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Offline ultraflight

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GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« on: June 19, 2017, 07:58:55 pm »
I have been doing extensive research on navigating a bike on adventure rides... from short circuits to multi-day tours. I think I have finally found the perfect solution. Read on if interested.

Other than buying a very expensive Garmin Zumo, their dedicated bike GPS, you could try the somewhat less expensive models such as the Montana. But even these have some serious problems for adventure touring.

What about using your smartphone to navigate? Here are the pros and cons...

This is how I go about planning a ride:
I create a route on Garmin Mapsourse or Basecamp.
A route connects several waypoints together from your startpoint to your destination. When you transfer this route to a GPS, the GPS might use different roads to connect your waypoints, so you end up following a route which may be significantly different to what you planned. The solution is to convert the route to a track on your PC, then send the track to the GPS, which then cannot change from what you had planned... however, you get no voice guidance along a track, so you need to visually follow a line on your screen. I usually set the zoom to see about 5km ahead, and check the screen at every intersection or every possible turnoff. However, more than once I have missed a turn and had to backtrack.

If you do not want to layout the cash for a GPS, then there are a few options to use your smartphone to navigate. There are many GPS apps that will get you from your current location to any given point, but that is not what we are looking for. We want to follow a pre-planned route, following specific roads, not let the app select how to get to your destination.

Perhaps you planned the route yourself, or you are joining a ride and can get a GPX file from whoever planned the route, or you found a GPX file online and want to explore that ride...

To this end, I was recommended an app called GAIA GPS (IOS and Android). It was not cheap, but it served my purpose very well on some multi-day tours with lots of lesser known gravel roads. It uses various maps including OpenStreepMaps and a few others, most of which can be downloaded for offline use for areas where there is no cell signal (and to pre-download maps on WiFi rather than paying for mobile data).

I read about OSMand on this forum. Downloaded it and played with it on my iPad and iPhone. Found it to be rather buggy, frustrating to use and not at all user-friendly. A far cry from being usable at all. Perhaps the Android verion might be better.

Then I discovered Easytrails GPS which had some major advantages, such as a much clearer (compared to Gaia), broad and bright Orange track to follow which was a huge improvement when on a rough dirt road. Unfortunately the Android version sucks but the IOS version works well, and its a lot less expensive than Gaia.
Easytrails can read out the names of waypoints as you approach them, so you could name them in some useful way, e.g. "Turn Left onto the R312" or similar. This overcomes the voice guidance issue in a way.

However, I have now discovered what could be the absolutely perfect app, called Scenic. It ticks off all the boxes. The free version allows you to test almost all of the features. It makes planning a route easy on iPhone or iPad if you want, or importing GPX almost every way you can imagine, offers full voice guidance even if you started with a Track instead of a route.

Unfortunately only on IOS at this stage, I don't know if they plan an Android version.
I am now tasking my very old iPhone 4 as my dedicated navigator on my bike, with my newer iPhone 7+ as a backup.

If interested, have a look at:
www.scenicapp.space

Offline SchalkL

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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2017, 08:42:25 pm »
Tx for the info, very interesting.
What do you do about the battery life (charge while riding?)
My iphone 5 & 6 gets very hot in direct sunlight and switch off after about 2 hours.....
Sometime you don't need a plan, just balls :)

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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2017, 08:52:18 pm »
Agreed, thank you for the nice and extensive write-up!  :thumleft: :thumleft:

I was pondering this issue when driving to the Northern Cape recently. I don't want a GPS because they are like bricks due to battery requirements. But smart phones don't have the battery life to act as full time GPS.

Something like an app with voice navigation would be great though, as you can save some power by switching off the screen and only following the voice commands, especially if the charger is under the back seat  ::)

Seems like you didn't look at Tracks4Africa app though?
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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #3 on: June 19, 2017, 09:04:58 pm »
Thanks, I'll check out Scenic

Offline Sláinte Mhaith

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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2017, 09:33:17 pm »
I create a route on Garmin Mapsourse or Basecamp.
A route connects several waypoints together from your startpoint to your destination. When you transfer this route to a GPS, the GPS might use different roads to connect your waypoints, so you end up following a route which may be significantly different to what you planned. The solution is to convert the route to a track on your PC.....

PS Another solution is to create your route with waypoints on the centre of the road (between start and end) you want to travel.  That way when you get to an intersection the gps can't take you on a different road to the next intersection. It has to pick the road with the waypoint on.  The more waypoints you select the more the PC and GPS routes will be the same.

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Offline ultraflight

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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #5 on: June 20, 2017, 06:47:06 am »
Tx for the info, very interesting.
What do you do about the battery life (charge while riding?)
My iphone 5 & 6 gets very hot in direct sunlight and switch off after about 2 hours.....

Yes, I fitted a dual-USB socket to my bike, one 1A and one 2A USB outlet.
If the GPS function is running and the screen is on maximum brightness, it will overheat especially if its in a closed cover.
Scenic dims the screen intelligently when its not required and then brings the brightness up again when it announces a turnpoint, which overcomes this problem. 
« Last Edit: June 20, 2017, 06:55:12 am by ultraflight »

Offline ultraflight

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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #6 on: June 20, 2017, 06:50:46 am »
Something like an app with voice navigation would be great though, as you can save some power by switching off the screen and only following the voice commands, especially if the charger is under the back seat  ::)

Seems like you didn't look at Tracks4Africa app though?
See the above post. Scenic automatically dims the screen when no action is required, then brightens it when approaching and announcing a turn.

