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nericksx

Dedicated GPS vs Phone

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I have a Garmin GPSMAP 62s, that's 9 years old. I got it back when GPS on phones was sketchy at best and mapping software was really awkward (Blackberry Storm! I was the shizzle.)  I'd been faithfully loading up maps and geocaches and waypoints when I go into the backcountry, but I was increasingly frustrated with the tiny screen, awkward UI, and even battery life (truly abysmal on my GPSr. If I want to record a track, I get about 2 hours out of it), compared to my phone. I'd been thinking about getting a new GPSr, but I can't figure out what advantage it would have over my phone. Maybe durability, but there are Otter cases. Has anyone else given up their GPSr for phone exclusively? If people prefer a dedicated GPSr over a phone, why?

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Much of the decision between using a GPSr vs Smartphone app is based on personal preference and monetary cost.  In regards to personal preferences, some things to consider are:

  • Screen visibility - For some, a GPSr screen is easier to look at than a smartphone. For me, I have to turn up the phone's brightness in order to read what's on the screen. The high brightness uses more battery. I don't see a glare problem with my GPSr's screen.
  • Buttons vs Touchscreen - Touchscreens, on phones or GPSr's, can get 'jumpy' if there are water droplets (rain) on them. That problem doesn't happen with GPSr's that use buttons. This is a big factor for me, as I often cache in the rain.
  • Screen size - Most smartphones have a larger screen than most GPSr's. There are times when I wish my GPSr screen was larger.
  • Durability - Some cachers have rugged smartphones and/or cases, so they don't worry about dropping them or laying them in the dirt or getting them wet. GPSr's are usually more durable 'out of the box' than most smartphones.
  • General fit - Some cachers find smartphones to be too big for one-handed operation. Personally, I find it easier to navigate the GPSr with one hand, whereas I usually need two hands for my phone (one to hold, the other to swipe).
  • Battery life - Some cachers can cache for an entire day with their smartphones and still have plenty of power left, while others have a dead battery before they've finished caching. Most GPSr's will last more than a day on a pair of AA's. There are external battery packs to charge a smartphone on the go, so that is an option. Personally, I find it easier to carry extra rechargeable AA's that I can quickly swap into my GPSr. Carrying a smartphone that's attached to an external charging pack is just cumbersome to me.
  • Logging - Using a GPSr does not allow for instant logging of caches, unless you have one of the few units that connects to geocaching.com (eg, Garmin Oregon 700 series). Using a smartphone in an area with cell/wifi service allows cachers to log their caches right away. Whether this is a benefit or not depends on the cacher. Some cachers prefer to write their logs later, perhaps at the end of the caching day. Either device should allow for creating Drafts (aka 'field notes').

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There have been several GPSr vs Smartphone threads debating the benefits, or not, of using one type of device over another:

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Ah, indeed. Thank you for your considered reply, and I look through the other threads. Cheers. 

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I've always found the touch screen Oregon models to be more intuitive to use. But that's just me. They also have higher resolution screens, even though they are of similar size to the 62 and 64, and that extra resolution leads to extra clarity. 

Your battery life issues are likely due to some settings issues. If I'm out backpacking and recording my track, I can get 8-10 hours of life. Be sure that you have battery save mode turned on - it'll shut off your screen after a predetermined amount of time of no use. Turn the backlight off - you don't really need it when you're outside, but it certainly doesn't need to be on continuously. And finally, use Eneloop rechargeable batteries. Alkalines give the worst performance of the three battery types, Lithiums give the best, about 16 hours if you're power conscious, but lithium batteries don't come cheap while Eneloops can be reused over and over again. 

Today, the advantage of a GPS over your phone is minimal. You can get rugged cases and even rugged phones, some phones today even have GLONASS antennas, and you can always download geocaches and maps for offline use. For me, though, it comes down to replaceable batteries - I can just swap out a pair of Eneloop AAs rather than have to keep an external battery tethered to a phone to recharge it. It also comes down to that reflective screen, which means I don't have to pump up my screen's brightness on a sunny day. And then there's always the piece of mind that if I do somehow damage my GPS in the field, i killed a $200 machine rather than a $5-700 (or more these days) phone that I rely on for uses other than hiking and geocaching.

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12 minutes ago, Mineral2 said:

And then there's always the piece of mind that if I do somehow damage my GPS in the field, i killed a $200 machine rather than a $5-700 (or more these days) phone that I rely on for uses other than hiking and geocaching.

If I manage to destroy my $150 rugged phone, I'll just buy another.  :P  But it'll survive things that'd probably kill me.

And it works well enough, I choose to use it as my "phone" too.

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I like using the GPSr to navigate while using the phone for other things, most phones also don't have support for WAAS / EGNOS and typically have less sensitive GPS reception compared to dedicated handheld units.

Based on comparing my Nexus phone to my etrex 20x anyway.

Edited by stefanwilkens

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noncentric's post covers a lot of excellent points coming from a GPSr user (and in a very neutral way, which is a breath of fresh air ;)).

