HTML version is at: http://www.backpackgeartest.org/reviews/test/TESTS/IR%20-%20ViewRanger%20-%20Curt/
Thanks for the edits!
Augmenta Ltd ViewRanger Applications
Report Series by Curt Peterson
Initial Report - September 2012
Below you will find:
Initial Report Contents
Tester Background and Contact Information
Initial Report Summary
Tester Background and Contact Information
Name: Curt Peterson
Height: 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight: 230 lb (104kg)
Email address: curt<at>backpackgeartest<dot>org
Location: North Bend, Washington, USA
I live in the Cascade foothills, just 20 mi (32 km) from the Pacific Crest Trail via trails leading right from my backyard. My outdoor time in Washington is spent day hiking, backpacking, climbing, fishing and skiing everywhere from the Olympic coast to rainforests to Cascade volcanoes to dry steppe. I played football in college and often evaluate products from a big guy perspective. My typical pack load ranges from 11 - 20 lbs (5-9 kg) and usually includes plenty of wet weather gear.
ViewRanger Test Setup
Mobile App Version 3.3.0 Tested on: iPhone 4 (install and brief usage only) & iPhone 5 (primary test device)
Website Tested on: HP Notebook running Windows 8 Release Preview and Chrome v. 22
Manufacturer Website: www.viewranger.com
MSRP: Free for "Open" version that includes Open Source web maps, $14.99 US for USA version that includes topo maps for the USA (tested)
ViewRanger Initial Impressions
ViewRanger is a UK company that makes applications with the potential to completely replace a fully featured GPS unit. Their ViewRanger applications are available on the iOS, Android, and Symbian mobile platforms and as a robust website that complements the smartphone apps with many additional features and enhancements. As with pretty much all handheld GPS software I've used, there is a lot going on and a bit of a learning curve. In this first part of my review, I'll focus on the "big picture" of what's included, what's possible, and how I hope to test it. In the later reports I'll focus much more on how it actually works in the real world.
For this test, I'll be using ViewRanger on an iPhone 5 running iOS 6.0. If updates come during the testing I'll be sure and note that in future reports. I did download the app from Apple's App Store on my iPhone 4. The process went smoothly and in my brief tinkering it didn't have any problems. Just 6 days after the iPhone 5 became available, there was an update to ViewRanger and I promptly updated the app to the new version that takes advantage of the larger screen among other changes (see pic below). The app itself is only 5 MB. Downloading maps for off-network use will add to that, obviously. How much extra is something that I will be sure and note in future reports.
Once on your device, it's actually relatively uncomplicated to get into using it. There are essentially two "areas" in the app: The MAP area and the ORGANIZER area.
The MAP area is just what would be expected - the map takes up the majority of the screen and includes a few options like zoom in, zoom out, center location, map tools, and a virtual button that jumps over to the ORGANIZER area. One of the cool features of the MAP screen is that leaving it alone for just a few seconds tells the "buttons" to fade away and the entire screen is filled with just the map. No clutter. No obstructions. Just map.
On the ORGANIZER screen, a number of options become available:
Import / export
Help & About
I'll go into further detail about each of these areas later in the test cycle, but in the upper right corner is a permanent "Maps" button so it's easy to get back to the map at any time. The navigation is, therefore, really quite simple. Two areas are all I need to keep track of. I appreciate not having to drill down into multiple menus or having to backtrack a lot of screens to get around.
Initially there looks to be some pretty neat features. The first that caught my eye is the option to use the standard USGS topos or shaded relief maps included in the US edition that I'm testing. There are a number of open source maps as well, but the topo ones are certainly the most applicable to backpacking and definitely the most attractive and detailed. There also is an option to download maps for offline use making the GPS usable when there is no cell signal.
In my opinion there are now a handful of high quality outdoor mapping apps available for smartphones. Besides mainstream mapping apps like Google Maps, I use 3 trail mapping apps on a regular basis. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Each excels in certain areas and each has its shortcomings. Probably the most glaring missing piece for me has been an integrated computer feature. Long before maps ever made their way to phones, solid mapping software got continuously refined and became an almost indispensable backcountry planning tool. I love the portability and power of the smartphone apps, but they are not PC replacements by any means. I've linked some traditional GPS units to these PC programs, but they generally only downloaded waypoints or simple things like that. One of the most appealing things about the ViewRanger apps is the website that goes with them.
My.ViewRanger.com offers web based route planning. It's all linked to one account tied into both the web and mobile app. The main features of the site include:
Routes: Search, create, view, and edit routes and tracks
Account: Profile, credits, devices, manage favorites and subscriptions
Buddy Beacon: Find other ViewRangers around the world on an interactive map
Shop: Purchase maps, manage credits
About & Support: Wiki, free phone support, Skype, instant messaging, manuals and more
There are a lot of possibilities here and I'm excited to discover how they all work together. I plan on creating routes, searching and downloading pre-planned routes, and sharing routes. I'll add photos (integrated with Twitter, Picasa, and Flickr) to create trip journals. It's actually almost overwhelming how much there is to explore. On top of all that there's a social community and active blog. It's a lot to try, but I'm looking forward to it!
My primary use will be for backpacking and hiking. I'll likely start with local routes that I know very well to tinker with features in an area where I can check detailed coverage and accuracy. I'll also try it on a couple bikepacking trips to see how it handles speedier endeavors. I plan to use it both in coverage areas and out of coverage to test offline mapping. Of course, I'll try to integrate all of this into the ViewRanger website to test the synchronization and sharing features.
My only concerns are general - not specific to ViewRanger but applicable to all smartphone GPS apps - and include battery life and map accuracy. Initially the battery on the iPhone 5 seems pretty robust, so I'm hoping that ViewRanger is not overly power intensive and I can get good use out of the GPS without quickly draining the phone. I'm less concerned about the maps as the USGS one are included in the USA edition that I'm testing, but testing how useful the other maps - in particular the open source maps - should be interesting.
Initial Report Summary
The ViewRanger combination of mobile and website apps is pretty thorough. It really does appear as though it could be a fantastic system for backcountry planning. It's a lot to get into and I'm eager to get out and test it on the trails!
Please check back in late November or early December for my field usage with the ViewRanger apps. My thanks to BackpackGearTest.org and ViewRanger for the opportunity to test these mapping applications!