I use the Tracks4Africa maps to plan my routes on my PC in Mapsource and Basecamp apps, however the IOS version is quite useless on an iPhone or iPad. Wasted money paying for that.

Offline ultraflight

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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #7 on: June 20, 2017, 06:54:03 am »
PS Another solution is to create your route with waypoints on the centre of the road (between start and end) you want to travel.  That way when you get to an intersection the gps can't take you on a different road to the next intersection. It has to pick the road with the waypoint on.  The more waypoints you select the more the PC and GPS routes will be the same.

That is a rather clumsy workaround, but sure, it will work.
My biggest beef with that, is you then get continuous announcements of approaching a waypoint in the middle of nowhere that is of absolutely no interest.

Offline Buffel B

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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #8 on: June 20, 2017, 07:22:53 am »
Thx !!!
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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #9 on: June 20, 2017, 09:14:51 am »
Does it not need a cellular connection to function?
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Offline Ama ride ride

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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #10 on: June 20, 2017, 09:25:12 am »
Just a question

Why not just go and ride and explore? Why must there be safety net? Just asking

I never owned a bike/outdoor GPS in my life and i discovered wonderful remote roads etc.
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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #11 on: June 20, 2017, 09:31:56 am »
 :sip:
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Offline MickeyT

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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #12 on: June 20, 2017, 09:44:39 am »
Thanks for this.  My only problem is that my iphone (5 and 6) doesn't charge sufficiently when connected to the 1200 and will run out of battery juice when in any gps app.. Don't know how to fix this problem.
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Offline Sláinte Mhaith

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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #13 on: June 20, 2017, 11:48:17 am »
Just a question
Why not just go and ride and explore? Why must there be safety net? Just asking
I never owned a bike/outdoor GPS in my life and i discovered wonderful remote roads etc.

A GPS can be a tool to assist in discovering some roads. 
In Swaziland for example there was a road on the GPS which we struggled to find even with the GPS and would have just driven past without a GPS.
Would have probably missed Gamchab in Nam if not for the GPS.
Travelling north from Sani to Katse we missed the turn-off as they totally destroyed the intersection in the roadworks and we did not recognise it.  Had to turn back and actually look on the gps where it was and climb a small berm to continue.

I don't like planning routes but do plan a trip to an extent.  When we have an idea of direction then I would search for some waypoints worth visiting and make tracks of passes/road I want to see.  When you get close to these then it is easy to see them on the GPS and can reroute to include them in the trip.


But for you sir, you will never need a gps. Not sarcastic at all. You probably have a photographic memory when it comes to roads.  I remember your description of a turn-off we needed to take and everything to the exact detail even though you traveled the road many moons before.  Way better than any gps could provide.

Offline Gee S

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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #14 on: June 20, 2017, 12:24:20 pm »
Thanks for this.  My only problem is that my iphone (5 and 6) doesn't charge sufficiently when connected to the 1200 and will run out of battery juice when in any gps app.. Don't know how to fix this problem.
It is probably the canbus system that limits the power supply to the charger.
Connect your usb charger or a lighter socket directly to your battery with a 3/5Amp fuse on the positive line. This should solve the problem.
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Offline MickeyT

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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #15 on: June 20, 2017, 04:00:27 pm »
Thanks for this.  My only problem is that my iphone (5 and 6) doesn't charge sufficiently when connected to the 1200 and will run out of battery juice when in any gps app.. Don't know how to fix this problem.
It is probably the canbus system that limits the power supply to the charger.
Connect your usb charger or a lighter socket directly to your battery with a 3/5Amp fuse on the positive line. This should solve the problem.

Thanks a mill!  Highjack off
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Offline ultraflight

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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #16 on: June 20, 2017, 07:36:51 pm »
Does it not need a cellular connection to function?

Nope. It works offline perfectly.

Offline ultraflight

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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #17 on: June 20, 2017, 07:43:59 pm »
Just a question
Why not just go and ride and explore? Why must there be safety net? Just asking
I never owned a bike/outdoor GPS in my life and i discovered wonderful remote roads etc.
There certainly is a place and a time for that, and I certainly do enough of that too,
However I sometimes want to go explore specific roads I have heard about, or seen from the air (I fly a lot too), or spotted on a map (here Tracks4Africa excels), or I need to get to a certain town and want to plan a route along roads I have never been on before, like my recent round trip from Cape Town to Plett, covering 2200km over several days, avoiding as much blacktop as possible. On such a trip you don't want to end up on a road that eventually leads you away from your intended destination when you have a set date to be there for a meeting, like I had. I also wanted to visit specific places along the way (Bikers Den near Cloetes Pass, Angies G-Spot, Stormsvlei, etc). This is where solid planning ahead comes in.

A time and place for everything...?
« Last Edit: June 20, 2017, 07:50:34 pm by ultraflight »

Offline ultraflight

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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #18 on: June 20, 2017, 07:47:59 pm »
Thanks for this.  My only problem is that my iphone (5 and 6) doesn't charge sufficiently when connected to the 1200 and will run out of battery juice when in any gps app.. Don't know how to fix this problem.

Easy fix... get a USB adapter that is rated at much more than the usual 500 milli-Amps.
At least 1000mA but a 2000mA USB socket (aka 2A) would be better yet.

Also, don't run your screen at full brightness the entire time. Your screen backlight sucks power like a vampire.
Scenic can dim your screen when you are on a long road without turns, then automatically brightens the screen again as soon as it gives you the next voice instruction, in case you want to see exactly what the next turnoff looks like.

Offline Jovan

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Re: GPS vs Smartphone apps - my research
« Reply #19 on: June 20, 2017, 08:09:47 pm »
 :sip: