Sunday, December 10, 2017

Smartphones can work for adventure motorcycling, but know the pitfalls

Many adventure motorcylists who come to us for routing services see no point to loading our detailed, GPS-based navigational tracks onto expensive and bulky dedicated GPS units.

Instead, they want to use the device they already have and use all day long: their phones, both iPhones and Android phones.

Garmin Montana (left), Samsung S5, iPhone 5

While our GPS data files work well on smartphones, especially when traveling in the shaded interior of an SUV, those devices can have important shortcomings when used in the daylight and the demanding conditions of adventure motorcycling.

Among them:

-- poor daylight screen readability (see photo, above);
-- inadequate durability; and
-- inadequate battery life.

Our routing is provided digitally, in the non-proprietary GPX format that is commonly used for following "track" files. That makes the data easy to load onto a device -- either a dedicated GPS unit, tablet or smartphone -- and to follow using one of the many inexpensive apps that are available.

The durability issue can be addressed by purchasing an inexpensive older smartphone, and loading the track file onto it rather than your very expensive current phone.

Battery life can addressed by wiring the phone into the motorcycle's electrical system, or otherwise keeping it charged.

Poor daylight screen readability is not easy to resolve. While some riders devise sunlight shades, that seems a cumbersome and insecure solution.

Sad to say, until smartphone manufacturers resolve the problem of daylight screen readability, riders may have to buy suitable, dedicated GPS devices. (We use a Garmin Montana 600, whose screen is readable in bright daylight, as shown in the photo above.)

Fortunately, as with smartphones, the technology is evolving, although not so fast. Good used devices are often available. Online retailers like GPSNation and GPSCity often have factory-refurbished units available as well.

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