Not too long ago I bought an Android phone with the intention of turning it into the “perfect cycling GPS device”.
I now know that realistically this is a pipe dream and that instead of buying a phone for this purpose my money would have been better spent buying a dedicated cycling GPS unit, such as a Dakota 20.
This is what I found:
- Theoretically it should be highly possible to turn a phone into a very good cycling GPS. There are many bike mounts on offer; many companies offer reasonably priced offline GPS software directly from the Android market (or Apple store), and since you need a phone anyway – you might as well combine the 2 right?
Theoretical bullshit aside and marketing hype, and accounts from those overly optimistic types, here are the real show stoppers which prevent this great idea from actually working in practice.
You might also be wondering if I am a professional cyclist after all the bells and whistles? Actually I’m not what I found was the cellphone isn’t really useful as a Cycle GPS navigation unit even for the most casual cyclist.
- Battery life on a smart phone isn’t great – and especially with the display always lit. Some people will tell you that you can always get an external portable USB charger – but good luck with that while you are on a ride. It is also possible to buy at least 3 batteries, but remember to factor in these costs when you’re comparing against a dedicated Cycling GPS device. You need to be asking yourself, do you really want the constant nag of having to replace batteries. Phones like the Razr Maxx might solve this problem (somewhat) but again – all at a price.
- Screen glare. Most mobile phones are not designed to be viewed in strong sunlight – PERIOD! Besides all the flashy marketing hype, you’re not really going to have great visibility on your ride, in my experience you’ll be lucky to see anything at all. On certain phones you can get around this by turning the brightness all the way up – but this is going to chew though your battery life. There are some new phones coming out with Super AMOLED screens which claim to have better readability in direct sunlight. Again, by all means fork out – but weigh in the price.
- The Android OS doesn’t play nicely with GPS apps. The Android OS is a lazy power saver. It seems to always want to be in standby mode, and when not – expect a lock screen. Now add a cycle gps and you’re sure to know that you’re using the phone for a purpose it wasn’t originally designed for – frustrating as hell.
- The accelerometer useful for day to day stuff, on some phones can be too sensitive. Go over a small bump, or just while cycling on a path and your phone changes orientation (with delays) – another annoying and unwanted feature.
- Most dedicated bike GPS units are robust, designed to take a fall. Have a tumble on your bike – You might be kissing that smartphone of yours Goodbye – and no warranty I know of covers personal damages in this way.
In the end I am sure that sooner or later someone is going to release a smart phone that is primarily a cycle GPS, that can handle all the great GPS navigation software out there for Android and iOS, but until that day, I can’t help but feel that the whole experience was extremely awkward personally, and not usable until phone battery life improves considerably (5x current capacity) and screen tech gets better for direct sunlight viewing. And the actual software knows how to put the OS in it’s place and operate as a GPS device.
Right now nothing like this on the horizon – so beware!