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Rugged Smartphone v Premium GPS

Well I am finally going to have to swallow pride and buy a smartphone to control some new home automation.

Where are we now with the long standing argument of smartphone v GPS? Should I go the whole way and buy a rugged smartphone and replace my Garmin devices? or continue the interminable wait for Garmin to replace or upgrade the 276CX flop. Are smartphone GPS chips now as good as dedicated GPS chips? any smartphone I bought for that purpose would have to have GPS/Glonass capability and not rely on coverage. It needs exceptional battery life as charging on an 80+ year old BSA handlebars is out of the question.

Been looking at Defender Beast or Sonim XP8, but have been having a closer look at the new Land Rover Explore with clip on battery pack/ higher def GPS aerial. which ticks a lot of boxes as I would not have to carry such a large brick off the bike. Phone could be higher spec though. There are a lot of differing Apps that run on Android (must be V7 or higher)

At the end of the day however, have rugged smartphones got close to catching up with a dedicated GPS like the Montana for GPS use?
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Comments

  • sussamb 792 Points
    edited October 2018
    Functionally when simply talking about provided a rugged device to carry out simple navigation tasks then I'd say yes, but I've tried using a smartphone for hiking and it fails for me on numerous counts, not least because it's not as easy to hold/operate. How one would fare on a motorbike I can't say but my Garmin in my car is far more capable than the Android Auto app in my wife's car, which while it's fine for simple navigation can't accept pre-planned routes etc
  • Boyd 1969 Points
    I think you will just get the expected responses from the people on this forum, like the one above where he doesn't even mention what software was used or what kind of phone he has.

    We have discussed your GPS needs extensively in the past and they're very different from my own. Seems to me that the first step would be trying different apps to see if you can find one that you like - there are a huge number of choices. If so, then you could look at hardware.

    If you think Garmin has some "secret sauce", you could just get a GLO bluetooth receiver, it should work with any phone and is very accurate.

    http://forums.gpsreview.net/discussion/30108/what-is-gps-accuracy-testing-the-garmin-glo-in-the-forest

    But for road navigation, I suspect any high quality phone will be good enough, they all have GLONASS chips now. Arguably the biggest issue will be that dedicated handheld GPS devices have transreflective screens so you don't need to suck down the battery powering a bright backlight all the time. OTOH, motorcycle devices like the Zumo don't have transreflective screens. But your need for a self-powered device is a bit unusual.
  • sussamb 792 Points
    Boyd said:

    I think you will just get the expected responses from the people on this forum, like the one above where he doesn't even mention what software was used or what kind of phone he has.

    Think I said Android Auto which is the software app, maybe you missed that bit ;)

    As for the phone it was a Samsung but really irrelevant, fact is my GPS just fits my hand better and is considerably easier to operate :)

  • Boyd 1969 Points
    OK, sorry. I thought Android Auto was just a way to connect your phone to the display in your car. Apparently it only supports Google Maps and Waze for navigation. Anyway, that doesn't seem terribly relevant to using a phone on a motorcycle or a hike, doesn't allow you to install the map permanently on the device and doesn't give you any choice of maps beyond Google's standard offerings.

    And why would the type of phone be irrelevant? He is specifically looking at rugged phones, and they are becoming very popular as GPS alternatives in the off-road community here in the US. I think the question really comes down to the app and the kinds of mapping it supports. A touchscreen is a touchscreen, with or without the Garmin logo. If you want pushbuttons, that's another matter of course.

    Anyway, if you are happy with Garmin's devices there is no reason to switch. I still like the idea of using a dedicated device, but my Montana is broken now and I don't see anything reasonably priced in their lineup to replace it. Perhaps my opinion of Garmin would improve if they gave me free stuff too. ;)
  • sussamb 792 Points
    edited October 2018
    Only once ;)

    Yes, rugged phones are popular here and I've tried them but they just don't fit my hands so well or are as simple to operate in my experience. I'm sure for many they'll be fine.
  • Chris_Sav 125 Points
    Cheers Guys

    My need for extra battery is simple and no different to hiking all day. There's barely enough power in a near 100 year old dynamo to power the lights let alone charge a phone! and aged 6 volt regulators are hardly likely to be smartphone friendly!

