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Monday, January 26, 2009

Geocache Navigator version 2.0.5 Review by HeadHardHat

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a bit obsessed when it comes to all things geocaching. No really, I am and one of the many things that pushes my geek button is all the gadgets, gizmos and applications out there designed to make my life as a geocacher easier. So when I found out about an application that works on my GPS enabled Blackberry phone and made specifically for geocaching I couldn't wait to see what it was all about. This review is going to give you an honest perspective from a true laymen who would be me. I will not pull any punches and will give you the straight facts as I see them. When you are done reading this and after seeing the application in action in my two videos you should have a great all around knowledge of how it works and how well it works. So lets begin.

Some First Time Thoughts Before We Start

For the record I own a BlackBerry Curve 8310 and my cell phone service provider is AT&T.

Before you even start with all of this, there are a few things you need to consider. Besides the obvious like do you have the correct phone and/or phone service for this application. The BIGGER question is do you have unlimited Internet access? If the answer is no, you need to adjust your phone plan. Geocache Navigator connects through your phone the same way your phone browser works. Which means you are pulling a boat load of information back and forth over the Internet. If you only have the five meg of data plan you are going to be hurting after a very short time. Don't say I didn't warn you... You can find out all the compatible phones and phone services for Geocache Navigator here. You can look if you want but come right back. We'll wait.

Getting Geocache Navigator On My BlackBerry

The process of getting the application onto my BlackBerry was quick, easy and painless. Hard to believe in this age of making things complicated the whole thing took a few minutes and it was up and running. You start off by going to http://www.geocachenavigator.com/ and purchase the usage fee of about $5.99US a month depending on your phone carrier. Once the formalities are done you will download the application directly onto your phone. It will need to know your Geocaching.com user id so it knows who you are. If you do not have one I highly recommend going to http://www.geocaching.com/ and sign yourself up first. Many geocachers already have an account so it should not be a big deal but I thought I would mention it.

Once you have Geocache Navigator installed and configured to you it is time to hit the trails. Again the whole process took me a matter of minutes to complete.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your GPSs

This type of paperless geocaching is very exciting to almost all of us. With this application you technically do not need maps, geocache listings, geocache pages, log books or any other pieces of paper. It is all done online and in real time. If you watch my GeoSnippits Tutorial Videos Part One and Part Two, you will see about 95% of all the functionality involved so I am just going to do a quick fly by here so you can get a good feel for the application.

When you start up Geocache Navigator you observe a simple menu which include inventive and easy ways of pulling up a nearby cache. Your top two choices are:
  • Quick Cache - Many times geocachers are out doing things of everyday life. Going to the store, taking the kids to practice, dropping your spouse to the gym or salon. It is then that you suddenly realize you have some time on your hands. Let's Go Geocaching! Quick Cache pulls up for you the ten nearest geocaches from where you are standing. Very handy and I personally use this functionality a lot.

  • Find Caches - Maybe you have a specific geocache you are looking for or of a specific type or size. Find Caches gives you the option just as if you were on Geocaching.com to select any cache anywhere. Depending on the query you choose up to 10 caches matching that search will become available.

Those two options are what you are going to use the most. Your other menu options are:

  • Settings - Which allows you some simple configurabilty for the application.
  • Enter Manually - Which allows you to put any legal coordinate into the device just like a standard GPS unit.
  • Getting Started - Want to learn some basics about geocaching in general. This pulls up all you will need to get you started. A great feature for beginners.
  • Quit - Takes you out of the application.
A Geocaching Opportunity

Lets take Geocache Navigator through the paces once so you can see it in action. So for the sake of argument we start with you dropping your significant other at an out of town location. Because you are not in your normal stomping grounds your regular GPS unit does not have any nearby geocache waypoints stored in it. Basically a big paper weight at this point but now you have Geocache Navigator on your phone. Woot, let's get some geocaches.

You start up the application which takes a minute or so for the GPS to kick in. This happens with any GPS unit out there. You click on Quick Caches and watch the application connect with Geocaching.com and pull up a list of nearby possible finds. Great there is a bunch within a couple of miles. You select one that looks good to you. Let's roll.

The first of four main tabs open up to you and the default is the Compass tab. Here you get a digital compass pointing you in the right direction. Followed by information like your current speed, heading, altitude and distance to cache. That's great but you need to drive the 1.56 miles to the cache and are not familiar with the area. No problem. Simply select the Map tab and you are greeted with a red arrow (you) and a red dot (the cache). By clicking the menu you have a choice of three different types of map backgrounds at your disposal.

