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Old 11-12-2012, 08:11   #1
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Android Smartphone as a Useful GPS

My old phone was getting, well, old. So I bought a new one yesterday.
I chose a fairly basic, small android smartphone. The bigger models looked a bit too much to carry around and their cost made the ever present risk of a slip getting out of the dingy on shore seem a very expensive mistake.

Although the screen size is small, it is still fine for checking emails (and CF when sitting down having a coffee ashore)

The surprise has been the built in GPS. It seems very quick to get a position, accurate and with a long battery life. There are plenty of applications to customise the display. Even the option of program's that will send an SMS or email, to another phone, if you drag.
When the wind gets up at anchor its nice to able to watch your position and it seems ideal for that. While watching a movie, as I am at the moment, I can constantly see our position.
All for only $100 or so.

BTW it does also work as phone

So I thought seeing as it was Xmas some of you may be wondering what to request from Santa. So it seemed a timely thread.
Its a better idea than a tie anyway.
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Old 11-12-2012, 11:18   #2
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Re: Android Smartphone as a Useful GPS

You can load also many more quite usefull applications from the playstore..
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Old 11-12-2012, 11:22   #3
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Re: Android Smartphone as a Useful GPS

There are some waterproof cases, and the classic EwaMarine and similar pouches, fwiw. You'll notice that cell phones no longer have a place to attach a wrist lanyard, they've intentionally(?) made it easier to drop them these days.

A two-layer rubber shell like an Otterbox can usually be found deeply discounted, and it makes the inevitable way gentler on the phone.

Cell phone GPSes can be a whole other furball, though. Sometimes the Android OS goes out to lunch, sometimes the GPS goes out to lunch on some phones. I'm not so sure those little $5 chips in the cell phones are up to dedicated gps standards. Or, it could be, it is just so much more noticeable when they ARE wrong.
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Old 11-12-2012, 11:27   #4
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Re: Android Smartphone as a Useful GPS

I have had an Android for 2.5 years and am contemplating a new one.

I like being able to access some good weather apps and web sites.

Battery use is getting better; my current one dies very fast when using the GPS unless it is plugged in.

I had Navionics charts but they will not work on my current operating system. When I get the new phone I will try it again. I had them to show folks what they are like; I prefer paper charts, my laptop system, and real chartplotters.

The current phone does have a nice Bluetooth connection to the tech package in my new car.
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Old 11-12-2012, 11:32   #5
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Re: Android Smartphone as a Useful GPS

Jack, the lithium battery type used in cell phones generally has a limit of 500 charge cycles, 1000 tops. Which translates into 2-3 years of daily use with overnight charges. So if yours is two years old, you may be amazed at what a new battery can do for it. (Ignoring the issue of counterfeit and mislabelled batteries.)

Some models have intentionally large batteries and boast of it. Most as just designed for the mass market, to be small and light and run down a battery in "normal" use without a heavy GPS user. Power conservation on a smartphone? Shh! Don't bother the mass market with all that technical stuff, arabic numerals have sharp corners on them and you can get hurt. (sigh)
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Old 11-12-2012, 11:32   #6
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Re: Android Smartphone as a Useful GPS

Hello,

Is the GPS connection to the internet or a satellite connection?

Best regards,

Mie
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Old 11-12-2012, 11:40   #7
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Re: Android Smartphone as a Useful GPS

Mie, a GPS is a GPS. None of them have satellite "connections", despite the popular myth they do not speak to satellites, they only receive data from them.

Cell phone GPSes have four "assisted" A-GPS modes. IF there is an internet connection available, they can sometimes get information from an internet server, or from the the cell phone towers, to give them a help with location information. A-GPS is an option and it depends on the programming as well as whether any internet or cellular connection is available. Some of th eold ones in the US market were intentionally crippled, and could not generate any information without a cellular network connection. We used to say these phones had "half a GPS" in them, because they could receive satellite data, but not process it. The processing had to be done in the cellular carrier's system for an additional charge. But I think those type of phones have been off the market for five years or so now.

But strictly speaking "just" the GPS is just a GPS like any other. Most of the cellular companies hide the A-GPS modes, or place them out of normal control. Some of them (like Samsung and AT&T) sold large numbers of phones that were programmed to use an internet server which had been shut down before the phones ever hit the market.

These are not products designed by or for professional navigation, even if they often work well for it.
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Old 11-12-2012, 11:41   #8
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Re: Android Smartphone as a Useful GPS

The GPS signal is from satellites, totally separate from the internet.
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Old 11-12-2012, 12:09   #9
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Re: Android Smartphone as a Useful GPS

This phone uses A-GPS, which its actually an extra over standard GPS. The idea is that it can triangulate phone towers and download almanacs and a reasonably accurate time from the phone system, which help in getting a quicker and more accurate fix. The advantage is mainly in areas of high multi path distortion, which is not a great problem out on the water. It will function as a normal GPS when phone information is not available.
Make sure you check however. Some units only have the ability to derive a position from the phone towers like my previous iPhone 3GS.

