USING SMARTPHONES FOR GPS
by Jim Hagar
Printable .docx version of this
There are a lot strong feelings in the outdoor community one way and the
other about the increasingly popular use of smartphones as GPS units. Here
are some pros and cons to consider. Of course if you have both you can use
both, and you can learn a lot doing that.
- May already have one, no extra cost. No cost for maps. GPS apps inexpensive.
- No need for the extra weight of carrying two devices and their extra
- Easy to use.
- The best smartphone apps have nearly all the features of a
mid-range dedicated GPS unit, sometimes more.
- Accuracy is similar to standard GPS units under most conditions. Remember,
accuracy is related to how many satellites the unit can get a signal from,
not the software algorithm.
- Fragile compared to a dedicated GPS unit, not usually waterproof. Carry
paper maps as a backup if you have to rely heavily on them.
Some people use waterproof
shockproof cases if this is a concern.
- Screen is often more difficult to see in bright sunlight.
- Battery life is an issue with both GPS units and smartphones,
and with smartphones it
varies enormously by brand.
ust as GPS users carry spare batteries, having an extra external battery is
very useful. Battery life depends on how much data is being recorded, and
there are tricks to maximize battery life.
- The antenna is less sensitive than higher end GPS units,
so reception is reduced. May not always be able to
get a reading in heavily wooded areas or narrow canyons,
or may be less accurate.
- Lower accuracy compared to higher-end "enhanced" GPS units equipped with
WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) capabilities.
- Compass usability and accuracy varies by brand and model, and may vary from
good to marginal. If you plan to use a smartphone for its compass feature,
always bring a regular compass to compare with until you get to know your
phone, and recalibrate it periodically.
- Doesn't have a true altimeter or barometer. It reports altitude based on
information from the GPS system. Not necessarily a drawback. With a good
signal, altitude accuracy is about double the horizontal accuracy, rarely
more than 120'.