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HomeHomeDiscussionsDiscussionsGeneralGeneralBackcountry DeviceBackcountry Device
New Post
8/1/2012 6:32 PM

Some of you may have seen my post on the Kifaru forums before I left there speculating about the efficacy of a "backcountry device". I'm not going to spend time going over my criteria and speculations in detail. The gist of it was -- can the right cell phone, properly chosen and properly used, fulfill several different backcountry functions in one device at a lighter weight and greater simplicity than the alternatives?

I didn't set out with the idea that I'd place absolute faith in a handheld computer in the backcountry. I'd still carry backups for the essential functions and if the machine went down, I'd merely be inconvenienced.

Here is what I ended up with and how it is working out.

I decided against an iPhone for a couple of reasons. First, the proprietary and closed nature of the apple ecosystem rubs me the wrong way. I wasn't going to install iTunes on any PC that I actually cared about and I don't happen to have any PCs that I don't right now. Second, after playing with mapping apps on a couple of devices, I decided that the screen size on the iPhone was smaller than I wanted for that function. I wanted 4" or bigger viewable. (the iPhone is 3.5").

That left Android. My brother in law convinced me to wait for Sprint to get a phone running a version of Android that wasn't 2 years old. I did wait, and I'm glad I did. I got the HTC evo 4g LTE. It is beautiful, intuitive, and very functional.

Here's how I set it up:

32 gig card That's the highest it will support. I'm not sure I need that much, but it wasn't too expensive and I'm sure over time I'll be glad I have it.

Get control of all of the functions Using a bunch of widgets that came pre-installed, and a couple free ones that I downloaded (battery solo, astro file manager), I set up a control panel screen where I can turn any of the phone's communication functions on or off - the gps receiver, the cellular radio, bluetooth, wi-fi. I disabled 4g service permanently. I also installed an app called juice defender that optimizes battery usage. This one isn't as relevant to backcountry use, but is nice overall.  During normal daily in town use, I leave everything off but the cellular radio. Between that and juice defender, a normal day sees about 25% battery usage.

Backcountry Navigator Pro - This of course is the main backcountry function. I have no issues with the app whatsoever. It has changed my life. Not quite, but it's nice. Years ago when I first set out to get a GPS I thought I wanted one with basemaps. The very nicest one was in color with maybe a 2.5" screen. After playing with it, I went the opposite direction and got a foretrex 101. Now, in the person of this 4.7" screen with very intuitive navigation (drag to pan, pinch to compress), I have what I always thought the basemap GPS could be. I've got it in my pocket, I've got it in my car, and I've got it in the backcountry. The first two or three nights after I had it installed, I would connect my device to my wifi network, select huge swaths of topo maps I wanted to download, and let it spin overnight. I've now got about 9 gigs of USGI topo data at my fingertips. That consists of "which drainage am I in and how do I get out of here" topo coverage of everything west of the Mississippi, and 1:24 coverage of just about everything west of the great plains in Colorado all the way out to central Utah and selected mountainous areas elsewhere in the lower 48. Anybody who has used a basemap GPS on the trail knows what that is like so I won't go over it. I use it just like my foretrex - turn it on when I want a map fix, turn it off after I got it. The difference is now I don't have to do the UTM thing to place myself on the map. I still carry 8.5"x11" paper maps of my chosen area and use UTM to plot my location at least once a day to stay in practice. The foretrex now rides in the pack as a backup instead of the Kit Bag as a primary. Good thing it's light, because I don't know if I'll ever use it. The side benefit is that I had always abstractly wanted a GPS in my jeep but didn't see ever spending the money. I turn this device on (while plugged into the cigarette lighter) and set it in the cup holder, and I've got full usgs nav at my fingertips. I've used mapping as much in this capacity as I have on foot. This app works in the backcountry with everything but the GPS receiver turned off.

