Geocache 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 experience has been that Motorola phones use high grade GPS chips. We’ve been very happy with our various Droids over the last several years. Tablets can geocache too. We’ll often use a tablet to search an area then zero in with the phone.

All of our experience is with Droids. I understand the iphone is also quite good but I haven’t used one.

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.

If you’ve got your phone, then it’s time to load a geocaching killer app. If you have a Droid, the two best apps are Groundspeak Geocaching and C:geo. You’ll find them in the Google Playstore. They’re free. Their features are pretty much the same – touch screens with color, searching, navigating, logging.

NOTE TO READER: Groundspeak is the corporate side of geocaching (dot) com. Based in Seattle, they run the show.

You’ll also need an account at geocaching(dot)com. You’ll login to it through the app. There are free ones and premium memberships ($30 a year). As you might expect, the premium membership has a lot more options and you’ll see a lot more geocaches. But if you’re new or just get out occasionally, the free one should do fine. Once you get hooked, you’ll definitely want to go premium.

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 others 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. Groundspeak’s own app is good but not quite as fast. 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 either one of these. Google Playstore is overrun with geocaching apps. I’ve tried a lot of them. For the most part, they’re useless. C:Geo and Groundspeak Geocaching 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.

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 smartphone or if the one you have isn’t up to the job or if you plan to geocache in the wild, then you’ll need a dedicated handheld GPS device. We’ll discuss those in our next post.

Good hunting … Boris and Natasha

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