I headed to the Red Rock Canyon area outside of Las Vegas in 2011 to test a $3 GPS app (MotionX GPS HD) on my iPad2. This model iPad has true GPS circuitry that accesses the global positioning system of satellites. It is not dependent on WiFi or data connectivity to determine its location, although it uses them where available to complement the GPS data. Not all tablets and smartphones have this. Many use other geo-location techniques such as cell tower triangulation, but these should not be called ‘GPS’.
Here are the illustrated results of a hiking test and a driving test, followed by my bottom-line assessment.
I carried my iPad2 for a short hike, including trail and road segments. The road segment was to test the recorded walking track (red line) alignment with the map. The iPad and app performed remarkably well together; even showing on which side of the road I walked. (I used an app feature to pre-load via WiFi the area map in advance, since there was no connectivity on the trail.)
I previously identified a dirt road that might take me to a good sunset view of Las Vegas, then used the app to locate my particular turn-off among the many area dirt roads. It worked well to find the turn-off, but, had I carefully studied a terrain photo in advance, I would have seen the gate after the cattle guard. Note that my recorded driving track (blue line) was preserved so I could use the app to later super-impose the track on a terrain photo. You can see how I over shot the turn-off, came back up to the gate, then pulled back onto the road after realizing I was blocked.
I was impressed by the accuracy and power of the Motion-X GPS app paired with Apple’s geo-location technology. It is a useful option if you are traveling with a GPS-equipped smartphone or tablet and want to stray a little off the beaten path. GPS smartphone vs. hiking GPS