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Thread: Best smartphones for fringe & wilderness uses?

  1. #1
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    Question Best smartphones for fringe & wilderness uses?

    Hi HoFo folks,

    This is what I need. How close can a phone get me to some of these features?

    ... And by the way, I'm willing to wait if new feature sets are expected in the next year.

    1. Phone that has actual high-sensitivity GPS chipset for accurate offline (no cell reception) map navigation in the wilderness.

    2. Phone with unparalleled RF (signal reception) for fringe areas. (By the way, are there any websites that can help me sift through signal power? The anecdotal comparisons you read in the forums sometimes aren't as good as solid numbers.)

    3. Great battery life.

    4. Phone that has an above-average mic -- or mic input -- for recording wildlife noises. (Seriously.)

    5. Great quality camera images.

    6. A real keyboard, or a touch-screen that works with gloves on.

    7. Off-grid 2-way radio. (Not sure that's feasible.)

    Thanks a million!

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    Actually, it would just be great to get some help on which current phones have ANY of these features for "edge" areas -- not ALL of them in one phone.

    If some of these features are out of the realm of possibility (high-sensitivity GPS chipset, 2-way radio, etc.), could someone clue me in as to the current engineering constraints?

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    What carrier works where you will use the device?

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    At home, basically both Verizon and AT&T. iPhones in particular, though, get calls and immediately drop them. I expect there'll be similar circumstances when I'm out on the trail.

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    iphone4 sux balls big time out in the bush. I go into the Rockies with mine and it is so depressing that the GPS won't work there where the cell signal is weak or non existent. Maybe an app would help? Runkeeper seems to work even when the GPS won't so I don't know why that is. What kind of wildlife noises are you trying to record? Sounds fun!
    On the Rogers 'Family Extortion Plan' Bills are $170-$200/mo
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    400 shared daytime mins, My10 Canada wide, VM CID on iphone, CID on Motorola, 2G data, Canada wide LD

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    There's a Verizon GZOne with a slide out keyboard... I just don't know how the RF performance is on it. I know it meets the toughness requirement.

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    Trying to get some birdsong during the day, and owls at night. Can't see 'em, but can identify them by sound, using a recording database at www.allaboutbirds.org, run by Cornell.

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    Try checking out the the new SE Xperia Active

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    motorola defy is a waterproof and rugged smartphone but i dont know if you can type with gloves on.

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    Best Smartphones For Fringe & Wilderness Uses?

    Quote Originally Posted by a.k.a. View Post
    Hi HoFo folks,

    This is what I need. How close can a phone get me to some of these features?

    ... And by the way, I'm willing to wait if new feature sets are expected in the next year.

    1. Phone that has actual high-sensitivity GPS chipset for accurate offline (no cell reception) map navigation in the wilderness.

    2. Phone with unparalleled RF (signal reception) for fringe areas. (By the way, are there any websites that can help me sift through signal power? The anecdotal comparisons you read in the forums sometimes aren't as good as solid numbers.)

    3. Great battery life.

    4. Phone that has an above-average mic -- or mic input -- for recording wildlife noises. (Seriously.)

    5. Great quality camera images.

    6. A real keyboard, or a touch-screen that works with gloves on.

    7. Off-grid 2-way radio. (Not sure that's feasible.)

    Thanks a million!
    Wow, when I read this I thought that this is something that I might have written. Anyway, you might be able to get by with many of those features in 2 phones. On the other hand you might have to end up with 3.

    1) I think most Androids have GPS. What you need is maps stored on the device for navigation. I have a Garminfone, which is GSM, and the GPS works great off network. Any Android with CoPilot would work, BUT CoPilots is primarily for vehicle navigation. What specific GPS features do you want or need?

    2) You didn't say how portable it needs to be. A Motorola M800 probably has as good of reception as any, but it is a bag phone. A phone that works on 800 mHz is better than higher frequencies. That means Verizon or AT&T. From friends in my area that have Verizon, it seems as if the Verizon network may have better rural coverage.

    3) I don't think any phones have great battery life once you start using GPS. Consider carrying a spare battery or two.

    4) I haven't seen an external microphone jacks on any phones that I have seen.

    5) What do you consider to be great quality camera images. I know the megapixel rating isn't the only thing to look at, but there are certainly some phones with 8 megapixel cameras.

    6) If you are seriously looking at gloved hand operation, you really ought to consider getting the gloves that work with touch screen phones. I don't have a pair, but I have seen them on line. They transfer heat from your fingers so that you can keep your gloves on and still work you phone.

    7) The off network feature will be an iDen exclusive. I have several like this and they work quite well for short distances. I have hoped for a long time that this would come to CDMA and GSM phones, but I doubt I will see it anytime soon.

