GPS Advice (Is my phone enough?)

Can you tell me what apps you use for mapping? I’m currently looking at the i-Boating app, which looks promising.

An Android phone IS enough. Without all the extra bloatware, Android uses a LOT less battery, so install LineageOS without Google “services” if you can. That’s probably asking a lot, but even with standard Android, go download and install F-Droid app. Use that to install OSMAnd+ navigation app. Using OSMAnd+, download and use the offline map, Hillshade, Slope, and Contour lines (and wikipedia) for your area, assuming you have enough storage.

OSMAnd uses OpenStreetMap. It has boat navigation mode on creeks and rivers. It can save tracks. It may take a little while to learn to use it, but it’s worth it.

When you’re out, if you don’t have cell signal or don’t want calls, after you have good GPS fix and location in OSMAnd+, turn on Airplane mode, or at least turn off WiFi and Cell data. This will save battery, but you should still get GPS. It can take longer to “lock” without network, after you let the device sleep, but it does work.

If you find details wrong with the offline map, go to openstreetmap dot org and fix them. In a month or so, the fixes will be available in a new offline map.

Split the money you were going to spend on the new GPS with the OSMAnd developers and openstreetmap. :slight_smile:

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Very much agree.
Save your data now. There will be ‘tools’ in the future that will allow you to enhance your data.

eg, tracks from a long trip I took several years ago, now available in interactive maps:
(using gps data I gathered in 2009 in todays technology (maps, program, etc) )

or just to review your trip from the other day:

Follow-up info here.

I just received the Suunto Traverse Alpha (Stealth variation) yesterday and began fiddling with it. It will work without a phone or any apps, though customizing displays will mean using the free app. We have the app on my husband’s iPad Mini for now because my iPad Air 2 is running on iOS 11.x.x and I don’t know if 12.4.8 would crash it. (The Suunto app calls for 12 or later.) So at this point I am NOT using any app for the watch, the goal being to learn to use everything on it that does not require connectivity. Then later I’ll explore the rest of the capabilities.

With only 5 buttons, the key seems to be studying how to move between the levels of menus. Once at a particular level, things are intuitive. Less so for vertical movement, as I found out last night when after setting some altimeter-barometer-compass specs, I could not get back to the main (default) “watch face.” The user manual is 40-something pages printed; I’ll study it with a highlighter pen in hand. That’s what I do for anything with lots of functions and subfunctions. This morning I stumbled back to the watch face. In a short while I’ll try to actually record our hike from home. Last night I started it recording while sitting indoors, haha.

One thing I would like to change in the display it showed while recording is to put the speed readout on the big, middle display instead of the smaller readout on the bottom. (The watch seems to show a maximum of three data fields in one screenful—simple and easy to read, but I would prefer the smaller two fields to be a bit larger and the main field to be a bit smaller. Probably can’t change the sizes but maybe switching field positions is possible via the app?)

Anyway, so far so good. I like it overall. You can choose GPS only or both GPS and GLONASS (or turn them off when not necessary). Choice will affect battery life, as I assume your choice from the several accuracy options will.

The old Garmin Forerunner 310XT had an on-off button, which the Suunto does not. I assume this is because it is meant to be worn daily as a watch, whereas the 310 was more of a tool used when GPS was desired. At least, that’s how I use them. I’ll probably just turn off the Suunto navigation features unless purposely using them, to conserve power.

I hope this feedback helps. Can report back after I actually have gone through the user manual. BTW, the Stealth was on sale for $249, though it might have ended on Labor Day. It is not a new model, so there might be other sales.

Regarding apps, on coastal waters or bays the common boating apps are more useful. On smaller inland rivers or lakes an app intended for hiking may be more appropriate. Official NOAA charts tend to lack coverage once inland, and even on coastal areas may not have fine detail.

When sailing I use SEAiq with NOAA charts as a primary means of navigation. If cellular coverage is available it can also access internet AIS data, which is useful when large ships are around. (Both to provide course vectors and to provide a name should you need to use the radio.) Many people are fond of Navionics, which will have better inland chart data (which you can preview here).

Where the Navionics data isn’t sufficient, e.g. more wilderness than water, my preferred hiking app is Gaia GPS. It includes a number of map layers, such as USFS maps, the NatGeo Trails Illustrated, and so forth.

As others have mentioned, charts and maps should always be pre-downloaded for offline use. Similarly, using airplane mode will have a large impact on battery life in areas with spotty coverage. The main reason I’d carry a dedicated GPS would be if I want to record extended tracks (can easily swap batteries) or otherwise need greater robustness (touch screens can get finicky when lots of water droplets are messing with them). Many devices also include a pressure sensor which allows for barometric readings. (I have not looked into a “storm alarm” type app to leverage this, but some might wish to.)

Finally, regarding paper vs. electronic, in nearly all cases a GPS fix is far more valuable than a compass. The primary function of a GPS is to tell you where you are, and the primary function of a compass is to tell direction. You can get either device to perform the function of the other, but they won’t do it as efficiently or accurately.

Even a cheap battery could give a phone a full boost in a very short period of time. Better ones? You can plug in all day long and use 1 bar of juice.

We use GAIA GPS for off roading in the Jeep. It’s an awesome app,

I just looked at openstreetmap and the other land based map system above. My impression is that the op’er wants something for coastal waters, and neither have extremely important data for paddling in anything salty. Or areas of big water like the Great Lakes. I did not see buoy markers, shipping lanes, water depth, or topo markings that would help someone read an unfamiliar shoreline from the water.

If someone is going to be at all offshore on the ocean, it simply has to be a proper navigation chart. Being within sight of land still can have you two miles out. Whether you get there with electronics or downloaded charts matters less than having that information.

Agree 100%.

Another follow-up: The Suunto watch itself seems very sturdy, with a nice interface. The hitch is that to customize the displays and do more with the watch, one has to download the Suunto app.

The Movescount app that the user manual mentions has been killed, and supposedly its functions can be gotten via the Suunto app. However, what little I’ve seen of comments on the app looks bad. I cannot actually read the text of owners’ comments or complaints without first registering for the user group, even though I already registered the watch itself. And joining the user group OR downloading the app requires giving legal permissions for some things I dislike.

My husband read that Suunto was sold to a Chinese company, the same one that bought several major US ski manufacturers. The model I bought was discontinued, and apparently a company called Map Box that provided base maps for the Movescount app is defunct also.

Bottom line: The physical watch seems rugged and has a clean set of displays, with good tactile feel for the buttons. My husband and I got coordinates for our house using his iPhone and my Suunto watch to conpare. They were virtually identical, different by a matter of less than 0.1 second. The data I want for outings (distance, avg speed, max speed, and altitude info) is available in the basic Hiking “sport mode” views but to see max speed you have to first save the activity as a logbook item and then cycle through 6 screens to reach it! The running snapshot of current speed is shown during the activity by default, under the cumulative distance.

Based on what I’ve tried so far, this watch depends too much on “the app” for my tastes. I’ll keep it but would keep researching others if I were you. Meanwhile, I’ll also continue using my old Garmin 310 XT on the water, at least until I become more familiar with the Suunto on hikes.

What else…the manual says the compass is digital, but calibration instructions indicate staying away from magnets, and the display shows magnetic north. You can plug in declination values if so desired. I wonder if this is a nod to the sport of orienteering, which is popular in Scandinavia countries.

Oh, well, at least it has a built-in flashlight function that is really easy to use.

A digital compass still uses earth’s magnetism to find the direction. This is the only way you can see which way your device is pointed.

A single GPS which is standing still, can’t see its direction from GPS info. If it is moving, you can see what direction it is moving, but not what direction it is pointed.

As far as I know, some ships have a “compass”, which uses two GPS receivers, placed so far from each other on the ship that you can use the difference between their coordinates to find out which way the ship is pointing. But that would not be practical for a handheld device.

Regarding the dependency on phone apps:
I have been told that Garmin watches are the only sports watches, you can use satisfactorily without a phone app. Which is kind of strange, since Garmin is usually filling their watches with too many bells and whistles, and heavy phone app dependency would fit well into that paradigm.

I only have experience with Garmin, so I can’t tell if the above claim is true. But I can tell you this about my Fenix 3 and Fenix 5X+:

  • I can fully customize datascreeens (including a field for max. speed) directly in the watch.

  • I can create structured workouts (“Run at pace X for Y minutes, then wait for heart rate to drop to Z bpm, then run at pace X2 for Y2 minutes, then…”) directly in the watch.

  • I can download activities from the watch to my computer through a cable without being online. (And if I am online, I can also use that route to synchronize the watch to Garmin Connect.)

  • I can upload new firmwares or third party custom apps or datafields from my computer to the watch through a cable.

This should not be seen as a non-critical endorsement of Garmin Watches. In my opinion they have a track record of adding too much new stuff instead of focusing on making old stuff work. When there are unresolved, sports related issues with the firmware, it is really annoying to see a new firmware release containing some update to the music function in the watch. But I would probably choose a Garmin again because the pros still outweigh the cons for me.

Apple has an iPhone compass. It’s an app. And there is an impressive app; ‘Spyglass’, as well.

I’m glad to have a magnetic compass in my basic dry bag (for any stuff needed to always be within reach). I have needed the compass twice during the last year.

The Spyglass app is a nifty tool for learning as well as navigating. Unfortunately, I find bright sunlight to be bothersome on iPhone screens.

Thank you for the explanation of why the digital compass still relies on earth’s magnetic field.

The Suunto watch supposedly works best with a computer, Internet connection, and USB port. All fine by me since I don’t care about smartphone connectivity. I just want to know if the Suunto app that now replaces Movescount actually works well with this watch, before I give any legal permissions to Suunto and whoever makes the app (or the eternal unspecified “third parties”).

I agree with your comment on Garmin bells and whistles. That was my reaction to their touting the music-access functions on GPS devices: HUH? Also, after I unknowingly bought a damaged handheld Garmin that the store sold as being new, I mail-ordered a Garmin Instinct GPS watch. The thing kept freezing in the set-up stage so that I never saw what it could do. That made two faulty devices within months, so it was another reason why I stayed away from Garmin.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue learning what the Suunto can do. When my husband and I compared what our devices gave for times of moonrise, moonset, sunrise, and sunset, there were some large differences.

Since watches and phones have become part of this thread, one thing I haven’t seen mentioned is the Apple Watch which has built in GPS. I would never rely on it as my primary navigation device due to the battery life (knowing which sensors to temporarily turn off is key to get decent battery life for a paddle) but it is a great tool for basic navigation and tracking, particularly when combined with the WorkOutDoors app. The watch and app will work independent of the phone in case you don’t want to have your phone on your kayak at all. The paddling app in WorkOutDoors is great and extremely customizable for paddling and many other sports (no affiliation with the company, just a satisfied user). The data it provides is amazing. One of the paddling apps’ screens is a zoomable live map. There is a stand alone map function if you want to use that when you aren’t working out. The map automatically downloads map data as needed when your phone is nearby but you can also download maps on to the watch for free before you go if you won’t be taking your phone with you. Unlike Strava and other apps, it is a reasonable one time price versus monthly fees. I know the 5 and newer (the 6 and SE were introduced yesterday) have a built in compass. There are lots of other third party apps for tides, weather, etc., which are really nice to have available with a quick glance at your wrist.

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This brings us to another topic worth mentioning in this thread: Screen technology.

The screens on sports watches and standalone GPS receivers rely on reflecting ambient light. This requires almost no power, so these screens can be turned on constantly. Also, these screens cannot be drowned in very bright sunlight - instead they actually become easier to read. The downside is that they appear dull when the ambient light is so limited that you have to turn on the lighting in the screen.

The screens we know from smartphones and Apple Watch are different. They rely on emitting light from an internal light source (either behind the screen or built in to every pixel). If you want to be able to see such a screen in bright sunlight, the screen has to emit a light, which is strong enough to compete with the incoming sunlight. This eats a lot of battery, and that is the reason that these screens usually turn off automatically when they are not in use.

For kayaking, I think it is worth going for the former screen type.

I love WorkOutDoors and also am not affiliated, but I have had great communication with the developer who is super responsive online. I log all paddles with WOD, review my figures, then will also export the GPX to the Navionics Boating app just for post-paddle review and plotting on a marine chart.

Agree about the Apple Watch. I have the series 5 and do workout paddles here at home. The heart rate monitor is invaluable, as are the VO2 max and HR variability calculations. The AW5 is very accurate with HR as when I erg at home, I wear a Garmin chest strap as it’s easier to see my HR on the monitor. The times I have glanced at the watch, it’s reported the same HR as my Garmin.

One thing I don’t like is that steps are measured by arm movement so if I paddle ten miles, my watch credits those miles as steps as well. And I don’t get step credits if I’m pushing a grocery cart using both hands.

I’ve heard very good things about WorkOutDoors. So far I’ve held off as I carry a Garmin Forerunner 310XT on my deck and those stats and a map are downloaded to my computer. Since the Forerunner is meant to be worn on the wrist for land based activities, I think I’ll download WOD for my winter activities.