    I do most of the run leads in our vintage club so plan the routes down country lanes in advance. Montana is quite good for that, dependent upon OSM map routing not taking down bridlepaths, but I have to turn the backlighting down to get more than around three hours continuous use and it's difficult to read in bright sunlight. Thus if I moved to a phone, the navigation app would have to support planning with waypoints. Montana does not get touched during the run.

    External rechargeables (good ones) appear unpredictable when you've left them in the cupboard all winter. I've had them refuse to charge straight from the packet and had to shock them. Only takes one to be short on power to disable the Montana.

    Some of the adverts show rugged smartphones surviving far worse than my Montana can reasonably expect on the handlebars. But I read that GPS chips are not as accurate.

    So it's advice on a simple choice I'm looking for, keep the Montana that I'm not fully happy with and buy
    a normal slim cheaper smartphone or take the plunge and buy an expensive rugged phone and give navigation a whirl with that?


  • alanb 535 Points
    edited October 2018
    Boyd, I am curious about how/why your Montana failed. I thought they were pretty solid and reliable devices.
  • Chris_Sav 125 Points
    My first 680T failed with the inability to disconnect from Windows 10 problem forcing me to break the connection and eventually corrupting the software.

    This one I always reboot the PC rather than disconnect the Montana, seems to work fine
  • sussamb 792 Points
    To answer your last question I'd keep the Montana and buy a cheap smartphone :)
  • alanb 535 Points
    I agree with sussamb. I guess I just haven't found a smartphone app yet that measures up to the dedicated Garmin IMO. I have tried some road navigation apps. Garmin's Viago was on the right track, but they discontinued it. The others I do not care for. To be honest, I have not tried any handheld replacement apps though.
  • Boyd 1969 Points
    edited October 2018
    My Montana still functions properly, but the plastic cover over the power button cracked and fell off, exposing the inside. The actual power button is recessed pretty deep inside, but I can still turn it on and off with a small dowel. This is what I've been doing to test the maps I make and create screenshots for boydsmaps.com. I saw a post somewhere (groundspeak maybe) where someone described the exact same problem with their own Montana.

    I could do a half-assed fix of my own, but honestly I can do without the Montana. Truth is, I live out in the woods with thousands of acres of state land bordering my property. Have recently been enjoying walks that start and end at my own back door. :)

    On a bike it would be really simple to just strap a battery pack somewhere - wouldn't it? I have aGoal Zero 400 watt Yeti power supply and it's great. The same company also makes smallf power supplies, I'd guess something like this would run a phone at full brightness all day. One of the smaller models might also be enough.

    www.goalzero.com/shop/sherpa-power-banks-and-accessories/sherpa-40-power-bank/
  • DaveM 157 Points
    My biggest reason for not liking a phone for nav. on a bike is not being able to read the screen in the sun. If you can find one you can read in the sun you can work around battery life with a power bank. If it not waterproof you can put it in a baggie or get a heavier bag made for the porpoise.

    Since you are preplanning your routes if you go with a phone I would take a look at RideWithGPS. It's designed for bicycles but has a driving mode so will avoid bike paths. You could use it on your bike or in a car etc. It will use the route you set up and not try to decide where to send you. It has an Android and iPhone app.
  • Chris_Sav 125 Points
    Thanks for the advice guys, was hoping for more but I guess many of our flock have taken the smartphone route.

    Will ponder some more.
  • Boyd 1969 Points
    I don't know who "your flock" is, but this is probably the wrong site for advice on smartphone apps, since most of the members are of the "you'll have to pry my Garmin from my cold dead hands" persuasion. >:)
  • Chris_Sav 125 Points
    Not looking for specific information, as I said earlier, I have to get a smartphone anyway. Do I pay the extra for a good GPS capable phone? Have they caught up enough?


    The answer to that for me is still not clear and you won't be prizing the Montana out of my fingers for a while yet.


  • Chris_Sav 125 Points
    Taken the full plunge and rugged smartphone ordered, so now I will start looking at apps in detail, but not here obviously. :)]
  • sussamb 792 Points
    Have a look at the viewranger app for off road use.
  • Boyd 1969 Points
    Cool! B-) Please post back and let us know how it works out.
  • Chris_Sav 125 Points
    Will do,

    Taking a chance in life for once as it's a direct order from Gearbest for an AGM X2 so will probably take a couple of weeks to clear customs. Has all the bells and whistles, top spec and amoled screen, only drawback was non removable battery but 6000mah battery is tested to 14 hours with everything on.