I would echo those points coming from a smartphone-exclusive cacher for 9 years (3GS/4S/5S/6S+/7+). I would add that much of the 'quality' of the device is determined by how well its user knows the device. A lot of people complain they don't like one or the other, but usually it's because they either don't know how best to use it, or something just doesn't sit right with them becoming a roadblock and a turn off.

Depending on where your bar is set, both classes of device can perform equally as sufficiently in the field in all aspects especially when it comes to geocaching, or at the other end of the scale, out of the box both devices will specialize in uses that the other simply does not have.

So when deciding, consider the subjective aspect of everyone's review and opinion, consider how long they've used the device and how well they know it (usually by comparison to others' reviews), consider your own style of use and what you want to make use of most, and what amount of effort or funds you're willing to spend to make use of your device and the benefits it provides over the other.

One thing's for sure - if you go smartphone, don't go 'cheap' unless you have a backup (and higher quality) gps.  Both classes are worth spending a few extra bucks for at least middle-of-the-road.

You could look at it like:
A] Cheap = low tech, average user experience
B] Average = good tech, good user experience
C] High end = great tech, great/customizable user experience
Bigger gap in the tech end, imo, than the UX end, so better to err on the side of better tech, since you can generally deal with or work around usability issues.

 

And I realize this is a very vague post with not much meat :)   At the very least, most any average device these days is more than sufficient for geocaching (finding and placing) if you know how to use the device properly.  So don't sweat too much over it. Find a device you like, which fits your personal preferences, tastes, and habits.

Edited by thebruce0

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On ‎4‎/‎17‎/‎2018 at 2:22 PM, nericksx said:

If people prefer a dedicated GPSr over a phone, why?

 

I have a Garmin Oregon 650 GPS, and recently bought a SIM card for my phone (I always used my phones/tablets on wifi).  I can't stand "the Geocaching phone Apps" (most any Geocaching App), they get in the way of Geocaching.  The Official App is minimalistic.  Way cool.  Count the taps/swipes/menus you use to hunt each cache.  "Where's the  _____ function from this screen?"  Things like that.  I've placed the most commonly used icons onto the first screen of the Oregon, and made those big, easy to see.  I made two Geocaching "profiles", so I can switch all screens and settings from driving to hiking with one tap.  It's all right in view where I like it.  Plus I can view it in bright sunlight.

My phone is cool because now I can get updated info, and I can pretend that PAF is at my fingertips :cute:.  But the phone pretty much shuts down when the cell service is lost, like right in the middle of town or whatever.  It greatly affects maps which supposedly were "loaded for offline use", but just not this particular tile that I need.  None of "The Apps" understand the concept of "I have become offline", you have to tell the App.  The Garmin Oregon has that map tile, and all pre-loaded data at all times.  The phone's display completely washed out in sunlight. And that includes ANY of my phones or tablets. Also my phone, a brand new HTC U11, isn't particularly consistent with its position.  The phone is suitable for The Drunken Bee Dance.  I'm a warrior, and an assassin. I do not dance. The GPSr points at one spot (once you figure out what it's trying to point to).

Anyway I prefer the GPSr because the phone Apps are set up the way the Phone App Programmer wants it, using terms the Programmer thinks are English.  The Phone App menus have a lot of swipe/tap/guess/sub-menu/sub-sub-menu/tap/restart which the GPSr does not require.  In short, the phone makes me think.  I hate having to think. :mad:

Edited by kunarion

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2 hours ago, thebruce0 said:

One thing's for sure - if you go smartphone, don't go 'cheap' unless you have a backup (and higher quality) gps.

When you say "for sure", I have to challenge.  :lol:  Matter of opinion.  You come from the iPhone world, I can tell.  The Android world is highly competitive and full of value.  My $150 phone is better than my old Garmin (ex-backup) in every way.  Might even be better than current model Garmins.  It certainly is in the specs I've looked at, like screen resolution.

 

50 minutes ago, kunarion said:

maps which supposedly were "loaded for offline use", but just not this particular tile that I need.  None of "The Apps" understand the concept of "I have become offline", you have to tell the App.

Sounds like you haven't tried vector maps.  You don't load "tiles", you pre-load an entire state/province/smaller country at a time, like you do with a Garmin.  And I can think of at least one app that has "offline" woven into its soul and spends the whole day there, so nothing happens when you lose signal.  It wasn't using any in the first place.

