Which smartphone for your nav software?

PhonesI havent updated my page on Phones here for sometime – for one thing the market innovation has just raced at such a speed it is almost impossible to keep up!

There can be no doubt that small handheld devices, more powerful than todays laptops will become commonplace – connected to huge datacentres like Amazon Cloud Front, Google, or Microsoft Azure and across the web for the provision all sorts of services from weather to location to social networks.

By the way this does raise all sorts of global warming issues that Greenpeace and others have highlighted. These mega datacentres use enormous amounts of power for chilling as well as for running the equipment. Google for one has begun a “follow the moon” strategy so that loads can be swtiched to centres across that world that will have cheaper power at night and also climates where chilling is less important.

Anyway, back to phones, the question is simply – if I was to buy a phone today in order to run some of the nav software available for boats – which one would I choose? hmmm….tricky, everyone hates to buy something that is out of date by the time it is delivered !

I have prepared a spreadsheet with the phone models that I am considering and of course the choice between Android v Apple OS v Windows Mobile 6.5 is absolutely fundamantal to the choice of phone. Then there is Windows 7 for mobile…..

One big issue so far for iPhone is that its operating system did not do proper multi-tasking. In other words it would not allow more than one application to share the memory space available in the phone and operate together. This is pretty important if you are running nav software!.

Apple have launched OS-4 which does do multi-tasking BUT it will create priorities for applications based on the Apple iStore classification that might not allow an application as much processing power as you’d like it to have.

I would refer you to these interesting posts on the subject:

There are thousands of comments like those above on the web – but you can see how this may impact on the choice of phone for your chartplotting / nav software 🙂

I will be doing a post on navigation software for phones “soon”…

But, in the meantime I have summarised my phone comparison so far… To download a PDF of my spreadsheet just click here…this is a work in progress 🙂

I would be interested in comments from developers as well as sailors on this subject.


3 thoughts on “Which smartphone for your nav software?

  1. Finally! Someone is making a great comparison chart showing the different types of phone right next to each other. The phone world is so confusing – makes it almost impossible to figure out what’s important.

    From my experience, selecting the applications for use, especially for boating, is an important consideration too. Being able to use your new phone as a backup chartplotter, guidebook, etc gives it incredible use while in a boat. A handheld GPS is nice but your phone is always with you. And you’ve worked out all the power issues because people rely on their phones so much. It’s very nice to be able to start an app on the device in your pocket and have nautical charts displayed immediately. Bring on the fog!


  2. You have assembled an interesting matrix and other info. Just a few random thoughts from a software developer and navigator:
    The ideal phone for navigation software should have plenty of RAM to run the app, and a memory card slot for the charts. Don’t rely too much on a Mapping or charting app that requires streaming data from a datacenter. It is much better if the charts and maps reside on the device. It should be easy to copy charts and maps from your desktop/laptop to the handheld, preferably without converting the chart format. Internal GPS is nice, but Bluetooth is good too. Bluetooth has the advantage that you can get a GPS powered by the vessel/vehicle powersupply to ease the load on the handheld battery. Transreflective screens are nice if you can run and use apps without the backlight. Screen size and resolution are very important for navigation to show the most chart possible at one time. Naturally the screen size is limited on a phone, but I would look for the biggest available. For my own use, I would choose a Pocket PC with a phone function built in. For operating systems, I think the Android is out because it is based on Java. The memory manager in Java is not up to the task of large color charts, and Java is notoriously slow. For navigation that leaves Apple vs MS, again. Most people are using Windows on their PC, so it is natural to sync to a handheld using a similar OS. We produce a series of navigation programs, including a version for Pocket PCs called NavPak Pocket Edition. This will run on phones and Pocket PCs using Window Mobile or Pocket PC operating systems. A working demo and sample charts are available for download from our website.

    Anyway, happing sailing and shopping to everyone.

    Pete Palmer,
    Global Navigation Software Co.

  3. A couple of comments :

    – regarding multitasking and OS4, actually it will exist a mode in which a navigation application can collect, store and process GPS info (at 1 Hz), but of course this will not help to save the battery life

    – use of charts is limited on SmartPhones because of the screen size limitation so iPhone/iPad universal applications could be interesting for chart viewing at sea

    –Peio Elissalde
    Marine GeoGarage

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