Reading - I installed Moon Reader and the Kindle App. The entire Tarzan series is now on my device, as well as everything I've purchased for the Kindle. Thanks Amazon for letting me put it on more than one device. I  like Moon Reader a little bit better because of the ways in which I was able to tweak it (slightly nicer page to ink contrast, slower page transitions so it is more like reading a book). Reading books on the device actually beats out reading books on the Kindle because the device is backlit. The screen size is also big enough (I read in landscape mode) not to be a limiting factor at all. I forget that I'm not reading from paper. Both Moon Reader and Kindle allow you to turn down brightness while reading. This is very important in a good device reading experience. In the dark of night, you can have it turned down to a level that it doesn't hurt your eyes. I read almost every night on the device, and it has come in handy a couple of times when I was stuck waiting somewhere to pull out the book I was working on because I naturally had it with me on the phone. This app works in the backcountry with every single comm function turned off, and only drains the battery 4% over the course of 1 hour of reading.

Music - This has been a disappointment. By some hook and some crook, I got my entire music collection on the device. The default music player is a little too simplistic to get at what I want to hear when I want to hear it, but everything else available is so overblown in complexity and battery drain I chose not to install it.  Even the default player seems to drain battery pretty quickly. I've only used this a couple of times. This app works in the backcountry with every single comm function turned off.

NOAA Weather - I installed an app that draws on the NOAA Weather site. If you haven't used it, is the place to get backcountry point forecasts. The app uses the same data and is easy enough to get the weather you want. This app only works where you have data connectivity.

Reference Materials - Any reference book you want can be carried with you and read with a reading app. In addition, there are a couple app versions of reference books that I've installed. The app versions are just better organized and make the information more accessible than scanning through text in a pretty linear fashion. These include the Army Survival Handbook and the Ranger Handbook. I also installed an app called iMedJet that offers medical diagnosis and interventions targeted at third world travelers. I haven't spent any time with it. All of these functions are available in the backcountry with all comm functions turned off.

Ballistics App - Haven't installed it yet, but I understand Shooter is the choice on Android. Scot has used it quite a bit. Part of it works with all comm functions turned off, and additional features work when the phone has data connectivity.

I've found that in an average day in the backcountry, I'll do a GPS locate a half dozen times (turning phone completely off between uses), pore over maps of the surrounding area some (with the GPS receiver turned off), and read half an hour to an hour. Doing all of this will consume 20-25% of the battery. That gives me 4-5 days between charges. The 2000ma battery pack that I charge at home and carry as backup will completely discharge itself powering the phone from 50% to 100%. That gives me another 2-3 days. So, without resorting to a solar charger, I've got about a week of battery life with normal backcountry use.

I have a Seattle Sports bag with a clear window that I put it in at the beginning of a trip, and take it out of at the end of the trip. This is in addition to the gel case and Zagg screen protector it wears all the time. All of the functions work just fine through the clear window, I just have to have the screen on its brightest setting.

I'll update this thread as I come up with other things.


We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa
New Post
8/1/2012 6:39 PM

Simply awesome post!!!!

New Post
8/2/2012 12:16 AM

Actually glad you posted this. I've been looking at new GPS devices all of which are far more than I would pay for what it does, and topo software to print maps that all have reivews saying how terrible the software is. I've been out of the phone loop for a while now and wasn't sure what was available app wise for backcountry navigation but you definately opened my eyes. Now, rather than spend another three-hundered and some dollars on top of upgrading my phone for a standalone device just to navigate on a small screen I'll definately opt for the bigger batter (My friend is getting 2-3 days out of his Droid MAXX on Verizon) and see what apps I can find to save my self some cash! Great Post!

New Post
8/2/2012 8:37 AM

Superbly detailed explanation, especially for someone as electronic gadget handicapped as I am.  Part of this is due to training in my formative years, map and compass, pacing and reading the clouds.  Of course, these are perishable skills and need constant practice to keep on top of.  I have a GPS I carry as a back up but lately I have not had to worry about ranging into areas that are new to me, so map and compass for getting pack to camp/truck are all that's needed.  Perhaps if I spent as much time in the bush right now that the HPG lads do, I would be a complete convert.  I think down the road I may, just to convince my wife that solo hunting in the mountains doesn't equal a complete disregard for my safety and worrying her to the point of greying her hair! 

