Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review of GPS Apps for the iPhone 3G

Maps
Free and pre-installed with the iPhone 3G
This is the basic GPS app that comes installed with the iPhone 3G. It is useful if you are connected (or online) to search for a destination and can plot a route plot a route there. It will cache (or put viewed portions of that map into temporary storage) so that you can still navigate to your destination if you go offline. The downside is that there is no ‘heading up’ display. The display is ‘North up’, which means that North is always displayed at the top of the iPhone. Not a big deal, I just rotate the iPhone to keep myself orientated.

MotionX GPS v 4.1
$2.99 at the App Store
This is perhaps the slickest looking GPS App out there for the iPhone, and it is the only paid app in this review. MotionX GPS allows you to plot, store and review tracks. I’ve been using this program for a few months now, and MotionX continues to improve the functionality of this app. The latest version (v4.1) allows maps (OpenStreetMap) to be cached, and hence allows increased functionality. However, while I’ll admit that I’m still new to OpenStreetMaps, I just don’t find the current OpenStreetMaps to be all that useful.


xGPS 1.2.0
Free, but for Jailbroken iPhones only

xGPS is currently the only app that will allow you to download Google Maps onto your iPhone using its own free program called xGPS Manager (available for Windows, Mac and Linux OS). Although the documentation is scant, the process is straightforward. I downloaded the Google maps for my upcoming bicycle tour of Vietnam easily and transferred them onto my iPhone quite painlessly.

This app will allow you to use those stored maps for navigation. While you are online, you can search out destinations and store them as routes that you can call upon when you are offline for navigation. xGPS also allows ‘heading up’ navigation, which means that the map will automatically align itself to the direction of travel. The kicker: xGPS v1.2.0 also has turn-by-turn voice navigation.

xGPS is a little rough around the edges, but it is also currently the single most useful GPS app out there. With the iPhone 3.0 firmware update just around the corner, if there is still a reason to jailbreak your iPhone, xGPS is it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pierce Trail Run

Here in Singapore, we’ve had a long dry season that has been superb for mountain biking, but that has come to an end. The South East Monsoon looks like it has arrived early, and katabatic winds rolling off the Sumatras have cause early morning thunderstorms also known as the ‘bohorok’. The bike trails have been wet and muddy, and for the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself reaching more and more for my trail running shoes and less and less for my mountain bike.

Oh well…

This Saturday, 28th March 2009, together with Jasmine Wong and Leow Kah Shin, a couple of ultra-running friends who have also completed Racing The Planet’s 4 Deserts events, and in conjunction with the Running Lab, I’ll be leading a technical trail run along Upper Pierce Reservoir starting at 0830 from Boulder City off Chestnut Avenue, Singapore. It’s a 6.5k trail run, but technical, so it will probably feel more like 10k. There’s no need to register, simply show up, introduce yourself and join us.


All pics: Jaz running Butterfly/Woodcutters Trail. Sea & Sea 1G/Ricoh GX100.

Monday, March 9, 2009

iPhone 3G Apps for the Adventure Traveler

There are thousands of Apps available from the Apps Store on iTunes. The beauty of it is that some of them are free, and some cost only a few dollars to buy. Here’s what’s on my iPhone:

Fieldrunners $4.99
Game On! Fieldrunners is highly addictive and it makes time go by a lot faster when I’m waiting in airports, etc. It’s a sort of strategy game where you build defense towers to stop the hoards from reaching the other side. The developer has made good use of the iPhone’s touch screen to control the game and it works really well. The beauty about this game is its simplicity. There’s no complicated plot to follow, and its not particularly fast paced. You can be playing when your flight is called, pause the game, and when it’s time to continue, you are right back into it.



MotionX GPS $2.99
The iphone 3G comes with a built in GPS, and to maximize its use, you need GPS software. For $2.99, MotionX GPS is a no brainer. I don’t think there is any other software in the App Store that competes with this one. Keep in mind that there are no maps supplied with this program, so what you get is a ‘bare-bones’, non-mapping GPS, similar to the old Garmin Etrex, only with much shorter battery life ☹ I don’t leave mine on all the time, I use it selectively when I travel, in conjunction with paper maps or key in coordinates that I’ve researched and prepared. (Update 11 Mar: MotionX GPS Version 4.0 is now available and has the ability to stream live maps to the iPhone. Version 4.1 being launched by next week will have the ability to cache or store those maps onto the iPhone. That's going to be big!)

MotionX GPS 4.0. Image Courtesy of Fullpower MotionX.

Hey! Here’s an idea: Wouldn’t it be cool if somebody could design a personal navigation tool using the iPhone 3G’s Accelerometers, so we could have some sort of Inertial Navigation system in conjunction with GPS. (Update 13 Mar: Fullpower, the developers of MotionX GPS, have hinted to me that something like this is in the works...)
Hmm…

AmbiScience PureSleep $0.99
I prefer this version to the Original Ambiscience Brain Power program (both $0.99 at the App Store). The program uses Brainwave Entrainment with Isochronic Tones (Whaa? Yeah, I had to Google it to find out what it is). I won’t pretend I understand the science behind it, but my career as an airline pilot and unending battle with perpetual jet lag has taught me the value of sleep, and anything that claims to help me sleep better is worth a try.

