6 comments on “iPhone GPS vs Garmin eTrex

  1. When I upgraded to an iPhone I thought that my days of carrying a Garmin 60CSx were over. I quickly learned that the iPhone’s battery capacity is so poor that I cannot use it as the exclusive GPS for hikes over about 4 hours. So really, whether its accuracy matches a GPS becomes much less important if the unit cannot stay powered over a single day’s hike.
    That said, I use the iPhone for Geocaching, sometimes giving my son the GPS while I use the iPhone. When we search together, I find the iPhone less accurate than the GPS. Such accuracy probably doesn’t matter when recording the route of a several mile hike. But it can be an issue when looking for a magnetic nano just a little bigger than a watch battery.

  2. Absolutely right, Jeff. My eTrex will last three full days on a pair of NiMH rechargeable AA’s, which is really nice. It’s entirely about how you use the device, though. If all I wanted was to be able to spot check, the iPhone seems like it would work pretty well. I haven’t tried it in places where there’s no cell reception, though. I want to see if pre-downloading maps in an app like Gaia GPS and then going someplace without cell reception still gets a good GPS fix.

  3. Please also note the iPhone’s accuracy is dependent on the application you are using. I have been Beta tested a few iPhone GPS applications and have found that some do far worse than others. In my beta tests with Gaia GPS I found it to be less accurate, this was about a year ago now. While beta testing another app (I still use this app today) I suggested recording points when a variable changes, ie: Direction, lat,long, elevation. Therefore you can see that there is movement or not and when standing still you do not record a mash of points but when moving you get great accuracy. This method is the same method I would use on my Wintec BT GPS device and found it to be my favorite may track as it was accurate and clean. I do not want to sound like I am trying sell the app I use now, though it is in my opinion the best out there.

    Also, as others have mentioned the Geocaching app, my tests show that it has the worst accuracy I have seen from any iPhone app. I stopped using it and export pocket queries to my more accurate app.

    Battery life is what I feel limits the iPhone, many apps decrease the amount of data collected from the iPhone GPS to save on battery, less data collected = less accurate. I feel many developers find a happy medium for there users. Some have settings to allow total control. My preferred iPhone GPS app, GPS Kit, as well as others, allow the iPhone screen to be turned off completely and still gather accurate data. Last weekend I rode my bike while tracking with this app, it was only a 2 hour ride. Unplugged my iPhone from 100% at my office and shut off WiFi, Bluetooth, and 3G data, and after the 2 hours the phone still had 85% battery. Screen was kept off other than a few times to check my total distance and search for an alternate route down the mountain.

    So that’s my thoughts, know how the app manages the GPS data, don’t just buy the cheap $.99 app and expect great things.

  4. How does an Iphone or Android phone, deal with saving routes or tracks, marking waypoints and then viewing them later. Can you plan out routes beforehand as well, or is it just for marking and following your current location.

    As we know, Garmin uses Basecamp for managing this information via export/import .gpx files.

    I’ve tried an Android app. and I found it fine within the city. If it can save routes or mark waypoints, I couldn’t tell you. Although as you mentioned, the battery life vs. a dedicated gps unit doesn’t compare. Also, when I’m out on a lake in northern Ontario, cell phone reception is sketchy at best. That’s where I can rely on my eTrex 20.

    Wish I had enough cash for a gps unit with satellite phone 😉

  5. Really, the saving tracks and routes is dependent on which app you use. All apps on the iPhone just use the built-in GPS receiver, plus cell-tower triangulation if available, so the difference should only come from the software used. I’ve found that Gaia GPS is a pretty great app for all around GPS use on the smart phone, but batteries are the biggest issue. My Garmin eTrex Vista HCx can get 40 hours out of a pair of lithium AA batteries (tested last month), whereas the iPhone can get somewhere around 10 if the cell signal is okay.

  6. Does the phone app work in very remote areas that don’t have cell coverage?

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