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GPS on your phone

As my age has crept up, my desire to stay with the latest and greatest piece of technology has slowly dwindled; two main areas have contributed to this

  1. the speed of release of new technology
  2. the cost of staying up to date.

I remember getting my first mobile phone back in early 90’s (a brick of a thing with a flip cover and a battery life of about 4 hours) and technology really didn’t move that fast so a basic phone was always my preference.


In recent years my desktop got replaced with a laptop, my CRT with an LCD, but my phone always stayed fairly basic, a phone was for ringing people on, what would I need all those extras for? Lately however I began to feel left out, everywhere I turned people had iPhones and my basic phone just seemed lacking.

Matt’s review of Endomondo back in March really got me thinking and on a recent walking holiday in the Lakes I saw first hand the benefits of the iPhone with memory map installed (free on iPhone). In parallel I had been watching the GPS systems evolve but until OS mapping reached them I still debated my need for one; to compound this I didn’t want to lose map reading skills by relying on a GPS too much. Restriction No. 2 still played a major role and justifying the cost of either a standalone GPS or a iPhone just didn’t stack up.

With my mobile contract expiring I decided to look at options, and soon found rave reviews about the HTC Desire. Similar to the iPhone but running the Android operating system with a 1ghz processor and 500mb of Ram; the Desire features both a GPS receiver and network based GPS (not very accurate). The phone has as all the usual touch screen features found on the iPhone, an SD card (up to 32 gig) , HD camera and HD video camera as well as a very usable SatNav system for your car. The only app not available was Memory Map but cost were lower than an iPhone and I negotiated a deal with my provider resulting in a free phone and a reduced monthly rate.

My goal was to get OS level mapping on the phone with the ability to record my routes and give my stats. Within days, Endomondo released an app for the Desire and a browse of the Android market soon turned up other free GPS trackers and tools. Over the past few weeks I have been testing them out. Although I am still to find one app that does it all; I can achieve what I want using the free apps out there.

Endomondo: Running this app I can record my trip via GPS, display it over Google maps, and upload it to the Endomondo site. The main negative I found is that you can’t get instant detailed information on the phone about my ride and you have to logon to see the details. However, uploading is automatic from the phone if I want, and I can export my routes from the website in GPX format for use with Memory Map on my PC or with Rmaps on the phone.

Sports tracker: Similar to Endomondo, I can record my route in Google maps but cannot upload it without paying for the full version. However I can see instant information about my ride, including ave speed, max speed, start time, finish time, average pace, max pace, distance, duration. Altitude information and charts of my performance is also available.

The main problem for all these apps is that they use Google maps, which doesn’t have the detail of an OS map and therefore of limited use when trying to find where you are or to follow another person’s route.

RMaps: Another free app, this gives you a choice of 28 map providers from all over Europe, OS is one of these and a major plus is that the maps are cached to the SD card on my phone, so I can browse at an OS level and pre store the maps for the area I am riding in. I can use the GPS function to store my routes or import routes in GPX or KML format. I can also edit how many times I store my position from every 2 seconds to 30 minutes to give different accuracy.

Battery wise the phone will run for about 2 days but its highly configurable so I can turn off GPS, lower backlights etc to lengthen run time if needed.

There are hundreds of free applications available on Android and on iPhone (including Doom for you retro gamers) so I if anyone has recommendations, let me know.

All in all, great tool, I don’t know how I was without one for so long.

Now, over to you…

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10 comments on GPS on your phone

  1. Rick says:

    Thanks for the post this is really good. I’ve been thinking about taking my iPhone while out biking but not sure what apps to use. Memory Map as you mentioend is free, but to download the map so you get a map when you have no internet is 12 quid!

    Do you know of any free iPhone apps which have stored maps and can log my route?

    Thanks

  2. AndyW says:

    I don’t know of any apps off the top of my head, but as the OS map parts seems to be free there should be. See here:

    http://openspace.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/openspace/

    I have emailed Endomondo my suggested improvements, lets see what they say.

  3. CliveW says:

    You might also consider Viewranger which uses several maps types including OS and Open Cycle Map.

    It’s available for Android, iPhone, Symbian (Nokia). It does a lot including tracking your route or storing routes for later. You can also link it to other apps which will include your tweets (Twitter) and photos on the route.

    Viewranger also has a historical data setting that will allow the route to be recorded even if in poor mobile signal area. I have used it a few times now and it’s great!

  4. D'AndyC says:

    Do any of these work on a Blackberry? I’m reluctant to splash out on a GPS as my employer gives me a BB for free.

  5. Andyw says:

    Endomondo does:

    http://www.endomondo.com/download

    And select blackberry.

  6. Matt says:

    An interesting article Andy. It seems these days that there’s so much potential on the GPS side and the dreaded ‘convergence’ word where our mapping/camera/phone kit come together is never far away with this subject. But they’ve been saying that for years.

    What caught my eye is the Pedalbrain kit which according to Bikerumor is now made up of fixing kit, battery and iPod/iPhone holder.

    I can’t see a mention of price and it only uses Google maps but it certainly looks pretty useful.

    Looks intriguing as it let’s you see where your mates are in realtime, assuming they have the same kit!

  7. Andyw says:

    Sent my comments to Endomondo andgot this responce

    “We are soon launching a new version of our app for Android which include more details on the tracking screen, like calories, avg. speed and more, and you can customize what you see, and after this we will include heart-rate. So we are working hard on this. So it’s coming soon.”

    The judgement is still out on OS mapping but I found this usefull site for displaying your GPS files:

    http://wtp2.appspot.com/wheresthepath.htm

  8. PIJ says:

    Spotted this:

    http://www.coolhunting.com/tech/biologic-bike-m.php

    No idea if the thing is robust enough for an MTB?

    PIJ

  9. david how says:

    hello, i’m new here. yes i agree about the high tech stuff on your phone being very tempting. one thing i have invested in is a seperate gps unit for riding. i decided not to go the phone route as i have had a few ‘crash incidents’ where i have destroyed my phone. as it holds most of my data i refrain from taking it on my merry little jaunts these days. i just take a cheap but robust phone for emergencies. as i mentioned earlier i invested in a ‘satmap’ which has ‘os’ mapping, a website to upload and download routes etc. it is so good ( waterproof, armoured, bike mount ) and it has survived many spills . regards to ‘os’ maps, i was told that ‘os’ as a company are not keen to licence out their maps for fear of loosing their hold in the markerplace. it took years of negotiations for ‘satmap’ to buy their licence. so on reflection although i have a smart phone my riding history dictates that i leave it at home. until a phone company bring out a do-it-all waterproof, armoured, os, gps etc, etc, i will carry on with my setup and try not to crash so often

    dave how

    sent from my htc mobile device

  10. StevenD says:

    +1 on the Satmap, I am a big fan of the Active 10.

    I used one all last summer & autumn and in the process learnt (ie rode) just about every bridleway in the South West Chilterns. I even managed to get an OS type map for it that covers South Holland that was a great help on my recent holiday. Holiday Tip: book the family into Center Parcs at Kempervennen and take your MTB.

    I also used the A10 on the Isle of Wight last summer, and I am taking a weekend over there again in July – this time I am intending to climb St Boniface Down amongst other routes, well at least that is my aim.

    Steven

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