The program uses a combination of soothing ambient sounds, monotonous music, and a low frequency droning that is the brain entrainment component.

I’m hoping the developer will include more tracks, like waves, or waterfalls or the Soothing Stream track found in the original BP program. Also, I hope he finds a way to separate the music volume from the ambient sounds, just as the entrainment volume is a separate control. With different speaker/headphones combinations, especially at low volumes, the music can overpower the ambient sounds.

MobileStudio $1.99

This is one of many apps that let’s you transfer and view a whole bunch of document types on your iPhone, such as PDFs, Word Documents, spreadsheets and movies. However, this is the only app I've found that let's me edit certain documents, such as text (.TXT) documents. Note that the program may have stability issues with large file sizes as it has occasionally not been able to open large PDFs until I reset my iPhone.

Units (Free)
I wanted a converter like the one on the Dashboard of my Mac, and this is pretty close. It has a simple interface and converts currency, length, weight, etc. It works offline as well, remembering the last currency conversion rate. Best of all, its free. Enough said.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Canon Powershot D10

How did this one escape me? The Canon PowerShot D10 was announced in mid February. The Blurb from Canon is that the camera is “a first of its kind for Canon, comes equipped with a 12.1-Megapixel resolution and 3x Optically Stabilized Zoom lens, making it an ideal companion for thrill-seekers of all types. This uniquely styled camera is amazing for capturing high-resolution images and off-camera editing. The PowerShot D10 Digital Camera can withstand depths up-to-33-feet deep, is freeze proof from 14 degrees Fahrenheit and shockproof up-to-four feet. To add a little fun and funky style to this great camera, an optional accessory kit is available containing distinctive accessories, such as a customized strap, cool face plates and a carabineer hook (attached to a strap). The PowerShot D10 IS Digital Camera is scheduled to be available in early May for an estimated retail price of $329.99.”

My take on it: I’ve always liked the image quality from Canon compacts, and at 12MP, the D10 looks promising. The two big negatives for me are the lack of an optical viewfinder, which means I’ll have to struggle in bright sunlight to compose and shoot using the LCD screen; and the lack of a proper wide-angle lens. The D10’s zoom only starts out at 35mm, and I would have preferred at least 28mm.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Racing The Planet Nepal 2011

Team Singapore at The Gobi March 2005. Pentax Optio 43WR, 1/100 f/6.9, ISO 50.

Racing The Planet, which organizes the 4 Deserts series of ultramarathons (annually in the Atacama, the Gobi and the Sahara; and once every two years in the Antarctic), has announced that their roving race, which follows the same format as the 4 Deserts races, but changes location every year, will take place in the Nepal Himalaya in 2011.

Current race entry fees are US$3100 per person. Hmm…

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mophie Juice Pack Air


In my review of the iPhone 3G a couple of weeks ago, I recommended the Mophie Juice Pack as a means of extending the battery life of the iPhone. I’ve come to learn that Mophie is coming out with a new model this Spring: the Mophie Juice Pack Air. This new model better protects the iPhone with more complete coverage, has an integrated power switch, is thinner and more lightweight. It sacrifices some battery capacity, and at 1200 mAh, has only 2/3 of the original Juice Pack’s capacity. It looks pretty good, and I'm holding out for one.

The Mophie Juice Pack Air for the iPhone 3G ($79.95) is available for preorder at http://www.mophie.com/products/juice-pack-air.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Entry Level Full Suspension Mountain Bike


Is the new 2009 Giant Anthem X3 the best value in a new, entry level, full-suspension mountain bike?

Last week, I got a call from a friend who needed a mountain bike for yesterday’s 100km Mountain Bike Marathon. I scouted for used bikes and local bike shops for light, all-round trail bike with a cross-country race geometry and the new Giant Anthem X3 seems very good value. The problem was that the bike is so new that there aren’t any reviews out yet. Nevertheless, I straddled one and took it around the block.

Typically, Giant uses the same frame through the range of the series and specs out the components according to the price. The X3 is the bottom model of the Anthem Series; the X2 will have the same frame but better components, etc.

What I liked about the 2009 Anthem X3 was that the frame looked pretty good, with standard cross-country geometry. And they managed to keep the stock bike reasonably light (I’d like to find out what it weighs, so if somebody has one, please let me know). To keep the pricing low, Giant specs the bike with lower end components (if you’re a beginner, you probably haven’t learned to appreciate the quality of higher-end components). The good news is that you can upgrade those parts as they wear out, and keep the same frame with you.

Specs and prices for Giant bikes are slightly different all over the world. In Singapore, the bike retails for SGD$2000 (about US$1300) at Tay Cycles/Tay Junction.

Edited Mar 2: Changed title and lead paragraph to include "Full Suspension" and added the equivalent price in USD.