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Guest Post: A Review Of The Windows Phone Geocaching Apps

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GUEST POST

Invercargill geocacher and IT Technician Karen Brown (GC Handle: Bladesedge) is the proud new owner of a phone running Windows Phone. She takes us on a tour through the relatively unfamiliar world of geocaching apps on this platform:

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After several months of comparing platforms & trialling devices in iOS (iPhone), Android and Windows Phone platforms at work, I now am the proud owner of a Nokia Lumia 800, running the Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) platform.

What’s my first search for apps when I got my phone turned on & hooked up to the wifi? Geocaching. A girl’s gotta have priorities! Quickly downloaded the Official app ‘Geocaching Live’, free on the Windows Phone platform. There is no ‘paid for’ option like on the other platforms.

Now I should explain my geocaching trip preparation, so you get an idea of what I’m looking for. On my gc.com (geocaching.com) account I have Date Range Pocket Queries set up to download all the caches currently active in NZ several times a week. These I feed into GSAK. When I’m planning a geocaching trip I export out a .gpx file from GSAK of geocaches that are in the location of where I intend to go, and I fire this out to my handheld GPSr, my (android) tablet, and to my phone (in the past to my Blackberry). Ideally, I’d like to drop the tablet out of the equation. I rig it up in my car to use it as my navigation system, to get from cache to cache. I would see using my flash new phone as being a far less intrusive device to use, while also being a backup should my Garmin (handheld GPSr) ever fail.

On my tablet I use NeonGeo – having forgone C:geo when I found out it was frowned upon by gc.com. And I love it. Neongeo is EXACTLY what I’m seeking on the Windows Phone platform.

So my requirements for this evaluation exercise are:

– Being able to download my 2000+ cache (16MB) .gpx file to the app

– Having a map:

  • On which I can see all the caches in the vicinity and navigate on up to date roadmaps (those stored in my gpx, and possibly extra live ones also)
  • That allows me to download map tiles for when I’m out of coverage or not wanting to use data.
  • A live map – if I wasn’t able to download tiles earlier

– Is easily navigate through cache descriptions, hints, logs etc and back to the map again
– Is easy on the eye (to the female cacher this IS important!)

Also, so as to cover off how others might cache, I’ll look at its cache finding capabilities, and whether or not it supports paperless caching.

So off we go!

The Official gc.com app is, as it says, a Live app. You log in with your gc.com account and, provided you have location turned on, it will return caches that are nearby. Caches can be saved to the phone for offline use in your ‘Backpack. Theres a pretty good compass screen for finding the cache and once you’ve found it you can log it from within the app. If you’re a premium member you have access to your pocket queries. Retrieving the caches from pocket queries can take a while, I am trying to load a 416 geocache pocket query on wi-fi its for some time while writing this post, with nothing returned. You can also save these to your backpack. My initial testing allowed me to do these 50 caches at a time. So I can’t download my .gpx file. I do have a live map per cache (a choice of the Bing or OpenStreetMaps), but not an offline one. I can’t easily plan out my route from cache to cache, but the User Interface is very nice. That’s probably the one thing I do like about the gc.com app…. It looks really nice. It just doesn’t match my caching style and needs.

So off to the gc.com website to find which other apps are partnered with gc.com, using the Public API. And there are 3 offerings.

PocketDrake: touted as a freeware app designed for paperless geocaching (sounds good)

CacheBox: once again paperless geocaching – I like this – with online and offline maps (yuss)

GeoScout: the only caching app you’ll need. Built in mapping and file imports

First thing that I will note is that if you search the marketplace for any of these app names, or even ‘geocaching’ you will not find any of these apps. This is possibly due to my phone filtering out all non-Windows Mobile 7.5 apps, I’m not sure.

So after a quick Google of PocketDrake on my phone I came up with the Czech website www.pocketdrake.cz – the website luckily has an English version, but unfortunately in English it told me that the Windows 7 phone platform is not supported, and not likely to be in the future. It will however work for Windows Mobile 5 & 6. No help to me. I’m currently on WM 7.5, and looking forward to going to WM8 when it is released.

Onto CacheBox, an app coming out of Germany that is also available in Android and full Windows XP/Vista/7 formats. Website is www.getcachebox.net with links to the downloads leading to SourceForge. Not easy to find the website on the phone. When I do get to the downloads links, I find the file is not supported on my device. A look into accompanying release notes and Cachebox is only supported of versions 5 & 6 of Windows Phone. My device is also not on the list of supported devices… which is understandable as the latest update of CacheBox was in April 2011.

So 3 out of 4 apps down and I see don’t have an app meeting my expectations. On to GeoScout. With an ambiguous website of http://eastlands.dyndns.org/default.html?geoscout, its easy to end up on a website for an oil & gas industry application. Once on the correct site, I had to register for a 30 day trial of the software. Luckily there is a trial, judging by the screenshots I wouldn’t be forking out the 20 pounds. Also found that the app is a CAB file, as are both of the other official 3rd party apps. Not usable on WM7 or above.

So, there are NO 3rd party apps that are compatible with the latest Windows Phone platform out. Given WM7 came out and is akin with Windows 7, this really is a let-down. And a definitely opportunity for any WM developers out there!