They are:

  • Street Maps - Which when chosen works just like any map based GPS with all the current streets shown for you to get to the cache.
  • Topo Maps - This works just like the big boy GPS units and provide topographical information around you. If you are in any kind of changing terrain this is a godsend to let you know like if you are on the right side of the river, cliff, swamp, etc.
  • Aerial Photos - Ever want Google Earth in your pocket? Well essentially now you do and it does come in handy when trying to figure out a trail head or other key information that only a satellite photograph can provide.
HHH Note - If I had one suggestion for the maps it would be the ability to have the map center on me the user and have the map scroll underneath. It gets a bit tedious using the 2,4,6,8 buttons to scroll unless you start using it only a short distance from the cache.

Get Out And Start Walking
You are now close enough to the geocache so you park your automobile and check out exactly what you are looking for. Time for the real details and to get them you select the Details tab. Here you get all the description information just as if you were on Geocaching.com. Name of geocache, waypoint, coords, difficulty and all the details you need. If you get stuck there is even a menu option that will tell you a hint or you can browse through the recent logs. It's all there.

Now that you are properly educated about your cache you flip back to the Compass tab. The cache is about 120 feet away so it will quickly guide you in the right direction. When you finally get to about 35 feet away it's time for the Radar! Click the Radar tab and you see what looks like a big bullseye. There is a big red dot in the center (the cache) and a red arrow (you). The object is simple. Get the arrow to touch the dot. When you get there you are at ground zero and where the geocache is supposed to be. There is a handy-dandy readout that tells you exactly how far away you are from the geocache and it counts down quickly once you are heading in the right direction.

Found It !!!

Well now, aren't you the happy cacher? You found that large ammo box hidden so well in that big tree log. Never would have known if it wasn't for Geocache Navigator getting you there. The best is yet to come. After you sign your log book and put everything back in place you no longer have to write down what you just did. Simply click menu and you are presented with the choices of Mark as Found or Mark as Not Found. You of course choose Mark as Found and GeoCache Navigator logs on Geocaching.com an entry for that cache. You can go online later and fill in all the cool details but at least you don't have to worry about loosing your finds anymore.

That's it. Geocache Navigator has all the features a geocacher needs to get from point A to point B and then some. I found the combination of the BlackBerry phone and the application to be a really handy tool for some well needed occasions of geocaching. I do have a few things that I think you should consider before buying.
  1. There is a cost for using this application. Be it by month or year it can cost you some added expense. Not saying it's not worth the functionality but just to keep in mind.
  2. You need unlimited Internet access for this to work and not declare bankruptcy.
  3. You are taking a very expensive cell phone out into terrain that you have to be mindful of dropping into hard, wet, muddy surfaces. Standard GPS units usually can be dropped into water or onto rough surfaces and bounce right back. BlackBerrys - err, no. So if you mind having your $500 phone in the rain or something else bad happening. Watch where and when you use it for geocaching.
When it comes to pure functionality at a great price I say Geocache Navigator can give those big boy GPS units a run for their money. It is great for spur of the moment geocaching when standard GPS units do not have their coordinates loaded and ready to go. I found it very useful when FTF (First To Find) situations come up. Again new cache nearby, my regular GPS doesn't have the new coords because the cache just published. Boom it pulls it off of Geocaching.com and you are on your way to signing clean sheets. Fantastic.

This application is extremely easy to setup and use. If you are familiar with GPS units this will take zero learning curve. If you are not familiar with GPS units it will take you next to zero time in learning curve. My advice is if you take geocaching to the serious and/or obsessed level this is a must have. Your next big decision though will be going for that next geocache on the list or go back and pick up your significant other you left at the store? Hmmmm.

If you want to see Geocache Navigator in action I highly recommend you watch one of our GeoSnippits Tutorial where you will discover with HeadHardHat three different geocaches using this amazing application.

GeoSnippits Geocache Navigator Tutorial Part One

GeoSnippits Geocache Navigator Tutorial Part Two

You can also visit HeadHardHat's Geocaching Blog:
Geocache: I'm NOT Obsessed... Right?

and finally you can see all of the GeoSnippits Geocaching Tutorial Vidoes

1 comment:

Bobblehead said...

I have been using CacheBerry on my Verizon Storm with pretty good results. No way, probably due to the fact I am overtaxing my storm, is it faster than a dedicated GPS, but in a pinch I have used it alone. What I find is using CacheBerry as my database and my etrex as the GPS, the two work well in tandem for a paperless experience.

How would you rate Navigator (at $6/month) versus CacheBerry (at $15 one time) in terms of ease of use, functionality, etc.