Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Electronics on the Appalachian Trail

In a February post, I outlined some requirements for which I hoped to find a system.  I want to have a cell phone, to be able update this blog on a regular basis, to take high quality pictures, to have reading and reference material via Kindle Books, and to use a GPS to navigate and find the occasional geocache.  All while hiking the Appalachian Trail - meaning, going 5-7 days between AC power and the potential for wifi, with spotty connectivity in between.

A smartphone would provide most of this functionality - Tho their cameras don't provide all the functionality I want, and their GPSs are not as sensitive, nor as accurate as a dedicated device.  When I added up the weight penalty of carrying a camera with its charger, a smart phone with its charger, and extra batteries and a charger for the AAAs in the GPS and my headlamp - I just about hemorrhaged!  Not eggsactly an ultralight system!

My inner curmudgeon maintains that one should leave all electronics at home, but relented that smart phone GPSs are certainly good enough for geocaching, there are some great apps for working with topo maps, I can read my eBooks, identify flora and fauna, and dozens of other functions.  So, I've decided to go with a smartphone and a camera.

That leaves the question of iPhone or Android and, if the latter, which one.  I was predisposed to go for an iPhone because, you know, they just work. I posted this question on both FaceBook and Google+, mostly to cause trouble.  I got lots of feedback from both camps.  Apple people spoke of quality apps, and world peace through superior design.  Android users spoke of true multi-tasking, and freedom thru open architecture. Tho I gained a lot of knowledge of Android in the process, I found none of these points particularly salient. In the end, it would come down to which phone works best within an integrated system, at the lowest weight, and at the best price.

Getting imagery from a camera into any smart phone, without a computer in between, is challenging.  Apparently, one cannot simply plug an SDHC card adapter into the USB port of either a Droid, or an iPhone.

Battery life on Androids is notoriously bad, especially those large screen, dual core, 4G monsters.  3G phones with a single core processors, and 4" screens, have better battery life - Like maybe two days of judicial use, and one day of heavy use. Androids allow one to carry and swap out extra batteries.  The iPhone has good battery life, but the battery is sealed in the case.  Whether I go with iPhone or Droid, I'm gonna have to come up with some solution to stay in business for 5-7 days between town visits.

As for weight, the iPhone is 4.8 ozs, and he HTC Incredible 2 weighs 4.77.  Charger weights are comparable.

I'm now eligible for my "New-Every-Two" Verizon contract update.  At this point in time, an iPhone 4 is $199 on a two year contract. Apple may or may not be coming out with a completely new iPhone 5, or maybe an update to the iPhone 4, either in the next few months or maybe next year, and the current version may or may not be offered at a discount at that time.  On the other hand, the HTC Droid Iincredible 2 Android Phone (which is not a large screen, dual core, 4G monster) was available for $30 on a two year contract at Costco.

That Incredible deal (sorry ...), well, it's only good for a few more days. For better or worse, I'm gonna pick one up. I'll provide updates as I figure out just how to do that with a droid.

I welcome your comments, and invite you to follow our journey by plugging your email addy into the box at the right.