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5 minutes ago, Viajero Perdido said:

When you say "for sure", I have to challenge.  :lol:  Matter of opinion.  You come from the iPhone world, I can tell.  The Android world is highly competitive and full of value.  My $150 phone is better than my old Garmin (ex-backup) in every way.  Might even be better than current model Garmins.  It certainly is in the specs I've looked at, like screen resolution.

lol, well, I did tell. :)  When I say cheap, I mean < 3GS. I cached with a 3GS exclusively in 2009 until the 4S, and had no problems. So by cheap, I mean cheeeeap.  Bad, old GPS tech cheap. Most every smartphone today has decent enough GPS to work sufficiently (again, if you know how to use it right - eg, not being impatient, knowing how environment affects reception, etc).  Today it's very hard to find a smartphone that is not sufficient technologically for geocaching. It mainly comes into play if people buy 2nd hand used/cheap smartphone that are ooooold. That's generally what I mean by 'cheap'. ;)

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I really appreciate the discussion on this thread, because as noncentric mentioned, this isn't the first time this has been brought up. I've been thinking about all the input and feedback and reflecting on why I have kind of given up on my Garmin 62s. Here's what I've got:

Garmin
Pros:

  • Really rugged
  • Can pop in fresh batteries
  • It's already got all the maps I need loaded in

Cons:

  • The screen is really tiny, requiring a ton of scrolling
  • The battery life is shockingly terrible
  • UI is really really clunky: swapping around between maps and cache screens, "typing" the name of a waypoint
  • The Garmin desktop software SUCKS
  • Gotta have another device to add more waypoints/caches to the SD card
  • Weights a ton

Phone (Galaxy S7 Edge)
Pros:

  • Nice big screen
  • Download data and logging on the fly as signal allows
  • Better way to type
  • Custom maps with waypoints

Cons:

  • If the battery goes, the battery is gone
  • If I lose it, there goes $800
  • Gotta have touchscreen friendly gloves
  • Route tracking really drains the battery
     

My phone gets as good a GPS signal as my Garmin, many times even better, so that's isn't too much of an issue. Looking at my list it seems like a no-brainer, phone all the way. Battery life is enough of a concern though, that I'm thinking of still going with the Garmin. If I drain the phone, then I don't have it in an emergency. If I drain the Garmin, I can swap batteries. The bummer is that I drain the battery in a few hours. I read the other threads and am implementing all the battery saving tips I could find. Many of them I was already doing, but a few were new to me. I am conducting a test right now how long I can leave it on before the batteries die. 

 

 

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On ‎4‎/‎17‎/‎2018 at 2:22 PM, nericksx said:

 If people prefer a dedicated GPSr over a phone, why?

Simple for me.  I thought it silly to add extra gizmos to a phone ( a charger or additional battery and a protective case) to turn a phone into the GPSr I already had. 

The other 2/3rds did use her phone for everything urban (when we did urban hides)  though.   :)

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18 hours ago, thebruce0 said:

noncentric's post covers a lot of excellent points coming from a GPSr user (and in a very neutral way, which is a breath of fresh air ;)).

I would echo those points coming from a smartphone-exclusive cacher for 9 years (3GS/4S/5S/6S+/7+). I would add that much of the 'quality' of the device is determined by how well its user knows the device. A lot of people complain they don't like one or the other, but usually it's because they either don't know how best to use it, or something just doesn't sit right with them becoming a roadblock and a turn off.

Depending on where your bar is set, both classes of device can perform equally as sufficiently in the field in all aspects especially when it comes to geocaching, or at the other end of the scale, out of the box both devices will specialize in uses that the other simply does not have.

I started finding caches with a smartphone and app, but it was cumbersome because of the things I mentioned in my earlier post (device size, battery life, screen glare) and so I ended up getting a GPSr. The GPSr became my main caching device, but I'd still use the phone on occasion, especially for quick urban jaunts when working downtown. I also liked using my phone to read long cache descriptions (ie, Earth and Multi caches).

The new Geocaching app has actually increased my use of a smartphone for caching. I did test out other Android apps, including Viajero Perdido's favorite, but they just didn't work well for me. I felt like they "did too much", when I just wanted a simple interface to manage my lists/pq's, navigate, and log. Today, for example, I navigated to caches using my GPSr, but used the app to create Draft logs. I also opened the app when I needed to read more than just the past 5 logs.

 

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I use both.  The phone for when around town.  The GPS is always used for hiking.  20 hours of battery life and then throw in a couple more AAs.  The GPS is more accurate as the phone does not use WAAS and this makes cache finding easier especially in difficult conditions.  I'm not sure if any new phones use WAAS.  Other than that, both do the job.  Find a waypoint, read a description.  It is not complicated.

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I never really use my phone long enough while caching without access to power for the batteries to die. I also don't have it running full force for as long as I'm caching - if I'm hiking 100m it's not out in my palm actively navigating; GPS isn't active if the screen is off so screen saver is a benefit; if there are 5 of us all searching for it or heading to gz, it's redundant for all of us to be actively navigating (2 or 3 maybe as backup). If I'm driving between caches my habit is always to plug in even if only for a minute or two at a time.  If I'm on a long hike I'm unsure my phone will last even with my sparing use of power, my tool bag has batteries and a pack (not a juice pack - a pack that charges using AA's so I don't need to recharge my charger when out, I just need a couple more AAs).

So for my own satisfaction I've developed habits I can accept to assuage an out-of-the-box weakness of the smartphone vs gpsr comparison. For me all of this is perfectly fine, not a hassle, and so I've never "had a problem with it". Others can't stand doing anything more than the experience the device provides out of the box.  So again, it depends on what you're willing to do to reach an experience you prefer. :)

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