of spare batteries. I suspect the Morphie Juice and the like (add-on battery pack for iPhone) works fine but is overall a bit more of a PITA and heavier --- but I've not done a careful comparison.

I've used my smartphone a lot for a variety of things, with camera and blogging the primary on-trail uses. I think that a medium to even low end smartphone will do all that you need just fine, that you don't need the latest and most expensive offering, though a decent camera is good. Even moderate smartphones today have 5 MP cameras, I think it's more about seeing how well the camera is reviewed and that's not always proportional to phone cost.

If you look hard you can find devices that are tougher and/or water-resistant/proof, but the selection is very limited and I think the "bang for your buck" in terms of all other features doesn't tend to be that great. So I go with a more conventional phone and just take a bit of care. It's worked for me now for a surprising number of trail miles.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Reading on 03/27/2013 12:54:29 MDT Print View

I use an iPhone with a tough Otterbox case (not waterproof, though). When I'm on the trail, the only thing I use it for is reading, really, using a Kindle app. I will probably replace my phone with a kindle if I do an extended trip this year (school keeps me doing weekends).

When I bike tour, I use the phone for navigation all the time, but in the backcountry, I'd rather use a paper map. Battery issues are much more serious in the wilderness than on the sides of public roads.

I bring a "real" camera into the woods, so I can't comment on the iPhone's camera much. I do appreciate it when I'm in a bad storm, though. I leave my camera safely sealed away and use the iPhone in it's case instead. However, my new camera is weather-sealed, so maybe I'll be more ambitious...

It's also been my experience that the iPhone 5's simple interface is preferred over Android's, and a lot of my friends who used Androids historically have switched over. That's definitely personal, though, and I do not want to cause a flame war on android VS mac.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Re: Reading on 03/27/2013 14:17:35 MDT Print View

I'm a Verizon customer and I agree that they've got the best back-country coverage in California and Utah, where I've used my phones.

My smartphone is a waterproof, dustproof, highly shock/freeze/vibration resistant Android unit from Casio, called a "Commando". Say the name with rumble in your voice, like the announcer for a monster truck commercial, thank you. I can confirm the phone is waterproof down to 8 feet at least and it's spent a good part of a few days in lakes and rivers (in my submerged side pocket). It's also survived a number of drops, tumbles and such on asphalt, rock, dirt and a streambed. Since it's pre-built with the armoring and uses a thick Corning Gorilla Glass screen, it doesn't need an auxiliary case and I don't use one. The batteries pop right out and I backpack with an extra charged one.

I use the phone for email "bursts" at night and as an emergency communication device, but I don't turn on the battery-sucking GPS, generally. I keep the phone turned off when I'm not using it or don't need to play Angry Birds, ha ha!

The downside to the Commando is that it's slow. It uses Android 2.3.3 and has limited onboard memory. Compared to my wife's Samsung Galaxy/Fascinate, it's dull and sluggish. However, it's also survived quite well and I don't actually play Angry Birds.

Casio has a 4G-LTE version coming out, but not until the Christmas shopping season, 2013, by most estimates (revised from Jan'13). If you want the battery-swap capability, there are a number of other phones that now offer a version of Gorilla Glass, Android and some water-resistance. The Commando goes for $99 or less right now, too.

Josh Brock

Locale: Outside
Ipad? maybe on 03/27/2013 14:35:37 MDT Print View

Just throwing this out there But I take my Ipad. I watch movies, read books, and do simple photo editing. with my sd card reader attachment I can upload my pictures while on the trip and show people im with. If your worried about getting it wet just throw it in a freezer bag.

I carry a DSLR so I dont use my Ipad for this.

Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
smartphones on 03/27/2013 16:13:15 MDT Print View

"OTOH, I really like being able to carry a couple of spare batteries"

Spare batteries seems like a big advantage for Android devices, I will keep that in mind. thanks!