    First problem was a handlebar mount for a 14mm thick phone, lot of dodgy rubbish out there until I found Brodit very helpful and they kindly spec'd the complete set-up - ordered.
  • Been a delay in this with the phone not getting through customs, but when it did they had not applied any VAT or handling charges so cannot grumble.

    The company that supplied the bespoke handlebar mount that I wanted supplied incompatible sections so that had to go back as well.

    Loaded Locus Map Pro on the AGM.

    I may be very competent with PC's but what a struggle Android is to the non familiar! Locus Map Pro is not intuitive to me either and navigation seems very raw compared with a slick Garmin device at first attempt.


    It gets its first use on a classic motorcycle on Sunday in a 100 mile bimble, weather permitting. I'll run both Montana and phone side by side.
  • The side by side comparison was an abject failure!

    The Montana died ten minutes from home with a low battery warning. The set were Ansmann 2850 mah straight out of the box and freshly discharged/charged. They were bought to replace a set that had similarly failed after only a year. Testing some other sets and so far none of them charge above 2200 mah after just over a year, some a lot lower! I will not be buying any more Ansmann batteries!

    The AGM X2 was loaded with Copilot after I decided I did not like Locus Pro. Amoled screen has wider visibility. 120 miles in about five hours on the road down country lanes and I had 69% battery left with everything on full blast so that was good.

    Routing was very poor on shortest route setting, with obvious shorter routes on minor roads ignored (there are no avoidances on Copilot). The turn by turn navigation was good, however. Having reached the interim destination we used a route-sheet so phone was just used to help spot upcoming turns. Problem was the maps lack contrast on whatever theme on minor roads and the labels are too small and faint to read from as riding position, despite increasing font size, so the phone was useless for this purpose.

    Recalculation was instant unlike the Garmin machines so the processing power appears better.

    Overall, short term, the Montana will likely be staying on the old BSA handlebars I am sorry to say, but will need to sort the battery problem as the internal battery does not last long enough for 100% display in full sunlight.

    Longer term I feel the answer lies in the phone, but the apps I have Googled don't match up to a premium dedicated device in my view.
  • Boyd 1969 Points
    edited November 2018
    Chris_Sav said:

    Problem was the maps lack contrast on whatever theme on minor roads and the labels are too small and faint to read from as riding position, despite increasing font size, so the phone was useless for this purpose.

    One advantage of the phone is that you can use different apps where appropriate (they can even be running at the same time). So for a "moving map" application maybe you could use Locus (or Orux, Galileo, BackCountry Navigator, etc) with some kind of topo maps?
  • sussamb 792 Points
    edited November 2018
    For batteries try Panasonic Eneloops (previously Sanyo Eneloops). I've used them for years and they are excellent. They come in various capacities and either normal or Eneloop Pro

    www.amazon.co.uk/Panasonic-Eneloop-Rechargeable-4BE-Batteries-Black/dp/B00JWC40JY/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?ie=UTF8&qid=1541441444&sr=8-1-spons&keywords=panasonic+eneloop+pro+aa&psc=1
  • Cheers on the batteries, I've been looking at those today, ordered some this evening.

    Working through my stock of Ansmann batteries and most are going in the recycling! Having to put DC across several to get them even to register on the intelligent charger, cannot rely on those.
  • DaveM 157 Points
    After you try the Eneloops you will never buy anything else. I like the standard Eneloops not as high capacity as the Pros but more charge cycles and will last all day in both of my Garmins.

  • Off topic for the OP but the eneloops ran for 11 hours on 80% brightness - absolutely excellent!! thanks. The eneloops exceeded their spec on a test charge.








  • sussamb 792 Points
    Yep. They're good :)
  • On the original topic, still between a rock and a hard place.

    Montana OSM maps from Lambertus are the clearest I have found in sunlight but that site has stopped downloading maps.