So now I’ll delve into the realm of non-approved apps that are available on the Marketplace. There are several:

GeoCaching 7
– Geocache Lite
– OpenCaching7 (for that other website, so ignoring this one!)
– MyGeocaching Free
– GeoBasic
– Me Caching Geo

I installed GeoCaching7. With this program you input the GPS coordinates manually and in decimal (not the default format that almost all geocachers use) and it gets you to where you’re going. I loaded up the map, and it pin pointed where I was, but unfortunately doesn’t show any caches.

There’s no link into the gc.com API, no way of importing .gpx files, but it does look a tidy, Windows Phone 7 designed app. Perhaps it’s going to gradually extended to do more.

Geocache Lite is a ‘paid for’ product, retailing at $1.99, so I tried it. Geocache Lite is also designed for Windows Phone 7 with its tiles and screens. So what does it allow you to do? You can download GPX file. But heres the annoying thing about Windows Phone…you can’t download files directly to the phone. You have to put them in the cloud first and then retrieve them from there. Really annoying when you’re used to plugging in a USB cable, dropping the file onto the device and heading out the door! With Geocaching Lite, the GPX files need to be uploaded to Dropbox. So for the purposes of this experiment, I registered and installed Dropbox, and dropped my 16MB gpx address into the field in Geocache Lite. No-go. Must be too big. Tried a smaller 5MB file and it did work, but ONLY after I moved it to the public folder in DropBox. One thing I have to say about this software is that it’s not quite intuitive enough for Average Joe to struggle through. There is no help section – and it does really need it! So I loaded the GPX and brought up the nearest cache, it instantly popped up with a map showing me – where I am right now and where the cache is. Cool. Tick. But then I popped over to the Cockpit screen – which seems to be designed to show you where to go, and instantly I notice it uses the wrong formatting for coordinates. Looked for a way to change this in settings. Unfortunately there appears to be none. It also has these weird ‘play pause save and search’ buttons at the bottom of the cockpit. I saw the play button on the map too. I’m not sure what these are meant to ‘be’, but the play button took me to the cockpit. With 5 minutes left on the trial I also noticed that there are no cache descriptions of any sort. Just Name, cords and how far away you are from it. I assume in kms, but it’s got about 10 decimal points. As theres no connection to gc.com there’s no way to log your finds. Geocache Lite looks a good first run attempt at a geocaching app, but it needs expansion and the ability to customise it if it’s to fit my needs!

The next app for review is MyGeocaching Free. This is a free application – although it touts a paid-for version coming out ‘shortly after this free version!’…whenever that is…. This application requires the user to upload their GPX’s to their SkyDrive. So I uploaded my 5MB gpx to my SkyDrive and logged in via the app, highlighted the GPX and tapped the ‘Add caches from file’ button and it popped back to the Caches screen. No loading warnings….. weird… so I try again and this time I wait. All I see is the 4 ‘sample’ caches. 30secs later, still only the 4 caches. So then I thought, OK, will try it with just the one cache. Still no go. So I cut my losses and had a look at the sample caches to see what kind of info the app offers . First ‘tab’ is Description and notes, second is Waypoints. Third has
a couple of Tools – including projections (handy). And then back to the first tab again. I didn’t see any maps, and there were no previous logs (not so handy). I’ll be giving this one a miss until further development is done.

GeoBasic – a paid-for app but with the favoured ‘Try-before-you-buy’ option. I downloaded and it’s obvious that if you don’t buy, you get ads. You’re firstly prompted to set your settings – choice of maps (Bing x3, OsmaRender & Mapnik), kms/miles & location services. You can log into your gc.com account. For testing purposes I tried this – I know it’s not approved by GC.com – but I gave it a go to see what it can do. And it does seem pretty good. I hope these guys can get approval on their app as it seems the closest to what I’m after so far. So the map function pinpoints your location, but doesn’t offer caches in your vicinity on it. Select Search Online and it will show you the nearest caches to you. And it did for me, but it didn’t differentiate between caches I owned, caches I have already found and those I want to find. Click on a cache and you get all the goods – Info, Images, Logs and the Map. Click on the link to the Cache Online and you can log your find from the website. You’re logged in already. For those who use apps to seek the cache, there’s a compass in the corner – which doesn’t bounce around too much, distance and direction from cache on the Map. The Hint isn’t immediately available, but hit the question mark at the bottom of the screen and you’ll get it. Downsides – you need to be in coverage zone to get the cache info. There is NO offline functionality. For those looking for the ultimate paperless caching tool, this isn’t it either. There is no way to log from the app. Probably due to the fact it’s not official! The map only shows 1 cache at a time and I can’t import my .gpx files. It’s a real shame. I like it, but I just need all the functionality.