New Post
8/2/2012 8:57 AM

I still do not understand the smart phone thing. In fact I never even seen an Iphone till a couple months ago. I have never used a GPS or any other backcountry devise besides a Spot that I was forced to buy and carry. So what I missing? Or I am I not missing anything? If you use a smart phone you still have to carry your back ups anyway. That means more stuff and weight. Also extra batterys and/or a way to charge it. What I am getting at is whats wrong with the "old way" of doing things? Does using tech really make your backcountry experiance any better? Using the pages of your book you have already read for firestarted is something I would miss. Route finding is part of the experiance and having a devise telling me where to go and where your at would take some of the adventure out of it for me. Not to poo poo your review but I am interested on what your response to my thought will be.

New Post
8/2/2012 9:17 AM

Are you using the book pages as emergency fire starter or?

Co-Owner Hill People Gear "If anything goes wrong it will be a fight to the end, if your training is good enough, survival is there; if not nature claims its foreit." - Dougal Haston
New Post
8/2/2012 9:26 AM

No, just burn as you read or save them for the next mornings fire(if you can have one). Book gets smaller and lighter, not a big deal as all of our books are from yard sales anyway.

New Post
8/2/2012 9:41 AM

Wow, okay. That just seems really strange to me. I can't imagine burning pages from a book in a normal situation unless the book really sucked, and then I wouldn't be carrying it and reading it anyway.  Plenty of school libraries or public libraries that a book can be donated to if you don't want to keep it. Burning one seems somehow wasteful given the abundance of other tinder available.

I use a kindle in the backcountry these days over a book. I prefer the tactile feel of a book, but my kindle is smaller and lighter than the smallest paperback.  Battery life is about a week of reading multiple hours every day (think 3-4 books read), or a lot longer for an hour or two every day. Plus I have at this point probably 50+ books on it.  I need to get around to getting some of the how to manuals on there, but I have been lazy.  So if I finish a single book I have another on tap without having to carry another book. Or if I am in the mood for something different it is there.  Reading to my nieces, yup I have books on there for that too.  It is just a better mousetrap that paperback book for my uses. I will let Evan address the rest as I am still an impartial observer at this point.

Co-Owner Hill People Gear "If anything goes wrong it will be a fight to the end, if your training is good enough, survival is there; if not nature claims its foreit." - Dougal Haston
New Post
8/2/2012 10:00 AM

Great review.  Thanks.  I'm always trying to balance my nav, signal and entertainment devices.  Very cool.

New Post
8/2/2012 10:22 AM

To be clear, you can leave a stand alone GPS turned on for long periods of time, constantly looking at it. I never used my foretrex that way so I wasn't inclined to do that with this. You can't do that with this because the battery life won't support it. That's where a stand alone wins out. In a rig where you're plugged in, no issues.

Nothing wrong with the old ways Wes. Just depends on what you want. My device plus spare battery weighs less than a paperback and gives me SO much more. I won't always carry backups. If and when this has proven its reliability to me, I'll ditch the other GPS. Here's one thing this gives me that I've never had before and you can't have with the old way. Once I got up to a pass and was looking out into country that went off the edges of the maps I was able to carry, I wanted to see what it looked like in detail. I wanted to see if there were any roads on the other side of that range of mountains in the distance. I wanted to know if I'd be off trail if I went into that particular basin I was looking at. I wanted to see if the trail I could see across the side of a mountain through my binos was an official trail or just a likely travel route. Since I had 24:1 coverage of almost the entire state in the palm of my hand, it was easy to answer my questions. The number of topo quads I carry with me in my pocket would weigh tens of pounds on paper. Heck, I've been laying in bed at night thinking of this possible trip or that possible trip and grabbed my device off the bedside table and recon'd the trip without even getting up.

Oh, for a mapping program to use on your computer, go get usaphotomaps. It is free (donationware - I donated), and downloads topo data from free public sources. Kevin and Allen turned me on to it and it's hard to imagine using anything else. Then you print out your trip maps on a regular printer (with UTM overlays). They're light, free, and disposable.

We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa
New Post
8/2/2012 10:50 AM

Great review Evan.  I'm rolling with a Droid Razr Maxx and have been using Backcountry Navigator and Shooter for a while now.  Excellent overall setup, though I was not at all pleased with the 4.0.4 "upgrade".  Still picking up the pieces from that debacle.

Question: Why did you permanently dissable 4G?


New Post
8/2/2012 11:29 AM

Not sure how far you were upgrading (minor version or major version), but the rule of thumb with computers is you never upgrade an OS. You always format the hard drive and do a fresh install of the new OS. These devices are computers on par with desktops of 5 years ago and should be thought of the same way from an admin perspective.