    Smartphone maps from Locus/Copilot/Tomtom are not as nice and shortest distance routing in the first two does not give the shortest distance in my experience thus far. Tomtom has the best route planning for what I need for setting up convoluted runs down small lanes for my club where their reorder stops is much more flexible than any alternative I have found. Stops v weighpoints seems to be an issue as well.


    Montana is still winning here.
  • DaveM 157 Points
    I hope that is just a website problem that will be fixed soon.
  • DaveM 157 Points
    Try the maps again. It looks like the site is working but slowly.
    After reading your post I tried downloading a map and got “Checking existing maps…” with the dots going around. This went on for a long time so I decided you were correct that the site wasn’t working. I then went back and typed my last reply but never exited the site. When I looked back it was still doing the same thing. Later I looked back and was able to download the map.
  • Left it checking maps for nearly an hour then the cat walked on the keyboard pestering me for food! That was the end of that.
  • DaveM 157 Points
    Which map Generic Routable, Generic Routable (new style) or other? What country?
  • Chris_Sav 125 Points
    edited November 2018
    New style, Europe (UK), trying again now, still spinning
  • DaveM 157 Points
    I can get it to come up.

    Which file or files do you want?

    Map installer for BaseCamp / MapSource on the Windows platform,
    Compressed file containing the tiles and overview map. This is useful for applications like Qlandkarte and Linux users,
    Map installer for BaseCamp / Mac OSX platform,
    Compressed file containing a single image that can be placed directly onto the SD-card of the GPS.

    I can download them and put in dropbox for you.

    .
  • Have tried it several times and on one occasion only it eventually came up with the email link to build the map. Have successfully downloaded an update thanks.


    Had a few more tries since, out of curiosity and none have worked, others reporting the same problem as well.
  • DaveM 157 Points
    Glad it worked for you.

    There is definitely a problem. I hope it’s fixed soon. They are the best maps I know of.
  • Back to topic, ran both the Montana with OSM maps and the AGM X2 smartphone with Tomtom mobile this time on the old BSA's handlebars, 115 miles in all in three segments
    .
    Problem with the OSM maps on the Montana is that, either the shortest route is flawed (no avoidances), or they take you down footpaths depending on what map you use. I still don't think the 680T is as sunlight readable as my 650T was.

    TomTom App got the first segment route right, over 2 miles shorter than the 'shortest' route on the Montana maps but the map lacks contrast which makes sunlight reading more difficult.

    Will investigate both further.

    Eneloop batteries were excellent!
  • truckinguy 115 Points
    edited January 2
    Garmin hit a home run with Montana 680.. hard to beat even after years they've been out.. hard to get a perfect gps made for all uses.. same goes for any man made product.. keep trying thou.

    I've got two of them one for the snowmobile and one dedicated to hiking .. I don't route with them turn by turn.. trails change here every year due to logging,etc. and many aren't mapped. I use the old map method for new areas.. bought with updates every year from the proper sources.

    I run the Pro's for long hikes.. short hikes use the Garmin battery alsocarry a Garmin battery for backup in the pack.. in the snowmachine hard wire power mount with Garmin battery only.
  • Chris_Sav 125 Points
    Update as requested is that the Montana is still my GPS of choice on my vintage/classic bikes and my Drivelux 50 LMTD in the car.

    Been riding very little this winter due to a deteriorating hip, but the fancy AGM X2 phone has not displaced the resident Montana or Drivelux in the car.

    I think eventually the phone will be the weapon of choice, but software solutions therein do not make it a jack of all trades quite yet.

  • Boyd 1969 Points
    edited January 2
    So, in other words, you could have just replaced your original Montana and been happy, instead of spending over a year trying just about every other product on the market? >:)

    Seriously, thanks for keeping us updated on your journey, I'm sure it will provide insights for others who are looking for similar solutions. Happy new year!
  • Boyd 1969 Points
    Also... didn't you go though a couple other Montana's and end up returning them due to problems? There have been so many, I can't recall the details now.
  • Chris_Sav 125 Points
    Hi Boyd.

    Would have saved myself money on the phone in the short term, but still think that is where the future lies, just not yet. I have still not found an ideal solution and that's not for want of trying as your memory correctly dictates.

    New Garmin 276CX looked superb but ran like a dog IMHO. I can't believe the people that spent so much seem happy to accept they could never run the thing to its highest specs, mine went back.