Lastly I tried Me Caching Geo. Last on the Marketplace search. Signed into my SkyDrive, and downloaded my 5MB .gpx – no worries there. Then I had a look at the ‘to-do’ list – OK, the caches are in alphabetical order. Can I sort another way? No. Can I search for the one I want? No. Bugger. Settings tab, the number of caches to download is set to 10. Not sure what that’s about, it seemed to download a lot more than 10. And the coordinates format choices are a little weird to me You can have dd mm ss.ss or dd.mmmmm, not the standard format that the majority of geocachers use (dd mm.sss). It has Bing maps for navigating… satellite view only or a Compass if that’s what you prefer. And you can mark the cache as found when you find it. This doesn’t link into gc.com at all, just takes the cache off your ‘to-do’ list. It also doesn’t differentiate between those you have LOGGED as found or caches you own. It will only list those you have found in the app as found. No overall map of all caches. There were also a couple of bugs I picked up flipping between the screens.

Of all the apps available, I think GeoBasic rates as possibly the best, with the official gc.com Geocaching Live coming a close second. So, for any budding Windows Phone developers out there, there is a market wide open for my perfect geocaching app. PLEASE! Save me from trying to create it myself. I have created my first Windows Phone app – a copy and paste offering to make your own web browser…. Which errored out as soon as I tried it in the emulator! I think I’ll be sticking to Android’s Neongeo until the offerings get better… or I become a better programmer.

UPDATE: Thanks to Frank for pointing out we were still using the old Windows ‘Mobile’ term, when it is now ‘Phone’.

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  1. Frank

    Windows Phone != Windows Mobile, Windows Phone is the successor of Windows Mobile. You should replace every occurrence of “Windows Mobile” with “Windows Phone”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_Phone
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_Mobile

  2. Mr.Yuck

    Yes, there should be no WM7 references! It’s WP7, there is no forwards or backwards compatibility. They might as well have been created by different manufacturers! And that of course is why the 3 paperless apps listed on Geocaching.com as Windows Mobile, wouldn’t work. Great reveiw though! Did your pocket query ever download? I’ve personally never tried to send PQ’s to it; it’s not my primary device, and I just use it “on the fly”.

    I agree, GeoBasic is the only other app out there that’s even worth looking at, to be honest. That’s not bad at all. My only complaint is that tiny little compass in the corner in the corner of the screen. I also like that I am able to use that for Opencaching (Not Garnin’s Opencaching.com, the longer established mostly European network).

    So great post! Enjoy the Windows Phone. Personally, I swear by it. There’s not too many of us who do.

  3. bladesedge

    Forgive me! Still have only had the phone for about a month. When an app comes along that rivals Neongeo I will be!

    Thanks for the comments. My biggest worry was that I would be way off mark, and missed a bunch of great apps.

    And no, the pocket query never downloaded!

  4. aussiecamper

    I have had a play with most the Geocaching apps on both Android and Windows Phone.

    I use all of the apps mainly in offline mode, since I get only 100MB a month of downloads on my mobile phone plan.

    For Windows Phone, the front-runners for me are:

    * xatcher – http://www.windowsphone.com/en-au/store/app/xatcher/769dd80e-a92d-4825-954d-57f343c0e93d?signin=true
    * Geocaching Pro – http://www.windowsphone.com/en-au/store/app/geocaching-pro/4bda5951-85f6-4a6b-9db0-ae67c6b3e8a4

    xatcher has a great looking UI, and excellent Here Maps / Drive integration. The Here Maps / Drive integration is even better than the similar Google Maps integration on Android CacheSense since Here Maps / Drive don’t need a data plan at all.

    Geocaching Pro has awesome offline support – mark a cache as a favourite and it will show up on your map without an active data connection. Even better, the map tiles seem to be cached as well – allowing you to see the map while doing offline caching.

    If xatcher added automatic map tile caching, and the ability to see offline caches overlayed on that map, then it would be the hands down winner.

    If Geocaching Pro added Here Maps / Drive integration, and also the ability to mark all caches on a given map as favourites (to allow them all to function in offline mode), then it would give xatcher a serious long term run for its money.

    For now, neither are as feature rich as my preferred Android app – CacheSense. But both are very good, and I am definitely shifting most of my Geocaching load to the Geocaching Pro app.

  5. twu07090

    I just happened to notice your comment showed up on the sidebar as a latest comment on this over year old post. I still roll with WindowsPhone, by the way! I was actually not aware of those two, I will check them out. A few months ago, I discovered Geocaching Plus http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/geocaching-plus/dbf554a7-8b87-4342-8c48-b426e6b9a8a4 which is written by a Russian developer, and works with Geocaching.su, and Geocaching.com. It has 4.2 out of 5 stars in the Windowsphone marketplace. I highly doubt it’s an authorized app by the powers that be at Geocaching.com though. :-).

  6. aussiecamper

    Geocaching Pro and Plus are exactly the same apps, as can be seen at http://www.windowsphone.com/en-US/store/publishers?publisherId=Geocaching%2BPlus&appId=dbf554a7-8b87-4342-8c48-b426e6b9a8a4 .

    The main benefit of Pro is that it provides offline caching.
    The main benefit of Plus is that it is free.

    Both (like c:geo on Android) do not use the Geocaching Live API, thus neither are ‘authorised’ apps.

  7. aussiecamper

    (Note I made a typo above. They are not exactly the same app – they are apps from the exact same publisher).

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