Mobile Devices

There are many options and corresponding limits for using mobile devices for navigating while on a bicycle tour.

From our beta tests, we found it best to use the mobile devices to occasionally check if you are on the right track, and to search for nearby services. The screen is large for map visibility. The browsing is quick with movement of fingers on the screen.

Continuous navigation, on the other hand, is difficult to use on mobile devices. The challenges were with battery life, weather protection, screen visibility, and touch-screen sensitivity.

Quick Guides

We provide detailed step by step guides with screen images for a specific set of popular devices. In all cases, be sure to test the digital data on your device and apps well before you start your bicycle tour.

The devices we have quick guides for are:

Apps Checklist

As we tested apps on the road, we realized there are many desirable features to aid in bicycle travel. Following is our recommended checklist to help measure how suitable each app is for bicycle touring with our digital data. You do not necessarily need all of these items, but they should be considered:

  • Operating system preference: make sure your preferred app works with your operating system.
  • Displays data from GPX files: our tracks and service points are in GPX format, as this is the most usable format across common devices that we tested. Another format that may be popular for mobile phones is KML. We discuss separately a quick method for converting a GPX file into KML.
  • Includes detailed base map (Apple, Google, OSM, etc.), available for use off-line when there is no data connection.
  • Shows the direction of travel, rotating the screen accordingly.
  • Keeps the phone screen on for continuous navigation or allows for custom setting of on/off screen display, including an option to keep it on all the time.
  • Supports large tracks of at least 10,000 points.
  • Opens files directly from ZIP format, as we generally compress GPX files into a ZIP archive.

Apps

We review instructions in details for both iOS and Android apps as these are the two most readily available for us to test. Feel free to try other operating systems and apps. Post your feedback on our forum.

Battery Life

This is a big challenge with mobile devices especially for continuous navigation.

Instead, mobile devices may be more suitable for occasional navigation, to verify your current location in reference to the charted route, search for nearby services, and plan for the remaining ride of the day.

We tested the battery life of iPhone 5s in early November 2013 with near freezing temperatures in a continuous navigation mode with active display of the map. The performance was as follows:

Beginning the ride at 9:30 a.m.: battery indicator was 100%.

  • 10:13am: 91% (no GPS use)
  • 11:05am: 79% (no GPS use)
  • 11:40am: 69% (no GPS use)
  • 12:17pm: 55% (no GPS use)
  • 12:57pm: 21% and then immediately shut-down (using GPS)

After it shutdown, we used a huge battery pack to keep it charging. It was large & heavy but did the job. It kept the iPhone running, just barely, for the rest of the afternoon with the GPS mode on.

Weather Protection

Mobile devices are not water resistant. However, most handlebar mounts & cases have a cover to seal the phone. The cover is often touch sensitive that allows for operating the phone while in the case.

Memory Limitations

We have not observed many problems with memory limitations. Most phones have at least 16GB of memory. Unless the phone is loaded with movies and music, one can still have plenty of memory available even when loaded with many apps.