Users of those smartphones that start with the letter “i” like to think they have a monopoly on the coolest apps. Of course, that’s ridiculous. The Android Market is currently providing around 300,000 apps and is poised to pass Apple’s app count later this year. Among Android’s considerable offerings, I found a fat handful of good outdoors apps (downloadable at Android Market), all of which I tested in the woods and mountains around Seattle for five months.
Audubon Birds $15
This neat little app is Birds of North America (widely considered the “go-to” birding manual) right in the palm of your hand. When I saw and heard a mysterious waterfowl in Washington’s Crab Creek with a call that sounded like “oooongka-CHUNK”, I started in the Heron section, and when the pictures and audio clips weren’t quite right, I used the “view similar birds” function to quickly zero in on the American Bittern. The “About Birds” section let me impress my friends with lots of heady ornithological terminology. What do I wish Audubon Birds could do? Identify birds by “listening” to their songs. The technology already exists and is used in apps such as Shazam (a popular music-tagging app). Here’s hoping we see this feature soon.
Scats and Tracks $2
Scats and Tracks comes to us from Falcon Press, publisher of many fine guidebooks and field guides. You’ll find detailed descriptions and drawings of scat (eww!), paw print patterns of animals walking and running (yes, they differ), range and habitat info, as well as descriptions of hunting and behavior habits. Android in hand, I was quickly able to identify a marmot zone in the Chiwaukum Range by tell-tale droppings in a talus field. Cool beans!
U.S. Army Survival Guide FREE
If you find yourself in a pickle, who better to help out than the U.S. Army? Need to build an impromptu shelter? Build a fire? Forage for food? It’s all covered, along with tips on evading enemy capture. The format’s quite simple, with clickable chapters and line drawings to assist you. Wish: Embedded videos would go a long way to making this into more than a digital field manual.
Backcountry Navigator $10
This one will set you back a tenner, but it’s worth every penny, as I discovered on test hikes on the rain-soaked west slope of the Cascades and in the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington. If you’ve resisted buying a GPS, but find yourself curious about the technology, you’ll like playing with Navigator on your next hike. It can be a little tricky to find a location if it has a common name, but a handy video at backcountrynavigator.com provides step-by-step instructions that also show you how to download maps for offline use. Save GPS tracks and trip data in folders you create. When it’s time to hike, fire up the phone’s GPS, and away you go. Track recording, waypoints, and information gathering work the same as on a GPS. Toggle back and forth between your choice of topographic maps and color aerials. Trip data can later be shared via email or the usual social media outlets. I would like to see a feature added later that would allow photos taken with the phone to be integrated into your trip folders.