Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

App of the Week: Geocaching

Screenshot of the Geocaching iPhone appSo yesterday I posted about getting into Geocaching, and today I’m going to review the Geocaching app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Traditionally, geocachers would have to download information about geocaches in an area ahead of time onto GPS receivers. I’m not sure how much information is downloaded apart from the location but the entries for each cache on the Geocaching.com web site have a lot of data – name, difficulty rating, size, description, hint and logs from those who have found it in the past. I’m not sure all of that would be downloaded.

Now, with this app and a working cellular mobile connection, all of this is available on your phone. And, as long as you have at least an iPhone 3G, you get GPS in as well, so the app should provide everything you need to go Geocaching, including maps.

When you launch the app, you’re asked to log in to your Geocaching.com account – whilst one isn’t strictly necessary to find geocaches, having one means you can log which ones you find (and also the ones you don’t – sometimes caches get stolen or lost and Geocaching relies on users reporting missing caches). From the main screen you can either find nearby geocaches or search for a specific location. Doing a search nearby uses your current location and brings back a list of caches – select one, and you’ll see the screen shown on the right, with information about it.

Selecting ‘Navigate to Geocache’ opens a map, with your location, the location of the cache and a series of animated red arrows showing you where to go. If your phone has a compass (the 3GS and 4 both do) then the map will also rotate based on your orientation. Maps are provided by Bing by default but you can also use Google or OpenStreetMap – the latter very much recommended for walking as it tends to have more footpaths and features on, although sometimes the maps are less complete than its commercial competitors.

If you’re having trouble getting there, the Description is available to view, as is a hint left by the geocache’s maintainer. You can also view logs of those who have also looked for it recently, which may provide hints or let you know if a number of people haven’t found it recently (a sign it may have gone missing).

You can then use the app to write a log, stating whether you found it, along with notes. You can also use the camera to take a picture and attach it to your log entry. Once you’ve logged your visit, the app synchronises with the Geocaching.com web site and will then highlight those caches you have already visited. You can then rinse and repeat to find your next cache.

It’s easy enough to use, if a little cluttered – I can’t see it winning any design awards. It does the job though, and works well on the iPhone 4′s retina display.

The price is probably the most contentious issue with the app – £6.99 or $9.99 (us Brits paying a few pence more than our US friends) which ranks it as one of the more expensive apps available on the App Store. On the basis that you can spend hours searching for Geocaches, I would say it’s not too expensive, but I am aiming to go geocaching semi-regularly. The price may be offputting if all you want to do is try it out. There is, however, a free introductory app, although it will only show you the three nearest geocaches to your current location and will not let you submit logs to Geocaching.com.

On the whole, the app is pretty good for what it is supposed to do. The design could be better but it does provide a very engaging geocaching experience in one package.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for your review on this app. I just got my iPhone 4 with and the app works pretty well.

    I did notice a bit of a delay when it updated by location, but I think that is a iPhone issue with the GPS, not this apps issue.

    Also, if you initially join GeoCaching as a free member and then later change to a Premium member, you will have to reinstall the app for the Premium only caches to show up.

    Cache on!

    Squeak a.k.a MamaMouse
    My GeoCaching Blog – http://alaskancacher.blogspot.com/
    Twitter –>> @akchocoholic

  2. Although I’ve not got an iphone I cache semi regularly with my android and use a couple of applications on the droid to store the pre-downloaded information from the web so I don’t have to have a cellular signal when yomping through the woods somewhere. The data, especially past logs and hints are invaluable. There are several free cache programs out there for the droid – geohunter, and c:geo are the two that I’ve kept on the phone. One thing I have found is that using the GPS signal on the phone to cache rather than a standalone gps will eat your battery really quickly. On a long caching day with my original battery, my phone was dead by midday (5am start though but started the cache hunt at 7am). An extended battery, airplane mode and a standalone gps with just the coordinates in got me a 12hr day plus of data access two weeks ago.
    I don’t see the point in paying for the geocaching application when you only get 30 minutes to test it out, it was buggy and they have been slow to update – typically other applications are updated pretty quickly in my experience.

  3. Thanks for the comprehensive article on geocaching. I started getting into geocaching over the weekend and found the free app fine – although you only get the nearest 3 caches and you can’t log into your account. I guess the comments on each cache would be helpful (for more clues once at the location).

  4. For Android cachers, I highly recommend c:geo. I’ve been using it extensively for quite some time. I see Andy has already mentioned it above, but I wanted to second the nomination.