Disabling 4G was advice I got from more tech savvy folks than I. It is a huge battery suck and I simply don't need that kind of bandwidth for my uses. Pushing text and even picture data isn't that bandwidth intensive. I'm not going to be streaming video or anything like that. If I do need bandwidth (like when downloading gigs worth of maps), I'd rather arrange to hop on a wifi network than use 4G. Also, I've noticed that phones become a little quirky and less reliable when they are bouncing back and forth between connection methods. They shouldn't, but they are. Disabling 4G prevents it from switching between connection methods. I may not be right about this second point, but I am duly suspicious and it can't hurt.

We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa
New Post
8/2/2012 11:48 PM

Another usefull tool that can be combined with a smart phone in the bush is the SPOT Connect, which connects to your smartphone is places you don't have cell service and enables you to request non-emergency assistance (not that I would but some might) as well as send emails and texts via your phone and the SPOT App. Marketed towards the college granola crunching crowd for sure, but I could have definately used this more than once. I don't know how many times I've blown a tire or burried an axel in what appears to be a semi-dry spring and had to hike a mile or more to get enough reception to call or text a friend to come help me out.

Allen, as far as the upgrades go I'd say give it a few months for the patches to start coming out. I usually try to avoid the OS upgrades for as long as possible and let them work the patches. Like Evan said, these devices are on par with computers from 5 years ago, remember how many patches Microsoft came out with for XP the first few years. They're software you buy in the store that says "Must have Service Pack 2" on the back. The new Adroid OS has promise, but I think it's going to take a bit to work the kinks out. That being said how does the shooter app work for you?

On the subject of 4G Evan you got it pretty much on the nose. First it should be noted that 4G doesn't really indicate a new generation of technology as 1, 2, and 3 G did before. Frankly companies have advanced their tech pretty far in the last 20 years to the point that it's going to take a while to come out with a new form of cellular Tech. However, 3G proved to be an excellent marketing Buzzword even though most people have no clue what the 3rd Generation was. 3G was simply forgoing the use of GSM and SIM cards for CDMA (a different type of connection sharing that allowed more users per cell and more bandwidth per user). Verizon, off the top of my head, has exclusively used 3G for as long as I can remember while many AT&T/Sprint phones still use 2G or in the realm of smart phones a combination of 2G/3G (ever wonder why Sprint users can talk and surf at the same time, it's because they're using two different technologies at the same time.)

Then came time for a new "era in phones" as the adds say. In otherwords, they needed to sell something new to the US Market. Enter 4G, which is not a new Generation but just faster downloads and larger bandwidth per user. No new technology in play, no innovations to usher in this "new era" just more ability to do the same things. That is, you get more ability if you're in one of the very small 4G Coverage Zones (which will of course expand over time but are now primarily limited to major Market areas.) Out in the hills you're lucky to get 2G let alone the faster download speeds promised with 4G because of the lack of towers. However, phones are programmed to continously search out that Best connection, which means even if there is no 4G coverage in your area, your phone is still going to keep looking for it. Essentially, your phone is going to keep yelling Marco, but no one is there to reply Polo. Disabling 4G will save battery by keeping your phone from doing this, atleast when connected to 3G speeds. Granted it's still going to burn battery if your bouncing between having a signal and not having a signal or it's searching for a signal, but that's why I usually switch to airplane mode or shut my cell off if I'm going to be out and about.

As far as being glitchy when switching between connection methods I'm not sure. I suppose you would see some quirks and significant slowing dropping from one speed to another, or moving from a sparsely populated 4G tower to a 3G tower. The change in speed would probably be enough to send your phone or app into a hissy while it adjusts for the new connection rate. Kind of like watching Netflicks when it has to adjust for your network speed because someone got online. Like Evan, I can't say for sure that switching between connection speeds will cause bugs, but I'd be suspicious enough to just dump the 4G if it wasn't prevelant in my area to be on the safe side.



New Post
8/3/2012 11:31 AM

good info ertolbert. The DeLorme InReach system is what I had in mind as far as satellite communications. It offers 2-way texting instead of the 1 way (outbound only) of the Spot system. Haven't purchased the device yet though so I don't have anything to report on it.

