All Things Appy: Top 5 Android Apps for Outdoor Adventures

Accelerometers, GPS receivers and other sensors in your smartphone let you track your outdoor activities in ways that go beyond just the common map.

In this week’s All Things Appy, we take a look at the top five free apps for exploring, including options for fine-tuning your GPS, measuring headings and bearings, logging your tracks and reckoning distance.

About the Platform: Android apps are found in Google’s Play Store. Touch the Play Store icon — it’s in the mobile device’s app drawer. Then search for the app.

No. 1: Maps

Google’s Maps claims 500,000,000 to 1,000,000,000 installs and has an average Google Play Store rating of 4.3 stars out of a possible 5 from 2,859,491 reviewers.

Google’s in-built free Android mapping app is the granddaddy of mobile mapping. There are paid topographic mapping apps out there that are more elaborate and more fun to use, but this one, Google’s fallback, simply tells you your location and gets you to your destination — without fail.

Google Maps

A relatively new feature is the ability to make map segments available offline — superb for remote travel. Just download the zones before you head out.

No. 2: GPS Status & Toolbox

GPS Status & Toolbox claims 5,000,000 to 10,000,000 installs and has an average Google Play Store rating of 4.6 stars out of a possible 5 from 60,209 reviewers.

If you’ve ever wondered if your smartphone satellite positioning services are acting up, this app will clarify matters. GPS Status & Toolbox lets you stay on top of your GPS sensor data, including providing the birds’ positions and strengths.

An A-GPS download function lets you reset your GPS satellite receiver, too, which speeds up location. Plus, a dashboard-like display provides altitude, lat-long and a graphical representation of the GPS constellation.

No. 3: Smart Compass

Smart Compass claims 5,000,000 to 10,000,000 installs and has an average Google Play Store rating of 4.3 stars out of a possible 5 from 29,425 reviewers.

Smart Tools’ Smart Compass provides directional references along with an augmented reality view taken from the phone’s camera.

A super-useful feature in this compass app is metal detection using the smartphone’s magnetic sensor. If there’s metal in the vicinity of your phone, your compass can be adversely affected. This feature lets you know if results might be skewed, so you can move away from the object.

No. 4: My Tracks

My Tracks claims 10,000,000 to 50,000,000 installs and has an average Google Play Store rating of 4.4 stars out of a possible 5 from 82,999 reviewers.

Google’s My Tracks analyzes GPS data from your smartphone to provide mapped recordings of your location, track, distance, speed, time and elevation as you hike or run.

Recorded tracks can then be exported to Maps to provide a historical log of all of your outdoor activity. You can then share those tracks — useful if you want to communicate trail routes with buddies, say.

No. 5: Smart Distance

Smart Distance claims 1,000,000 to 5,000,000 installs and has an average Google Play Store rating of 4 stars out of a possible 5 from 3,432 reviewers.

Here’s another app from the explorer-friendly Smart Tools stable. This app lets you measure distance to a target using the phone’s camera. If you know the height of a target — a 6-foot-tall human, for example — the app will measure the distance to that target.

Range is only 1,000 yards, so it’s probably more useful for golfers and hunters than global adventure expedition leaders scouting an Amazon crossing. Still, it’s fun to use and worth checking out if you’re looking for ways to stretch the functionality of your phone.

Want to Suggest an Apps Collection?

Is there a batch of apps you’d like to suggest for review? Remember, they must all be for the same platform, and they must all be geared toward the same general purpose. Please send the names of five or more apps to me, and I’ll consider them for a future All Things Appy column.

Don’t forget to use the Talkback feature below to add your comments.

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

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