James Walton

Locale: south
Re: Smartphone on 03/27/2013 16:18:45 MDT Print View

I have been using Iphones since the 3 and just upgraded to the 5. Apple products just work and they work all the time. No buggies etc..... The 5 has a great panoramic feature for the camera! I use it to read at night (kindle) and anything else that fancies me. For the case I use a Lifeproof case as it is waterproof. I can attest to this feature. I was ejected out of a canoe in class IV last year and floated nose up and toes ups for about 7 minutes with my iphone in the pocket of my baggies. Even dropped the sucker in a commode while multitasking LOL! That case is a must for the active in the outdoors. As for the battery, this is a PITA. I just carry a spare rechargeable unit. A little heavier than a spare batt but luxuries do cost!

Lachlan B
(Lachlan24) - F
Must-have smartphone features for the outdoorsy type on 03/27/2013 16:36:21 MDT Print View

I use my smartphone whilst hiking for two main tasks. Firstly to display maps and show my location through GPS. Secondly to record my path, speed, elevation etc using Runkeeper.
I have a Galaxy S2 and an iPhone 4S (work phone), and much prefer the android phone purely as I can switch off reception while still using GPS, and being able to change the battery. Where I walk the reception is dodgy at best and having the phone constantly looking for a signal kills battery life.

As for available hiking apps, camera quality, user interface it's all pretty decent. You can't really go wrong.

Derrick White
(miku) - MLife

Locale: Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada
Smartphone - Delorme InReach on 03/27/2013 16:48:07 MDT Print View

I typically hike in areas well beyond cell range but use an old Galaxy Android based phone to link with my InReach device. I carry 2 extra batteries for an 18 day trip and it allows me to text with my family via the InReach.

Besides its locations updates to a web server for family to see, the InReach also communicates its GPS coords to the phoen which are plotted on predownloaded maps, allowing me to periodically confirm location. The combo of InReach and Phone and battery weight is not insignificant but combined it gives considerable safety and communication when hiking solo in very remote and challenging areas.

I do of course long for the day when one can get SOS, GPS location, texting, voice and maps on a sat phone - the day is not too far away. Such a device would require much battery management but is feasible.

I note that there is the new Iridium 9575 Extreme Satellite Phone with GPS Tracking (275 grams), but it doesn't have maps.

But I am probably getting off topic right about now . . .


David Miles
(davidmiles) - F

Locale: Eastern Sierra
iPhone - Topo Map App on 03/27/2013 17:22:48 MDT Print View

The Topo Map app on my iPhone is better than any other topo app on any phone I've seen so far. The resolution and features are amazing.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Must-have smartphone features for the outdoorsy type on 03/27/2013 18:14:51 MDT Print View

We bought a 25 euro phone in Germany, which was quite enough over there.
But then, I use a REAL camera and I use real topo maps and a compass.


Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
iPhone and android on 03/29/2013 22:22:04 MDT Print View

Great feedback, thanks everyone. The camera alone on the new Galaxy might sway me. Spare batteries doesn't hurt either.

Jon Hancock

Locale: Northwest England
Tripod on 04/01/2013 06:31:01 MDT Print View

Something not specific to any particular model, but very handy if you use the camera a lot, is a 'phone tripod like the Slingshot from I use it with my HTC One X and it certainly helps to stabilise the camera and allow the use of the self timer without having to prop the 'phone up and hope for the best.

The single most useful feature I've found is an app to display Ordnance Survey grid references - it does nothing else, simply brings up the ref in big clear numbers - which can be handy if you need to confirm position for any reason; obviously not much use outside of the United Kingdom, of course.

Edited by bigjackbrass on 04/01/2013 06:31:43 MDT.

Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Smartphone UTM coordinates on 04/01/2013 07:59:49 MDT Print View

Jon, I use a strip of Velcro on my phone which attaches to Velcro on my pack, as a camera stand. This works really well for me. Your mention of displaying coordinates is a new idea for me, hadn't thought of that before, thanks!. I use maps to navigate, but having the phone just confirm position when necessary/possible sounds very useful. I see some apps allow you to send your coordinates via txt/email, awesome! Has anyone seen an app which will attempt to connect automatically every hour and send location info? Kind of a poor mans location beacon?

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Tripod on 04/01/2013 11:15:47 MDT Print View

"The single most useful feature I've found is an app to display Ordnance Survey grid references"

Somebody try to find a converter to display MGRS position. That is the Military Grid Reference System for you civilians. You almost have to be a Grunt, Groundpounder, or Jarhead to know it.