We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa
New Post
8/3/2012 11:43 AM

It's always my pleasure to unload some of my pleathora of useless information on the masses.

I hadn't seen the DeLorme offering before. I was apprehensive about purchasing the SPOT because it wasn't a name I knew, and I was a bit turned off by their need to allow you to update facebook and twitter. If I'm out, I'm out there to get away from social media not to brodcast to everyone what an outdoorsy person I am. Personally, I have no need for the constant attention of this generation. DeLorme is a brand I know to be reliable at a compairable cost and I wouldn't mind paying a little bit more for the peace of mind that someone is actually on their way to get me rather than sitting and crossing my fingers. Definately something I'm going to have to look into a bit more.

New Post
8/5/2012 5:10 PM

I am new to smartphones having never owned one, let alone used one. I was looking to do something very similair as Evan to have one machine to have gps, emergency call, flora & fauna tables, weather radar, reading etc...

I hate the idea of buying a phone with programs on it running that I would never use, much like buying a PC.

What I do not understand is how smartphones gather and store information. Android is the operating system- much like computer software? There are carrier's such as Verizon, Sprint, T-Moblie if Evan bought a phone with the Sprint service, why would he permentaly disconnect their service? How is he able to use satalite and internet function without it? Why by a Sprint phone to begin with if you are just going to delete it?

This is a part of smartphone technology I do not understand, after all, isnt wi-Fi free? Signing a contract to use a phone just seems rediculous to me.

I am not bashing smartphones by any means, it just seems like a neccesary evil to me now. More like adapt or die I suppose.

I am really trying to understand the concept of it all before entering a Best Buy to talk to people further, so I figue this would be a safer environment to ask simple questions and get truthful answers.

New Post
8/5/2012 6:26 PM

Smartphones can be very intimidating to people who are not tech-savvy and making the wrong purchase choice can only make matters worse. For example, my dad is 71 this year. He's by no means computer illiterate, he was slow to learn on computers but has worked his way to being able to do most things that he wants to do on his own. That being said, he had a very basic Verizon flip phone for years, one of those ruggedized ones that are pretty much indestructable. He was finally forced to upgrade his phone last year since his 5 year old phone finally broke and is no longer being produced and could not be replaced by verizon. The "friendly" neighborhood phone pusher convinced him to buy the newest 'ruggedized smartphone' the LG Boulder. It's pre-loaded with all sorts of outdoors/adventure apps, and the guy helped him set it up. He immediately hated the phone and could never get it to work. Since I've very technologically inclined (as part of my job as well as in my free time) I offered to help him with it while I was on leave. Even I couldn't make the phone work. The proprietary apps were barely functional, made even worse by poor coverage of our area (the weather app didn't offer any cities near us, etc.) and because it was constantly running these apps, with no way to disable them, the phone was buggy, and barely functional as a phone let alone a 'smartphone.' Next year when his upgrade rolls around will be the first time he has gotten rid of a phone on the first upgrade, and he'll be going back to a dumb phone. All because he let the phone sales man, who I'm throughly convinced is the used-car salesman of this century, talk him into a crappy phone that didn't work.

That being said, I'll try and adress your questions a bit so you aren't going into a store completely unprepared. First of all, if you were to purchase a phone like Evan talked about you would want it to be your EDC carry phone. There's no point locking yourself into a contract if you're only going to use the device for the outdoors because you're going to be paying ALOT for a device that you don't get ALOT of use out of. You wouldn't want to contract into a service if you aren't going to be using it. You're still going to want your back up maps and a small functional GPS. I recommend the Foretrex 301 or 401 for UTM grids, they're very light, very easy to use and very accurate, accurate enough that they are pretty much relied upon by us in Afghanistan for everything from sending up 8-digit grid locations to aiding in calling in Air Support and Medical Extractions. You should be able to find the 301 used fairly cheap, and once the new Fenix watch version comes out I feel the 401 might start popping up used more regularly as well.

