Modern smart phones come with more features than you can shake a stick at (whatever that really means). It’s pretty amazing when you think about everything that comes packed into a small black rectangle. That includes GPS. Gone are the days of spending hundreds of dollars on expensive GPS units. Now navigation is as simple as downloading Google Maps.
However, one app is actually leaning in the opposite direction. GPS Essentials scoffs at the simplicity and lack of features within Google Maps. Instead of simplifying the modern navigation system, GPS Essentials is an app dedicated to making it more complex and useful. By and large, it does that. Here are just a few of the functions built into GPS Essentials.
Things That GPS Essentials Does –
GPS Essentials comes packed with tools for travel and navigation. Rather than taking the “simplicity first” approach of Google Maps and the iOS navigation system, this app prefers to provide users with as many tools as possible. The result is not for beginners, but a boon to travel professionals.
However, these tools must come with a word of caution. Quite a few of them seem targeted at non-traditional navigation (e.g. travel by boat and plane). It’s great that GPS Essentials can help you fly a plane and all, but it is under no circumstances to be used as a substitution for proper navigation equipment.
We checked with a friend who flies planes for a living. He said that according to United States regulations, you are allowed to use other navigation tools (like GPS Essentials) so long as you also have FAA-approved equipment running as well. Again, if you’re flying a plane or sailing a boat, do not use GPS Essentials as a substitute for professional navigation gear.
With that fun little warning out of the way, here’s some of the cool stuff you can do with GPS Essentials.
The Main Screen
The major part of the app is a screen of customizable widgets that you can place anywhere on the screen. These widgets are navigation tools intended for quick glances during travel. If you’re using GPS Essentials while driving (not that we recommend doing this, keep your eyes on the road), the panel is pretty useful.
The list of widgets included is absurdly long. For the phone itself, there’s a meter for the battery level, temperature, and voltage. This is useful for making sure that the phone doesn’t die and leave you stranded without a GPS.
There’s plenty of detailed stuff about traveling as well. There are meters that show the rate of climb and descent, distance traveled, distance to destination or any custom position, estimated time until arrival, compass bearing, and average speed.
There’s a whole bunch of other widgets which feel clearly targeted toward sailors and pilots. Certain widgets display altitude relative to sea level or any custom elevation or the destination, longitude and latitude, UTM position, sun rise and sun set, moon rise and moon set, climb rate, and the absolute date and time.
Once you pick out the stuff that sounds interesting to you, it creates a panel full of information and numbers. If nothing else, it looks pretty neat and made us think of Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Pictures and Places
GPS Essentials also comes with a camera, oddly enough. The app aspires to be more than just a simple navigation tool. It wants to connect photography and travel in a new and pretty unique way.
Think of GPS Essentials as an unsexy combination of Foursquare and Instagram. Included in the app is a camera tool. The camera includes an accelerometer and compass that both feel targeted towards planes. Again, this app feels very Flight Simulator.
Whenever you take a picture within GPS Essentials, it marks down the location where the photo was taken. Now whenever you view the photo, it comes with a link to Google Maps to display its site of origin.
The idea is pretty neat, especially when you throw in the robust sharing system. Whatever social media apps you have installed like Facebook, Peep, and Picasa can share pictures with friends. This feature won’t be of much use if you’re the type to never leave the house, but we could imagine it being really cool for tourists traveling to exotic locales.
GPS Essentials comes with a host of other features integrated into the navigation system. That’s really a plus in favor of this app – everything fits together. Actions done within one feature carry over flawlessly into the others. We didn’t encounter any issues getting the different services to play nicely together.
The compass feature displays a rather large compass pointing toward magnetic north with a miniaturized main panel of widgets beneath. The GPS only works when the phone is placed standing up, but it was remarkably accurate. Tracking angles are also included.
Map mode feels more like a traditional GPS. GPS Essentials streams down data from Google Maps to display you and everything nearby. The results are typically accurate and helpful. Even better, you can add waypoints to the map for navigation or marking important places.
To keep track of these important places, GPS Essentials lets you tag waypoints with short bits of text. For example, you could set a waypoint at your parents’ home and tag it as “free food.” The app help guide recommends tagging fishing spots by the type of fish which congregate there.
The Tracks system records information about your movements. It’s a little creepy, but if you’re OK with being recorded by satellites it can be interesting. Tracks records statistics like time spent traveling, top and average speed, distance traveled, and maximum and minimum altitude during the journey. We got an average speed of zero miles per hour, but that’s because we never left our chair. Finally, everything from Tracks is displayed graphically in Charts.
GPS Essentials is a bit of an app without a concrete purpose. It’s too complex for regular driving navigation (at least in America), but not complex enough to be a bona fide navigational instrument for sailing or flying. However, even with that caveat, serious travelers will probably get a good amount of use out of it.