Geocaching With Smart Phones

Hi again,

This is the third of five pages on Intro to Geocaching.

Here are the other four.

GPS 101

Geocaching 101

Geocaching with Handheld GPS

Geocaching Software

Today’s topic is geocaching with your smart phone. This is a relatively recent development and it has changed the game dramatically. The Holy Grail of geocaching has always been on-the-fly searching with live maps and real time downloads of nearby geocaches along with the ability to filter and log them on the run. Smart phones and their geocaching apps do just that. If you have a smart phone and don’t plan to travel to strange and exotic places, that may be all you need.

Smart phone geocaching apps can search, locate, map, list and log geocaches anywhere you have Internet connectivity. They continue to proliferate and improve but they are only as good as the phone they are installed on – and not all phones are created equal. Smart phone manufacturers have to make compromises in design, components and function to fit everything together. Sometimes, the GPS function is a low priority. The GPS chip and/or the firmware may be slow and inaccurate. It may be good on the Interstate highway but lousy on a back road. The only way to know is to try it out and/or do some research.

The best way to get some background on geocaching phones is to do a Google search on “geocaching with (your phone model).” There’s lots out there.

We’ve been through the wringer with phones. Our Blackberry Storms were excellent. Their GPS was fast and accurate. We geocached all over the country with them and used them until they literally wore out. Next we got the Samsung Galaxy. It was horrible. We took them back and got the HTC Thunderbolt, which was the state of the art phone then. It was horrible too.

That’s when I went on Google and ran down some information about phones. Motorola phones use high grade GPS chips. We traded in the HTC for the DroidX2 and have been very happy with them.

Luckenbach, TX

Our smart phones found the five geocaches in Luckenbach, TX but not Waylon, Willie and the boys. There’s more caches here than people – except on weekends.

I understand the iphone is also quite good.

If you’ve got your phone, then it’s time to load a geocaching killer app. If you have a Droid, the three best apps are CacheSense, Neongeo and C:geo. The features of all three are pretty much the same – touch screens with color, searching, navigating, logging. Cachesense is fast and has a feature that lets you create template messages for your logs. All you have to do is click on found and the templated message is called up. If you like it, send it. No more typing on a tiny keyboard while on the move. A lifetime license for CacheSense is $10.

Neongeo is very similar but without the message templates. It is Android only and costs five bucks. Its developer is very active and responsive to the community. He turns out new features on a regular basis, often in response to geocacher input. Over the last year, Neongeo has taken the Droid geocaching world by storm. It’s an excellent app.

C:geo is the one we use the most. It has also been around the longest. It was the first app to deliver live, real-time geocaching on the fly. It’s an open source app that works on Android only. Its interfaces and features aren’t quite as rich as the other two but only hard core geeks or whiners would notice the difference. The fully functional version is free and it is updated often. The reason we like it is because it is utterly reliable. When other apps are spinning their wheels looking for geocaches or trying to get a GPS fix, C:geo already has it done. C:geo has two potential downsides. It doesn’t work on iphones and they don’t get along with Groundspeak. Rather than use Groundspeak’s programming API, they “web scrape” the data they need. Groundspeak considers them a rogue element, but that’s a developer problem and doesn’t seem to affect the end user experience. It’s way better than Groundspeak’s own app, but there’s always the possibility that Groundspeak will run them out of town. C:geo has a cult following of sorts. The continuing conflict between the two is kind of a geocaching soap opera. Here’s a C:geo FAQ link with some good information about the whole thing.

You really can’t go wrong with any of these three. There are lots of others out there. App stores have dozens listed and I’ve tried several of them. These are the only ones I would recommend.

The iphone has its own apps and there’s quite a list. You’ll have to do some homework and testing but from a hardware standpoint, the iphone itself is a solid platform for geocaching.

Here’s a link to Groundspeak’s phone apps page.

We’ll wrap up this post with two final thoughts.

Regardless of what combination of gear you decide on, make sure you test it thoroughly during the grace period, which is usually 14 days. When we get new phones, the first thing we do is go geocaching. We practically torture the phones, caching in as many different scenarios with different apps as we can. If they don’t work like we want, back they go.

Also bear in mind that if you have a free Groundspeak membership, they limit your smart phone downloads to three geocaches a day. Premium membership is unlimited.

If you don’t have a smart phone or if the one you have is useless or if you plan to geocache in the wild, then you’ll need a dedicated handheld GPS device. We’ll discuss those in another post.

Good hunting … Boris and Natasha

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