Smartphones run on various different Operating Systems, or OS, just like a computer does. The one we discussed above is Android, which is quickly becomming the prefered OS. There is also IOS on the I-phone and a Windows 7 Mobile OS on certain Windows Mobile phones. Essentailly all these work the same as Windows does on your computer, just to varying levels of interface. Personally I prefer the Android OS because it is based on the Linux/Ubuntu system. Android, like Linux, is what is called an Open Source OS. Open Source Operating Systems are commonly used by programmers and gamers (the two groups who pump far more power out of their computers than you and I ever will) because they are less buggy, and because they are open-source, anyone can trouble shoot and patch them if they know how to. Instead of having X-Hundered programmers working at Microsoft the only ones allowed to fix things, you have the millions of people around the world with internet access who can manipulate and fix the software. In the computer world, this means anyone can put out there own version of, or patch for the Operating System. In the phone world, this means nearly unlimited Applications that can be downloaded for free or nearly-free prices, as well as a platform to run them that is smoother and less glitchy than something like Windows Mobile.

Smartphones all have X ammount of internal memory (the newer phones are upwards to 64 gigs and beyond which would be hundreds of thousands of MP3s or around 150 hours of video so you can get an idea.) and most will have a removable SD memory card as well for extra data storage, and alot of times these will come packaged with the phone, and larger once can be purchased seperately. Applications (apps) and data downloaded to the phone is stored either in the internal memory or on the SD Card. The data downloaded can be downloaded two different ways, either over the cellular connection (cell towers) or on a wireless internet connection, which will normally be faster and you won't be charged for "cellular data" usage. Not all WiFi is free, but if you have a wireless router in your home for your home internet connection then you can use that or one of the many free Wireless Internet Hotspots located around the country (most chain book stores will have a hotspot, as will some airports, coffee shops, and I've even started seeing them at McDonalds.) These public hotspots are going to be much slower than connection to your own dedicated wireless and most likely slower than just using the cellular connection, however again you won't be charged data charges.

As far as GPS function goes, Evan might be able to tell you more. I know older model phones used a meathod called Cellular Triangulation to locate your device which required you to have cell service. Newer models most likely have GPS function similar to actual GPS Devices. The only time I've used my phone as a GPS to pull a grid was in training and while it did give me a fairly accurate 10 Digit grid, I don't know how exactly it aquired that grid. I would assume that newer devices have Satellite receivers in them so that it can be located with out cellular service.

In regards to disabling service, what we were discussing earlier was disabling 4G service, which is just a faster connection for data usage. It's not available in many markets yet anyone, but the device is programmed to look for it. Disabling it may result in longer battery life and a less glitchy system but I don't know that for fact. You would still be connecting to 3G/2G connection types which also allow you to use all the services available with the phone, to include calls and internet. Unless you're in a major market area and going to be constanly using your phone to download things without a wifi connection, stream videos from youtube or hulu with out a wifi connection, or surf the web non-stop, you most likely don't need 4G, nor the larger data plans that go with it.

If you were to disable service completely, then you would lose your ability to make emergency calls, and most likely your GPS function. You would end up with a small hand held computer that could connect to Wifi and would most likely be very glitchy with out the ability to update itself.

IMHO, if you aren't going to use this as an EDC phone, or you already have an EDC phone you use and are locked into a contract on, a smart phone may not be your best option. Likewise, if your normal area of operations out in the bush doesn't have moderate to fair cellular coverage you may want to look into different options.

*Other Options*

Another entirely viable option is buying a prepaid or monthly contracted smart phone. They may not have the same power as other smart phones, but as long as they have access to the Adroid App Store you will be able to get all of the same applications. In this case, I would use wifi for any downloads to prevent wasting minutes on download data, or get an unlimited plan for the first month while you're setting it up for use. After than, you can still use it with WIFI, and just keep enough minutes on it every month for emergency purposes, or buy the unlimited monthly plan for the months you are active outdoors (if your not a year round guy). If you do go this route, I'd suggest pricing the phone/service provider you decide on at Target, Walmart and Best Buy as well as the actual retailer. I lost my smart phone last year and needed a small flip phone for work purposes and saved about $30 purchasing at Target instead of from Verizon or Best Buy.