    Original Montana 650T got nicked and started all this Montana 680T went back as it could take an hour to disconnect from the USB 3.1 ports on my PC. The replacement one is just the same, workaround is to reboot the PC.

    There is no perfect solution for my demands in my view (works on ancient bikes with 6v Lucas "Prince of Darkness" electrics), Montana is the nearest. OSM maps are much more detailed but P2P routing is flawed. Most of my routing is via multiple waypoints from old fashioned route sheets so less of a problem.

    Trouble is as we commented elsewhere from my Lake District experiences, you cannot even 100% rely on city navigator maps on car models.

    Phones are getting there, of that there is no doubt, but sunlight screen readability and battery life remain poor and I have found all the phone routing programs I have tried to lack finesse (I'm fussy),

    So the Montana survives!

  • Boyd 1969 Points
    I think you left one or two Monterra's off that list, didn't you? It would be interesting to see a full list of all the devices you have tried and returned since your original Montana was stolen. :)
  • DaveM 157 Points
    Thanks for keeping us updated.

    For my use I see three problems with using a phone. Reading the screen in sunlight, not water proof and battery life. I have software that will work for me. Of the three reading it in sunlight is the one stopping me from going with a phone. I was hopping your phone would be readable. There are ways around the other 2 maybe not perfect but they work.
  • Chris_Sav 125 Points
    edited January 2
    Yup Monterra X 2. First used one was off Ebay and was faulty, screen span full 360 degrees under a bit of vibration. Second used one I bought had hardly been used and was a nice machine in superb condition but the text on the Montana was bolder and more readable in sunlight so choice went to the Montana and the monterra was sold on, chap who bought it was very happy.


  • Chris_Sav 125 Points
    edited January 2
    DaveM said:

    Thanks for keeping us updated.

    For my use I see three problems with using a phone. Reading the screen in sunlight, not water proof and battery life. I have software that will work for me. Of the three reading it in sunlight is the one stopping me from going with a phone. I was hopping your phone would be readable. There are ways around the other 2 maybe not perfect but they work.

    The AGM phone has an OLED screen which means illuminated individual pixels rather than the whole screen backlit and thus OLED is less battery intensive. There is mixed opinion on which system is better. The AGM has the latest gorilla glass 5 but I found that the phone maps I tried lacked contrast so I struggle to read the screen. Copilot had the best theme choices and running a dark scenario was best on that.

    The AGM phone does profess to be military grade waterproof but I have not ridden in such conditions. The phone is certainly very fast compared with friends I have seen.
  • Boyd 1969 Points
    Doesn't Android have a high contrast mode? On the iPhone, it's an option in the accessibility settings, and when enabled, triple-tapping the home button toggles it. I found this helped a lot with visibility in the TomTom app - it gives you a black background sort of like night mode.

    It really is a shame that TomTom went with such a low contrast map theme. I just don't get that, Google has done the same thing and it can be very hard to see some of the roads even on my computer screen inside the house.
  • Chris_Sav 125 Points
    Just an update as illness and injury has prevented me from riding thus far this year.

    Did 85 miles on the BSA Super Rocket as first run last week. Montana on the bars with OSM mapping outward bound, all as expected. Used the AGM on the way back with the new CoPilot GPS running and was pleasantly surprised at the improvement, cloudy day with showers so sunlight readability did not come into it.

    Weekend did a 280 mile round trip in the wagon and used the Drivelux 50 on the way out, more strange routing through a slip-road on the outside of a bend on the other side of the road. Used the AGM/CoPilot combination on the way back, preferred it and certainly trusted it more than I trust the routing on the Drivelux.
  • Boyd 1969 Points
    Thanks for the update. Glad you're feeling better and getting out again. :)
  • Chris_Sav 125 Points
    Thanks Boyd,

    Catch22 at the moment, mystery virus at start of year that has completely upset my B.P. had blue lights flashing visit from parameds at one stage. Right hip has got to the stage where they want to replace it but they won't touch it until they understand what else is going on with the virus so test after test.

    Hip is long term damage from finding out that I have brittle bones by jumping out of a perfectly good plane and fracturing that side of my pelvis in a non traumatic landing.

    Still riding the vintage bikes though , but hip replacement may put an end to it, so keep taking the pain killers! :)
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