July 1, 2011
Before I write up my broader observations of this extended interstate camping spree, some quick observations on the utility of various gadgets I brought along this time. (These were primarily meant to serve as roadtrip facilitators, not as camping gear.)
Can you get anything out of a mobile Wifi hotspot, an iPod Touch and a netbook? Yes and no. The gadgets are never as useful as you imagine they would be, but usually good for something.
The Verizon MiFi hotspot is pretty much worth its weight in gold. Even when it was in roaming territory (all of West Virginia), speed wasn’t terrible – good enough for e-mail and Twitter checks, modest image downloading, and prompt loading of all but the most image-heavy mobile sites. When located inside the camper, the radius extended around 30-40 feet outside – not bad – even in deep woods. (Couldn’t say the same for the campground-supplied WiFi we encountered in a couple of places we stayed at – I get the feeling that campground WiFi is pretty much a scam anyway.)
The hotspot is what made everything else possible, including these apps (run on a 4G iPod with iOS 4.3):
Oh Ranger! Park Finder. Where to camp for the night? If you’re like me and prefer camping at parks and on public lands, this listing-based search app is very good (and free). Like most apps of this type, it ignores the existence of DEC campgrounds in New York – a major omission – but it covers almost everything else, including Army Corps places. I used it mainly ahead of time to route-plan. Warning: Sometimes the results aren’t thoroughly researched – for example, some Pennsylvania parks were listed as having camping when they really didn’t – but that’s the fault of their source material I think.
Allstays Camp and RV. Map-based app that I used a few times during the trip when I had to change route plans on the fly. Between this one and Oh Ranger, I was well covered in campground searches. (It also claims to show Wal-Marts where overnighting is and isn’t allowed, but you probably shouldn’t bet on the up-to-dateness of that.) The creators of this app are responsive to correction suggestions – when I first downloaded it, they showed Chittenango Falls as a campground, but corrected it after I told them there was no camping there any more. They also have promised to put in DEC campgrounds later.
GasBuddy. I didn’t have much use for this one, actually. First, getting a location on an IPod touch is always iffy unless you are in a developed area (although it would sometimes spontaneously give an accurate location out on the Interstate). In fact, fixing a location was a necessary chore when I was in a developed area and I knew I would soon be moving to somewhere more isolated. Anyhow, going gas prices seem to be prominently broadcast on giant roadside LED boards down south. And while it’s nice that you can consult GasBuddy and find out that someplace 14 miles away has gas that’s five cents cheaper, who wants to waste time driving there when you’re traveling?
iExit. Another not particularly useful app with functions largely duplicated by Google Maps – not to mention most roadside signage near exits. It also balks when you are off an interstate even a few miles, claiming you’re not near an exit and that it can’t help you. I wound up not using it.
360 Panorama. I didn’t reckon on what a total doofus this would make me feel like when I used it in front of other people. As a result, I didn’t use it much. But you can see some of the results of my labors, mostly at campsites I stayed at along the way.
Ustream Live Broadcaster. I attempted live broadcasts from a few of the campgrounds I stayed at for the benefits of the folks back home. The results were spotty. Don’t expect much more than jerky picture and unsynced audio from this, particularly not using a mobile hotspot. The entertainment possibilities of this app wore out pretty quick, but it’s worth a try.
WordPress for iOS. Part of this post was composed on this app. Unfortunately I didn’t have much free time to give it a really thorough workout, but if you’re a blogger you will definitely want this on your device, despite the relative lack of features and surprisingly buggy implementation.
Some apps I have which I didn’t get a chance to try out were Offline Topo Maps (I didn’t do any hiking), Clinometer (a leveling app) and Weather Radio (I had great weather for most of the trip). I attempted to try out LeafSnap, but realized too late that its gargantuan size (50MB) would have occupied my hotspot for most of the voyage, so I couldn’t complete the download.
Video: iPod video cam versus Flip Mino HD. The iPod’s still camera is notoriously crappy (compared to the iPhone’s), but it actually takes very good HD-ish video that compared very well to the Flip. It’s also less jumpy than the Flip. I had to take a lot of video while driving on this trip because I was documenting a drive-through of my dad’s old hometown. I wish I had used the iPod camera for this instead.
Netbooks. As I had to do some work while on this trip, I brought my ASUS EEE PC 901 (running Linux) and also had access to an ASUS netbook running Windows 7. Let’s face it: there is no reason not to have a netbook running Windows 7 now that they’ve come down on the price to around $300. The 901 was absolutely useless for even some of the easier web-based tasks I had to do, and I’ve resolved to get rid of it now.
GPS old skool. I don’t have an in-car GPS receiver, so as I always do, I took along my old handheld Garmin which did just fine once it was placed out on the dash to pick up the satellites, usually as a last resort when lost in a small town, which happened on this trip more than once. (Guess what? Navigation during a road trip actually doesn’t require high technology when you have a map-reading human along as a co-pilot. In the end, humans are still the best technology.)
This was my first time traveling/camping with my iPod and full Internet connectivity – easy because for this trip, unlike in the past, we stuck to electric sites. While the apps made planning the trip a lot easier, I can’t say they were indispensible on the road, and I probably won’t be very dependent on them in future trips, except for quick e-mail and news/weather checks.