Another option would be to purchase a small tablet or e-reader. For the money, you best bet would be the Amazon Kindle Fire which sells around $200. This is an amazing little tablet that is FAR underpriced for what it is capable of (Amazon sells them cheap knowing you can only use it to purchase things from Amazon.) Most apps available on the Android Appstore are available on the Amazon Appstore (check for the specific apps you want before purchase however.) and more are being added constantly. This also has the Kindle Reader built in for your digital reference books and other digital reading materials. You wouldn't have the emergency call function nor the GPS function but you should be able to get UTM maps still. If you are already in a phone contract you could just cary your EDC phone with you for emergency calls, or buy a VERY cheap disposable cell phone (my Verizon flip phone I bought for work cost $20 and pricing for minutes is very reasonable) then just make sure it has minutes on it before you go out. For GPS I would again refer you to a Foretrex.

Whew. That's alot more text that I realized. Hopefully I answered atleast some of your questions in there. Also, if you have a question about cell companies, I've had great luck with Verizon having service all over the back country in the Northwest and while travelling around to different parts of the country for work.


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New Post
8/6/2012 9:36 AM

Awesome post etolbert (previous post).

My device, and most of the newer devices, has an actual GPS receiver in it, just like a GPS unit. It seems to function about as quickly and precisely (turn on, get a fix, turn off) as my first generation foretrex 101. I haven't checked the two side by side under tree cover or in a slot canyon to see if the phone seems to have greater sensitivity than the foretrex 101. I would expect it to because it probably has the newer generation more sensitive GPS receiver.

Jsonn. I'll re-state the same thing that etolbert did in slightly different words. Think of a smartphone as a little computer that happens to have way more electronic communiction functions on it than your typical laptop. It also has a more powerful processor(s), more RAM, and more storage than laptops of 5 years ago. Here's a list of the communiction functions:

  • WiFi radio for getting on wireless networks - great for data transfer like big downloads and surfing web quickly, you could probably make phone calls using a voice over ip app without even using your cellular carrier, but you'd have to be on a wireless network whenever you do it.
  • GPS receiver - just like in a GPS unit
  • Bluetooth - for connecting to other devices. I never use this at all.
  • Traditional cellular connectivity for placing phone calls and getting data services like email.
  • it does *not* have any satellite connection capability. The DeLorme set up is where the DeLorme unit has the sat communications link and the cell phone tethers to it via Bluetooth to give you the texting capability.

The little control panel screen that I set up is where I turn these functions on and off at will. Turn every one of the comm functions off, and it is still a little computer that you can do typical disconnected computer stuff with, but using less battery life because it is the comm functions that drain batteries. Like looking at the thousands of square miles worth of topo maps or reading books on it.

Then for a typical backcountry trip outside of cellular reception, the only comm function I'd be using (and only turn it on when I'm going to actually be using it) is the GPS receiver. At that point my phone is basically a little computer with a GPS receiver in it and nothing more.

We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa
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8/6/2012 12:50 PM

Thanks for taking the time guys. I still don't quite get the whole "service plan" deal.

so companies such as Sprint, Verizon, pay them a monthly amount to be able to use their satelites to make all the calls, texts, downloads you want? Is this how it works? And say if you are not using that service, you can turn it off to save battery life?

I think what would help a lot is some sort of bullet point list of what to look for in a phone and what to stay away from would really help.

I am not trying to make this post about "me" but this is what the phone would be used for and my needs

  • large enough to read on but be portable (5 inch screen max)
  • dust resist/shock resist/ water resist
  • I have no land line so it needs to be reliable to make a call in event of emergency
  • I do not text or need music functions
  • Internet access for surfing
  • good camera- room to store photos
  • can play videos/ movies
  • has GPS
  • personal use only and not work related
  • everyday use: weather, e-mail, mapping, internet, forums, videos, pictures, reading

I am not sure if you need to buy a phone with GPS on it or all you need is to download an app for GPS- which is better?

Obviously I would chose a Andriod OS, but not sure what brand or carrier to look at or stay away from?

do I even need a phone with a contract?

any further help would be appreciated- thanks

New Post
8/6/2012 2:42 PM

Evan - I do what I can. I appologize for crappy GI Web connections here in Afghanistan wreaking Havoc on the forums.


Basically, your "service Plan" is a contract with the phone company allowing you to use their cellular network to make calls, connect to the web, etc. You aren't going to be using Satelites but rather radio signals transmitted from towers spread out across the country. Essentialy your phone is a radio transceiver that sends and receives signals from the nearest provider radio tower, which relays to another tower and so on until it reaches a central switching station that is pretty much an automated version of the landline telephone switch operators of yesteryear. Most "service plans" are a two year contract between you and the cellular company, this makes choosing the right phone and company pretty important because the fee's for early termination are pretty outrageous in most cases.

