Smartphones for the Outdoors

I’ve been checking online, and my phone is due to be upgradeable from the 1st May, so I’ve been looking at what to get as an upgrade. Ideally, I want a phone that has some use in the outdoors. I’ve also been chatting to Terrybnd today about his phone, as it has recently been upgraded to ICS (He has a Samsung Galaxy S II).

I’m likely to be bound to a contact for 2 years, so the phone needs to be up-to-date enough for me to hope to cope with it.

Before I continue, I’ll point out that my current phone is a Google Nexus One (the first of the Nexus phones), running android 2.3.6. I’ve also had, in the past, an iPhone 3GS

I guess the objective of this is to discuss what would make a particularly good phone for use in the outdoors.

As I discussed in my review of the Freeloader Globetrotter Solar Charger, these packs tend not to be overly useful in less than sunny Scotland, so we can effectively rule out phones with a short battery life and those without the ability to remove the battery.

Bye-Bye iPhone (all of them), Bye-Bye HTC One (S or X – both have non-removable batteries), Bye-Bye Motorola Razr

The phone should also have a GPS chip, and access to decent mapping software. In this case, we’ll use ViewRanger, as it is compatible with Social Hiking.

Bye-Bye Blackberries and Windows Phones.

So… what does that leave us with? Basically, an Android or Symbian phone. I stated at the start of this that I want my phone to be up-to-date, and to see me through the next two years.

Bye-Bye Symbian.

Now we’re left with Android phones.This is where it becomes much more challenging.

Do you want a tough phone, that will take a real beating?

If so, take a look at the Motorola Defy or the new JCB Toughphone Pro-smart

Both phone claim to be dustproof, water and scratch resistant. That would make them pretty good in the outdoors. No argument there! (although I would always advise an Aquapac waterproof case, for any phone – mine got water damaged a few months ago, and I’ll not let it happen again!)

The downside of both of these phones is that they both run older versions of Android, and they run on out-dated hardware. An 800Mhz processor won’t get you far these days, and a decent amount of internal memory is required for apps, too. That effectively rules out both of those phones.

What then is there?

Do I get a Galaxy S II, Like Terry?

Well, no. That would be silly, as the Galaxy S III is due to be announced in the next 2 weeks. Should I wait for that, though? Without knowing the spec, I simply can’t say. It might have a fixed battery, for all I know.

Another phone on the horizon, which is of interest, is the Motorola Razr Maxx – due for EU release in May (already available in the US). It doesn’t have a removable battery, but with a battery of 3300mAh, it’s got more than twice the capacity of my current phone. It’s also got a Kevlar body and Gorilla Glass screen, making it reasonably tough for use in the outdoors. It’s a serious contender for my affections, it has to be said. It’s not ugly, either, and has 16Gb internal memory, and can support expandable memory up to 32Gb in Micro SD – that makes it a reasonably good investment for the music lover.

Of course, the other alternative is to make adjustments, so that other phones will be suitable. Also, the solar charger I’ve tried in the past has been no good for me, the Powermonkey Extreme might be. With a 9000mAh battery, which holds its charge, that could, in theory, make a phone last a whole week, without even needing to worry about the solar aspect of it. As the unit itself can be charger from USB or the mains, too, it could, in theory, be charged up every few days at a formal campsite or B&B.

As I’ve already mentioned. The phone might not need to be tough – a hard case and an Aquapac could be all that’s needed to make it safe for backpacker use..

That then brings all of the phones with Non-removable batteries and non-tough phones back into the mix. Welcome back iPhone and HTC One! Admittedly, that comes at an additional outlay, which may not be to everyone’s liking. After all, you’ve just paid out for a new phone, or signed yourself up for another 18 months/2 years on a contract – do you really want to be paying much more?!

At the end of the day, I guess there isn’t a perfect phone for the tech savvy in the outdoors community, and I doubt there ever will be. We’re a bit too narrow a market. However, there will always be ways to make almost any phone suit your purpose.

For me… I suspect the Motorola Razr Maxx or the Samsung Galaxy S III will find their way into my pocket by the end of May, but who knows.

I’m definitely keen to hear other people’s thoughts on what they reckon would be a good phone to get over the next month or two.

7 thoughts on “Smartphones for the Outdoors”

  1. Can’t help with the phone choice but rather than Viewranger have you tried Locus?
    Pro version is only £4 and with a small add on you can download as many maps to it for free as you like (including OSM,bing,google etc).
    A superb app that i wouldn’t be without now

    1. To be honest, the main reason I chose Viewranger was due to the compatibility with Social Hiking, which is becoming more popular (at least on the twitter community). There are definitely apps out there which are more cost effective.

    1. Good choice! It’s definitely a consideration. The 5.3″ screen would make for good fun watching films, playing games and the like in the tent!

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