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best app for navigation/GPS for a smart phone
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Backpack Jack
(jumpbackjack) - F

Locale: Armpit of California
best app for navigation/GPS for a smart phone on 08/08/2013 00:12:31 MDT Print View

I finally made the jump to a smart phone, and I need some input on which app works the best for navigation/GPS/topo maps.

I have the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, I would like to start using this as my GPS, camera, extra light, reading, music, and what ever else this thing can do while I'm out in the back country, so, any good experiences out there of the one you use? Let me know the in's and out's of this GPS app stuff.

Thanks, Jack

Edited by jumpbackjack on 08/08/2013 00:13:26 MDT.

Jeffrey McConnell
Gaia on 08/08/2013 00:52:49 MDT Print View

Gaia is my favorite. I download the relevant maps before the trip. You can record tracks and mark way points - it does all the typical things most GPS apps do. I like the interface and find it easy to use.

Bradley Attaway
(AttaboyBrad) - F

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
There have been two fairly extensive reviews of maps apps. on 08/08/2013 09:03:47 MDT Print View

One by myself:

followed a few weeks later by one by Amy Lauterbach and Allan Dixon:

Accuterra is now called Neotreks for iOS. There's a version using accuterra maps for Android as well.

I'm still using Accuterra maps, primarily, because the trail labels are so much more robust. I usually download maps in Gaia, Maplets, and MotionX as well, just to keep apprised of the differences, but Accuterra has invariably provided better data thus far.

Edited by AttaboyBrad on 08/08/2013 12:27:38 MDT.

Zorg Zumo
(BurnNotice) - F
Backcountry Navigator Pro on 08/08/2013 09:15:49 MDT Print View

I just purchased it - so far so good. I'm leaving on a trip and I thought I would play with it. I don't mind the purchase price as I would've easily spent that in good hardcopy maps for this trip alone. I'll have more to report later as I've only had it on my phone for 30 minutes.

Jim H
(jraiderguy) - M

Locale: Puget Sound
Re: Backcountry Navigator Pro on 08/08/2013 09:55:21 MDT Print View

I also use this app now on my GSIII. I use CalTopo to plot paths/POI's, export to GPX, and copy the file to my phone. Then I load up the GPX, choose whatever map layers I want, and download to the device for offline use.

Kevin Burton
(burtonator) - F

Locale: norcal
Re: Backcountry Navigator Pro on 08/08/2013 10:22:36 MDT Print View

I use BNP too... I like it... it works. You should probably purchase the AccuTerra maps.

Couple caveats.

1. use map bundles. Don't store things into the main tile cache. The main tile cache uses the filesystem (which can be 100x slower on filesystem check/mount). The map bundles use a real database (SQL lite) which is much much faster. You can also name them like "Yosemite" or Yellowstone" so if you fill up your SD card you can delete them or swap around SD cards.

2. definitely purchase the AccuTerra maps. Worth the money.

3. careful of the AccuTerra maps though.. I did a bushwack of 2 miles to get to a trail that was non-existant because it was a winter cross-country skiing trail. I bring a NatGeo map with me.

4. Try to keep the GPS on all day for faster usage. It turns a bit more power but it seems you can still get 2.5 or so days off one charge. Turn off the GPS at night though.

5. DO NOT place your life in the hands of BNP though. Get a real GPS or have a backup device. In fact... don't take my advice before placing your life in the hands of a GPS device. You're on your own there :-P ... I use it to just aid with trail finding and positioning.

I do some bushwhacking too and it helps. Usually to cut some time off a trip. This weekend I bushwhacked about 1/4 mile to cut off two miles off my trip.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
I switched to Backcountry Navigator on 08/08/2013 10:25:31 MDT Print View

I used GaiaGPS for my Android for a while, but I kept having some problems. To be clear, these might be limited to my particular phone --- the variants of hardware plus operating system software in the Android world is huge. But for whatever the reason, sometimes I would cache map data and be out 'in the field' and part of it just wouldn't show up, no map data arbitrarily for part of where I was at. Or there would be data, but not at the zoom level that I wanted.

I also had trouble saving the map data on my actual (not the weird sort of pseudo) SD card, which on my lower end smart phone is where most of my useable storage is.

So I switched to Backcountry Navigator, and these problems went away. It also seems to have a slightly richer set of free map downloads, to include aerial images. I did have trouble downloading one type of aerial images (don't use these much, but for fun and/or in-the-field recon ...). Customer service was great to work with --- in fact it seemed great with both companies, and ultimately neither really solved my problem. The GaiaGPS problems were, however, more fundamental, and the Backcountry Navigator download problem was "solved" for me when they told me that another type of aerial would likely download fine for me --- and it did.

I think it's tough to be really objective about this stuff as we each mostly just know our own particular hardware and software combo. I think they're both good products, just for me at least, BCN is the one to use.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: best app for navigation/GPS for a smart phone on 08/08/2013 10:44:45 MDT Print View

+ whatever for Gaia paired up with the iPhone 4s. I've found it to be an intuitive program and accurate. Maps are easy to download. I only plot the occasional grid coordinate and don't use it to track my movement as I don't want to kill my battery.

Scott Musack

Locale: Oregon
Backcountry Navigator on 08/08/2013 11:53:02 MDT Print View

For Android, Backcountry Navigator is the best hands down. GAIA is excellent on iOS, but lacking on the Android side.

Maps are going to look gorgeous on a Note 2! And the Note 2 has excellent battery life, probably enough to keep tracking on for two days. After that, you'll want something like a Trent battery pack to recharge your phone.

It's not quite that time of year yet, but if you hike in very cold conditions, your battery life is going to tank, so keep that in mind as well when preparing for your trip.

Tanner M
Re: best app for navigation/GPS for a smart phone on 08/08/2013 12:04:57 MDT Print View

With applications that have maps stored locally and don't require streaming, turning off the cell radio can help extend battery life.

Cell radio on, where there is a signal, can help acquisition of location. Even though my CoPilot works without cell radio on, processor usage can be a bit higher with it off... Check your phone and see which works better for you.

Turning off background synch or any such helps battery life as well. Keep the screen off as much as possible, of course.

It took me a while to figure out how to turn the cell radio off in Android. I was used to Blackberry where each radio can be selected individually.

Of course, it easy to turn off WI-FI and BT and GPS. The only way I found to turn off cell radio was 'Airplane'. Then, I can go back and turn on/off individual radios like WI-FI or GPS. Cell remains off. This is an older Android OS. Maybe newer versions have a separate cell toggle.

John Witt
(johnbrown2005) - F

Locale: Portland, OR
GAIA GPS on 08/08/2013 14:29:19 MDT Print View

Can't speak to android version, but on iOS, GAIA is really awesome. They regularly add free map layers, I use CalTopo most of the time. And they're super invested in improving the product, good discussions and response with the owner on their forums. Solid.

Rodney Mruk

Locale: Northeast Oregon
Smart phone GPS on 08/08/2013 15:35:38 MDT Print View

I am surprised no one has mentioned ViewRanger. I've tried most of the others and found this to be my favorite. For $24 I got the Neotreks/Accuterra maps and the USGS topo maps for the entire USA. They say it is a lifetime purchase. But when I looked at my renewal date, I realized my license was only good for 100 years! If I could only live so long.

Because Gaia seems to be so well liked here, I checked it out a bit. It looks to have a good user interface and intuitive process. Now I am tempted to shell out another $10 on an app. I wish they had a 'trial' version.

In any event, as of now I give the nod to ViewRanger.


Edited by rodney_mruk on 08/08/2013 15:49:11 MDT.

John Witt
(johnbrown2005) - F

Locale: Portland, OR
GAIA on 08/08/2013 15:43:10 MDT Print View

Not to knock any of the others (haven't tried the ones mentioned), but with GAIA the maps are free. And you can download satellite imagery to use off line/out of range.

Scott Musack

Locale: Oregon
Re: GAIA on 08/09/2013 09:01:56 MDT Print View

I don't believe GAIA can supply free AccuTerra maps. They do offer caltopo and other usgs maps free just as most offline mapping apps do.

Charles P
(mediauras) - F

Locale: Terra
Re: Smart phone GPS on 08/09/2013 10:50:00 MDT Print View

Another vote for BackCountry Navigator. I've only used with caltopo maps but the app works well. Download your grids before you leave, turn your phone to airplane mode, turn on gps and you're good to go (if phone supports this functionality, mine does). WIth backcountry nav you get a free 2 week trial, easy enough to try it out.

Zorg Zumo
(BurnNotice) - F
Not the best designed App - some basic problems on 08/18/2013 16:03:19 MDT Print View

Now if you only use this app where you have cell service you'll never encounter these issues. But I recently carted my DroidX around the White Clouds of Idaho and Backcountry Navigator kindof sucks.

Problem 1 - No offline help. None. Nadda. Zip. So you better have memorized everything before you head into the backcountry because backcountry navigator pro only has ONLINE help.

Problem 2 - Code design problem. The app uses SQLite, which is fine. Database is in App data space and your maps are on the SD card space. If you clear data on the App because it is acting wonky, you lose the database. The App code doesn't know either how to write out the database or rebuild itself. So you are basically hosed. This is a really, really fundamental code boo-boo.

Problem 3 - Code design problem. If you can't get a GPS fix after a couple minutes, what should you do? Keep running until the battery dies? Or alert the user? If the software interface to the GPS service is hung, what should you do? Keep wasting battery or alert the user? BCN isn't smart enough to alert the user. Instead it simply runs the battery dead. Very, very poor design for offline use.

Is Backcountry navigator worth the hype? Nope. It isn't ready for real backcountry use. Fine for finding your way around town but you can't rely on it for real offline use.

Scott Musack

Locale: Oregon
Re: Not the best designed App - some basic problems on 08/19/2013 13:53:26 MDT Print View

I usually make a point to know my gear (and apps) before I head into the backcountry so I wasn't even aware of the help system because I knew how to use the software.

The app has a feature to run all the data off the SD card (not just maps). Not saying the issue you mentioned isn't valid, but I think there is a solution.

For problem number three, I gotta say that seems a little nit picky. If I'm using the app and see that I'm not getting a lock in a reasonable amount of time, as the user, I think it is my responsibility to do something about it. I suppose the app could have some arbitrary threshold to alert me, but I need to use my own savvy for a situation like that. That said, I've always gotten a good lock right away across 4 different devices, so is this really a 'very, very poor design'?

I'd also point out that the developer is pretty responsive which is a huge plus imo.

So, I still think that BCN is the app to beat on Android.

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
best app for navigation/GPS for a smart phone on 08/19/2013 14:17:24 MDT Print View

I'm using an iPhone, so I can't speak about Android apps. My go-to mapping apps are Gaia GPS and Maplets. I use Topo Maps for certain features, but it is lacking in enough ways that it's not my general purpose mapping app.

I used ViewRanger for five weeks in Scotland (Gaia does not provide the expensive OS maps) and was very happy with it, however at least as of spring 2013 it did not provide satellite imagery, which is a requirement IMO, and it was very clunky to switch between OS maps and OpenCycleMaps while preparing for the trip and also while in the field. So for the US/Canada I would not recommend ViewRanger.

Zorg Zumo
(BurnNotice) - F
Re: Re: Not the best designed App - some basic problems on 08/19/2013 14:48:34 MDT Print View

If something doesn't work as expected - what do you do? Have you ever had that happen when you are offline? Offline help is simply a very, very, very basic feature for a truly "backcountry" gps app.

If the app can store the SQLite database out of Android App data space and run then it should advertise that feature. But I'm pretty sure it can't. You see, if you've already downloaded the tiles you need to your SDCard, then the app should be designed such that it can ALWAYS "regain consciousness" and use your saved maps. As it is, it can't.

The app will continue to keep the GPS on even when the phone goes into power save mode - not good design. If you don't get a lock after say 5 minutes, then shut down the GPS and post a message to the user letting them know that something is wrong. And of course, if you have an offline help, you can guide the user through some common troubleshooting steps (take your phone out of airplane mode, clear view of the sky, etc.).