As far as the phone's themselves:

  1. Many different phone companies offer the Android OS in different versions. Look for a phone running Adroid OS 4.0 (the latest version is 4.0.4) This will be the newest and give you the least problems with the OS itself
  2. Avoid Pantech phones, they are very cheap and it shows.
  3. Based on your bullets, a salesman will probably recomend the Casio G'Zone Commando for it's ruggedness. This is the phone my dad has mentioned in my previous post. Yes, it's rugged, but you'll most likely want to throw it at a wall at some point. For a little extra you can purchase clear scratch protectors and different types of cases to acheive the same ruggedness (Otterbox makes excelent cases to put over phones)
  4. I've had mixed experiences with the brand LG. Best bet would be to avoid unless you know someone with a newer LG phone and can get insight from them
  5. For me, my brand of choice is the Motorola Droid Series
  • Quality made products
  • Originated the Adroid Cellphone and have improved greatly upon it
  • Recently added the DROID RAZR MAXX which has the longest battery life any smart phone has ever had (read will run for days with most features turned off)
  • High quality camera's (that also GEO-TAG your pictures using the GPS) Most Motorola's have an 8 megapixel Camera and can record videos in full HD quality
  • Simple user interface, easy to learn but as you learn you will be able to do more with the device
  • Quality display. The RAZR MAXX has a 4.3 inch screen that is just beautiful (My previous Droid has a similar screen that I watched TV shows on all the time)
  • Full web browser available for email, surfing, forums, etc. (Firefox Mobile can be downloaded if not already installed)
  • To my knowledge has GPS (indicated by the GEO-TAGGED pictures but this question would be better directed at an actual sales person)
  • Substantial After market to include various Cases and Mounts as well as bluetooth headphones, charging docks, etc.

You could look at that and say I'm biased, and I'll honestly tell you I am. I've run Android on a Motorola Droid since it was first released, and have never had issues. Maybe it's just luck, but I've yet to run into a problem with any of my Motorolas.

As to carriers this will depend greatly on where you live and what coverage is like. I would ask neighbors or people at the local outdoors store what carriers they use or like for the area, though be wary of local area providers if you travel more than a few hours away from home. Pricing will also be a factor here so look into what carriers offer what plans.

Personally I'm a Verizon Customer and have had great luck with verizon in terms of service and reliability. However, me and my family have had the same Verizon plan for atleast 10 or 11 years now, so our pricing is a bit different from what is currently offered by Verizon (which I only discovered researching to answer your post so thank you for opening my eyes.) With the old family plan, I'm able to break down my personal line separate from the rest of the family and utilize it to my needs for around 80 dollars a month, which would not be possible under the newest plans.

Apparently, new phones are using so much more data than actual minutes the pricing plans have changed to be data centric rather than cellular minute centric. From what I could tell, all verizon plans now have unlimited minutes, text messaging and picture messaging. On top of this you have your monthly data limit, starting at 1GB of data for $50. Additional data rates are around $10 more for each step in the chart. Couple this with a $40 "smartphone" fee and your monthly bill starts at $90 a month for 1GB of data. I honestly can't judge how much data you would personally need, again a salesperson may help you estimate (and you can always move down the steps.)

One last strong recommendation I can make is buying the insurance, extended waranty and Wireless Phone Total Protection insurance offered. All 3 will cost you an additional $14.25 a month with Verizon, but in the end if your phone does get damaged, lost or stolen, it's well worth the price. I had my phone stolen in Salt Lake last year while in training and had I just paid my $14 dollars a month it would have been replaced for free. Being cheap I didn't and now I'll end up paying alot more for another phone.

One final note, also during the research for this post I noticed that purchasing through Verizon Online was actually more expensive for the phone than Purchasing the device and plan on Amazon wireless. Verizon, with a new contract discount, still wanted nearly $300 for the RAZR MAXX (MSRP $750) while Amazon Wireless, for the same phone and contract only wanted $99 for the device. Just goes to show the importance of shopping around.

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