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Eight Things You Need to Know About Phone-based GPS Navigation for Motorcycling

As smartphones evolve and get better, many riders are making the switch from traditional stand-alone GPS units to smartphone-based solutions. There are pros and cons to each, as well as a lot of questions about how phone-based navigation apps like Rever actually work. In this article, we’ve tried to weed out the most common questions and misconceptions to help you decide which solution is best for you.

1

Battery Life

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attery life is a major topic of discussion when it comes to phone-based navigation. The answer to “how long will my battery last?” is an important one, especially for those of us who ride in remote places for long hours. The answer is, it depends on how you are using the phone and your settings. we’ve found that if you’re just recording rides with your phone in your pocket, only taking it out occasionally to see where you are, it can go 10 or more hours on a single charge using Rever on an iPhone 7 Plus. But, there are several factors you need to consider.

  • Phone model. It sounds so obvious, but all phone batteries are not created equal. The latest iPhone 7 Plus has an incredible battery. Older ones don’t. This is the major factor in what you can expect from battery performance.
  • Display on/off. Keeping your screen on is one of the major power drains. If you need to have your screen on to constantly see your location on a map you can expect four to five hours of battery from an iPhone 7.
  • Background refreshing. Many apps and programs, like the email client on your phone have settings for how often it fetches information. Try optimizing these settings for better battery life.

Stand alone GPS units will definitely get better battery performance than a phone, but it’s not unlimited. You’ll need to charge, replace or hardwire your GPS device eventually. The same is true for your phone. Luckily it’s an easy task to make a direct connection to your bike. Most new bikes have a USB or cigarette-type charging port. If yours doesn’t you can purchase a kit for under $30.00 that you can wire directly to your battery. There are numerous options out there but we’ve used Powerlet and BikeMaster kits with no complaints.

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2

Mounting

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here is a lot of skepticism about mounting an expensive phone to your bike. After many years and literally hundreds of thousands of miles of testing, we can say with confidence that there are several great solutions for mounting your phone to your bike. At Butler Maps we spent countless hours in the saddle scouting roads with a phone app. We used the Ram X-Grip mounted with a Ram Ball to the handlebar and never once lost a phone. For off-road and adventure use we prefer the Mob Armor and Rokform mounts, both of which perform well even on whooped-out singletrack riding.

3

Waterproofness

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e’ve run an iPhone for the last five years and have found that with the phone mounted behind the windscreen on the bars, it takes a whole lot of rain to get any water on the phone. If it’s absolutely pouring out and you are in slow moving urban situations this may not be the case. However, there are plenty of affordable and rugged cases out there that will make your phone 100-percent waterproof. We’ve use the Lifeproof and Otterbox versions for the iPhone and would recommend both if you think you’re going to get wet.

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4

Sunlight/Overheating

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very once in awhile we hear about phones or tablets overheating on the bike. Again, in the thousands of miles of riding with a phone, we can say we’ve never personally experienced this, but know it happens. A common cause is when phones are placed face up under the clear plastic map window on a tank bag. With no ventilation, it becomes a sauna in that pocket. Try trusting a heavy-duty phone mount, angle the phone towards you so it’s not pointed right at the sun and let it breath a bit.

5

Offline-GPS Tracking

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his is the big one, and for good reason. If you can’t see your location on a map what good is having a GPS. The reality is, you can use your phone anywhere in the world and still get your GPS location as well as maps, even when you don’t have cell service. And it doesn’t use data. The GPS chip in your phone works independently of your network connection. Try turning on airplane mode or using an old phone that doesn’t have a SIM card in it. The GPS will still find your location.

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6

Offline Maps

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nother big misconception is that you can’t rely on your phone to show you maps when you’re off the beaten path with no cell service. Many apps handle this in different ways, Rever can “cache” or save maps for any country in the world directly to the internal memory in your phone. This allows you to access that map data independent of your network status. Just like purchasing maps from Garmin, you load them in once and you are done.

7

GPS Accuracy

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he GPS chip in phones are getting much better but they still don’t have the high fidelity of a dedicated GPS device. Modern phones typically have a sample rate of 1Hz with a accuracy of about 5 meters. This means the GPS is getting your location once per second. In comparison, dedicated GPS hardware might sample at 5Hz and have an accuracy of 2.5 meters. That said, we’ve found that the refresh rate on modern iPhones and Androids are more than adequate for most of the riding we do. The only exception we’ve found to this is during high-speed racetrack use where you’re traveling a longer distance in one second than in most other riding situations. The good news is that there are several external GPS trackers you can use on the racetrack to track your laps.

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8

Turn-by-Turn Navigation

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his might be the most “asked for feature” we get here at Rever. While this seems like an obvious function for a navigation system, the reality is that turn-by-turn is very complicated. There are really two types to consider. Turn-by-turn generated from a custom-planned ride using the Rever website or, A-to-B routing, which is calculated using “quickest time” or “shortest distance.” A-to-B routing is what you see in most navigation apps, including Google Maps. You type in your location, you type in where you want to go and boom, the system recommends how to get there. A-to-B routing with voice navigation is a new function being offered in the latest release of the Rever app this spring. Custom turn-by-turn is in the works, as are more sophisticated calculations for automatically spitting out routes that are best suited for motorcycle riding.