Groundspeak, the organization behind Geocaching.com has released a geocaching app for Android platforms 1.5 and up. It's available for about US$9.35 from the Android market.
In the old days we used to print out cache pages and take them with us. What a hassle! With the technologies available today you need to become familiar with how to geocache in a paperless manner.
This Groundspeak app promises to be the ultimate in paperless geocaching because everything you need to find, navigate to and log caches is all in one unit.
The question is, does it live up to the promise? Is it time to retire your Garmin or Magellan and go paperless with your Android? I installed the app on my Samsung Galaxy and used it to find out.
Here is a summary of my experiences...
- As you'd expect it's tightly linked to the geocaching.com database.
- You can search for caches in a similar manner to the way you do searches on geocaching.com
- An Advanced Search facility has a range of useful filters e.g. terrain, difficulty, size, type.
- Caches can be displayed on Google maps and selected from the map;
- It will allow you to navigate to the cache in three ways - compass, map or turn-by-turn instructions using the Android Google map system.
- Active Pocket Queries are automatically downloaded (for Premium Members)
- Logs can be entered on your Android device, although it can be very time consuming.
- If you are out of communication range you can save logs for later upload.
- All recent logs can be displayed online.
- Battery life!! With both the GPS and screen running, this thing drains your battery like emptying a bath. Don't expect to do more than a couple of hours of caching with it. It certainly won't go all day like a Garmin.
- The compass feature is slow... on the Samsung Galaxy at least. The Samsung does not have an electronic compass, so the app relies on updates from the GPS. Therefore it only updates the display if you are moving, making it quite useless when you are approaching GZ. Some smartphones have an electronic compass so they may work better.
- Low sensitivity. I think one of the most important features of a GPS for geocaching is sensitivity, because we often work under tree canopies or in among buildings. The GPS used in the Samsung does not work well in these situations and I often found myself wandering in circles within a 20 - 30 metre radius, exacerbated even more by the slow updates of the compass display. Although this is not the fault of the app, it is a problem with the system. I used the Samsung side by side with the Garmin. In open the two pretty much agreed with each other - although the Samsung did not update as quickly. As soon as I got under light tree cover the Samsung lost the plot and started giving readings that were up to 30m off. The Garmin kept on giving accurate readings.
- Adding waypoints not obvious. It took me a while to figure out how to enter new Waypoints because it is not obvious. You may want to add new waypoints for example if you are doing multis or simply want to add a new co-ordinate. To add a waypoint, you need to bury down through the menus to Map Mode then select Add New Waypoint from the menu. You can then click on the waypoint and navigate to it. However this should be on the main menu, not buried down about 3 levels, because it is a fundamental thing that you do when you go geocaching.
- Not rugged. Unless you get one of those Motorola Defy's, Android devices are not built for outdoor activities where you might be in the rain, or wading rivers, or out on boats. One "oops" moment and it's all over. Although this is not a fault of the app, it is a problem if you are geocaching on a smarphone.
Many of the above comments relate to the app being used with the Samsung Galaxy. You may have a different result if you use it on another type of smartphone.
I'd call this a "pinch hitter" geocaching solution i.e. it's OK if you don't have another option. For example if you can't afford a real GPS, or have left your proper GPS at home, then this is "OK". If you'd like to know how to geocache paperlessly then take your real GPS to find the geocache, and use the Smartphone for descriptions, hints etc.
The app is pretty good but is hamstrung by the hardware limitations of the Samsung Galaxy. I also have c:geo installed on my phone. It also suffers from the same limitations. I may do a comparison review sometime.
In my opinion, the best smartphone geoaching app is Blackstar - but you have to own a Blackberry to use that.
So what is the Groundspeak Geocaching app good for? It's a good complement to a real GPS device like a Garmin or Magellan. Use your real GPS to do the grunt work with high sensitivity, accuracy, speed and ruggedness. The Android allows you to read the cache descriptions, recent logs and submit log entries.
In terms of doing paperless caching in a single unit, yes, sort of...but not quite.
I still use it if I have to but don't like it as much as my Garmin.