Time will tell how good the GPS is, but it manages to get a good fix in difficult circumstances, which is promising.
Many of the GPS engines fitted to conventional (particularly fixed) marine systems are very outdated, despite the high charges, and it is not hard to beat their specs even with a $5 chip.
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Old 11-12-2012, 12:36   #10
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Re: Android Smartphone as a Useful GPS

"This phone uses A-GPS, which its actually an extra over standard GPS. The idea is that it can triangulate phone towers and download almanacs and a reasonably accurate time from the phone system, which help in getting a quicker and more accurate fix."

Yes and no. Since most of the new chipsets have a cold fix time of under a minute, and a warm fix (if you haven't been flying or moved a thousand miles since last using the phone) in 20 seconds or so. So how much time can it save to make the cellular data connection, access the towers, consume data minutes...<G>...You get the picture?

Now, if you are in a huge mall, indoors, no GPS sky signal, then being able to get a signal from triangulated cell towers is great. Even if it may be off by 100 yards or 1/2 mile, and that range really varies depending on your carrier and what software they've implemented in that part of their system. They won't discuss much of that with you even if you ask.

And of course when major players such as Samsung and AT&T outright LIE and tell you that you have A-GPS enabled, conveniently forgetting that it can't work at all when they've shut down the server they locked into the programming...Ooopsie.

A-GPS is better than no GPS, but if your phone and the GPS satellites are working correctly, A-GPS is totally useless. That they make it into another "man behind the curtain" and hide the settings or entire operation from the user, just makes it more so.

There's also apparently a software bug, found with AT&T and Verizon in the US, as well as some Samsung and Motorola phones, and perhaps more that I haven't heard about yet. If you have WiFi enabled on your phone and attempt to use the cellular data because (duh?) maybe you've left the WiFi hotspot? The phone will not switch over to cellular data! Even though there is no wifi connection, the phone will not switch over to cellular data until the Wifi radio has been manually disabled.

So what happens to A-GPS in that situation? Right, it will never connect, never see the assistance data, and if you are lucky the real GPS will not be delayed while waiting for the man behind the curtain to wake up.

Even PTBarnum said you have to respect your customers, because if you abuse them, they're likely to not come back, and then you're broke.
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Old 14-12-2012, 13:07   #11
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Re: Android Smartphone as a Useful GPS

Quote:
Originally Posted by noelex 77 View Post
The bigger models looked a bit too much to carry around and their cost made the ever present risk of a slip getting out of the dingy on shore seem a very expensive mistake.
Fortunately more and more models are becoming available that are waterproof. I have had an Sony Xperia Active ( Sony Ericsson Xperia active - Full phone specifications ) but have upgraded to an Xpreia Go ( Sony Xperia go - Full phone specifications ). I was quite happy with both phones and would gladly recomend them to other people interested in a phone that can handle a wet environment. I have also heard favourable comments on the Motorola Defy and Defy+ (Motorola DEFY - Full phone specifications and Motorola DEFY+ - Full phone specifications) from friends of mine. Previously you had to settle for basic or mid level smartphones if wanting a waterproof model, but now quite impressive models are starting to come as waterproof: Sony Xperia acro S - Full phone specifications and Sony Xperia V - Full phone specifications

During my summer cruise I occasionally had good results getting a better internet connection by putting Xperia Active in hotspot mode and hoisting it to the top of the mast. Then I sat checking the weather in my cabin with a WIFI connection to the phone while the phone hung up there with a much wider radio horizon. This trick will still work if you phone are not waterproof, but you might want to put it in a waterproof bag instead.
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Old 14-12-2012, 13:31   #12
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Re: Android Smartphone as a Useful GPS

It is amazing technology.

I don't mean to suggest that the GPS in an android phone can replace a marine GPS, but more that it serves as worthwhile adjunct.
Like many boats I have several types of GPS units aboard. Fixed marine GPS, chart plotters, handheld marine GPS, iPads and now and android phone.
Each one of these does a different job. In an emergancy each one could provide a position, but for most situations it is about selecting the best tool for the job.
In the short time I have owned it the android phone with GPS does some things very well for the cruising sailor and for the small additional cost over a regular phone it's a worthwhile bit of technology.
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Old 14-12-2012, 17:01   #13
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Re: Android Smartphone as a Useful GPS

One function I really liked in the Navionics package was the availability of the locations and phone number of marinas and other services. I will be upgrading my phone before the next sailing season for that alone. Its is very handy for making reservations and inquiries.
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Old 14-12-2012, 17:27   #14
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I use the app "GPS essentials" on my HTC Droid incredible 2 and I've always been very impressed with the accuracy and features. Of course I'm trapped on a 26 mile lake/river, but I found the GPS continues to work well even when I drop to zero bars and can't make a cell call at the far end of the lake. I have a garmin "real" GPS unit and I find the phone a lot quicker and easier.

I will say though that I think hellosailor is exactly right - these phones are very bad at handling switchovers from WiFi to cell signals. I work around that by simply turning off WiFi entirely if I know I'm going to be out of range of any WiFi signal anyway - force the phone to rely on cell-only in other words.
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Old 14-12-2012, 17:40   #15
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Re: Android Smartphone as a Useful GPS

Just curious but where's the application for that? I've got my hardwired in handheld connected to the AIS receiver and the such, and then I've got the spare in the ditch bag. My smartphone (a Samsung Rugby 2) is rated for being somewhat waterproof but I still baby it especially in the cockpit.

Just wondering where it's useful. There's no good international chart plotter for android that I know of, I think?
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