    Surprisingly, I don't see that you mentioned anything about rugged and/or water resistant, so that must not be a huge concern or yours. Anyway, I Googled and found the Top Rated Verizon Camera Phones 2011 / June 2011 http://www.phonerated.com/top-rated-...nes-by_network I would probably just get one of those first three: HTC Thunderbolt, HTC Droid Incredible 2, or Motorola Droid X. Then I would get CoPilot for GPS. Next up would be an OtterBox to protect it. Then a pair of those gloves that work with phones. Also, pick up a spare battery or two. Finally, get a couple of used Nextel i325s for Direct Talk. The i325s have a fixed antenna, thus they probably have the best range on simplex. You could even consider getting a Wilson Sleek for improved performance in the vehicle. Also, Motorola probably has OEM windshield mounts for vehicle navigation with the Motorola Droid X.

    I just bought my son a Motorola Defy last week and it is a nice phone. The Casio G'zOne Commando is also a contender. However, both of them only have a 5 megapixel camera. Sonim makes some rugged phones, but I think they are all GSM, thus no chance of using Verizon as your carrier.

    Of course, to further confuse the issue, there are some other multi purpose devices that might be worth looking at. For example, the Garmin Oregon 550t is a handheld GPS that has a camera. Also, their are rugged, waterproof cameras, some of which have GPS!

    If money is no object, the TerreStar GENUS Windows Mobile 6.5 Professional smartphone from AT&T, which provides both cellular and satellite connectivity, might be worth looking at. You could look around for Garmin Mobile XT, which comes on a 2 GB microSD for GPS navigation. If you didn't want or need satellite service all of the time, you could use just the GSM part on A Fee & Fee, or T-Mobile is it is unlocked. I assume 911 would still work via satellite even without a subscription, but I guess I do Not know that for a fact.

    Beyond that, you probably are looking at satellite phones, SPOT satellite messenger, and/or amateur radios. There are lots of choices out there, but unfortunately you can't get all of them in one device!
    Last edited by Jim1348; 07-11-2011 at 06:43 PM. Reason: Details

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    Motorola phones have the best reception regardless of carrier, HTC phones the worst. Samsung is in the middle. The AT&T iPhone has not so good reception, while the Verizon model, with its redesigned antenna, rivals Motorola in reception.

    When comparing reception with phones don't pay attention to how many bars the phone displays, but rather check the db strength.

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    Best Smartphones For Fringe & Wilderness Uses?

    That is an excellent reply. One of my hobbies is amateur radio and as radios go, Motorola generally seemed to have the absolute BEST sensitivity compared to Icom, Kenwood, and Yaesu.

    Back to cell phones and real world example. My wife and I went from the Mt. Paul suburban area to suburban Milwaukee area last weekend. She and I are both on the same carrier, but we have different phones. There were a number of times when she had no signal and I still had signal. Ironically, she sat in the van and held the phone next to the window and still came up short on signal. I happened to be using my Garminfone and she was using a Samsung Memoir that day. So, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, some phones are more sensitive than other phones. Since my oldest son now has a Motorola Defy, it would have been nice to have had him along with that phone to compare. I do sort of wish there was an external antenna jack on phones. I guess hte alternative is to get one of those Wilson Sleek devices some day.

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    Phone antenas

    I would say phone to phone varies. I've seen numerous complaints about the motorola triumphs db strength, saying it was way lower than the older lg optimus (both on virgin). So i'd look into each specific model for signal strength rather than just brand.

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    For instance the Motorola DEFY has good 3G reception and below average GSM reception. I get better GSM reception with my Samsung Vibrant.

    Speaks for itself, Sprint. Try more actions and not lip service.
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    There is a big challenge to overcome with wilderness settings, and that is the interference caused by tree leaves or needles. A few million of them between you and the tower can cause quite a bit of interference with today's short antennas. Current designs are good for use with wavelengths that are longer than the antenna when there isn't too much noise, but those trees are creating noise.

    I just spent three weeks in a cottage that is right on the edge of useful reception for both Roger/Fido and Bell/Telus. Small movements around the building and property could easily make the difference between fair signal to no signal for most handsets. Now I wish that I had remembered that my Nexus S can report signal strength in dB's and made some records. The Bell/Telus tower has both CDMA and HSPA networks, so it's a good benchmark for comparing.

    The most reliable phones were on the old CDMA network. In particular, the one with by far the most stable voice service was my old Nokia 2855i, which by no coincidence is the one with the longest antenna, even without extending it. The other handset for CDMA that we had there was only used for texting, so that's not a good reference for holding a voice signal.

    The next best phone for reception was my Nexus S on either 3G or 2G HSPA/GSM. Another person had a Galaxy S Captivate with similar results, as one would expect. Most others could not maintain a stable signal. No one with an iPhone showed up until after I set up a Wilson repeater, so I cannot report how that series of phones would fare.

    If these trips for the OP are frequent, I would recommend, if the best overall phone turns out to be on AT&T, still taking a good prepaid phone on Verizon as the "best bet" for an emergency call.

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