Geocaching is becoming increasingly popular all around the world. People of all ages are joining in this huge global game of hide and seek. In the past month alone, caches around the world have been successfully found over three million times.
There are dozens and dozens of Android apps available to help you find caches using the GPS built into your Android phone, but so far, c:geo is certainly my favourite.
What is Geocaching?
If you have never tried, Geocaching involves over a million hidden boxes (these are the ‘Geocaches’), scattered around the world. They vary in size and how difficult they are to find, but they all contain a logbook or log sheet and often a few items to trade.
The idea simply is to go out, find one using the coordinates and a GPS device (this is where an Android phone works brilliantly), sign the log sheet and, if you like, trade some items, leaving it exactly as you found it when you’re done. You can log your find on the official website, and share your experiences with other users.
Many of the items to trade are ‘trackable’, and using their unique code and the Geocaching.com website, you can track yours as it moves between caches, and potentially around the world. Like all hobbies, some geocachers take it very seriously, and travel far and wide solely to find the hidden treasure, while others take part only occasionally.
While Groundspeak, a commercial company, is behind it, a lot of the hard work is done by volunteers in their online community.
The c:geo app is completely free on the Android market, and it’s open source, which is always a nice touch. It loads the Geocaching.com data using your login info, which you provide when you set it up. It can be slow downloading the data, but it does let you store the details locally, which is very useful.
The main screen is set out like a homepage, with big clear icons for each of the main tasks;
- Live Map – A selectable map of your current location, with nearby caches pinned on. This would be useful if you were out somewhere new and decided to start searching for caches spontaneously.
- Nearby – A list of the nearest 20 caches, ordered by distance, complete with small icons to show in which direction each lies. I can see myself using this to decide where to go next, or just as an alternative to the map view.
- Stored – A useful feature is the ability to store caches locally for use later, and selecting ‘Stored’ lists all of them. Of course, this list will get out of control if you store lots, but a really neat feature is that they are sorted automatically by their distance from your current location, closest first!
- Search – Very very powerful options to search in as many ways as on the website (coordinates, keywords, user name and the like). Whatever sort of cache you’re looking for, there will be an option here to find it.
- Destination – Select points around a set destination, either coordinates or a distance away from your current position. If you’re planning a trip geocaching, this would be very useful, especially since the map views can be heavy and cumbersome.
- All Caches – With an odd icon, it actually lets you filter the caches that are shown in the rest of the application. An odd way of showing it, but once you realise what it does, it’s a useful tool even if the appearance as a homepage icon is misleading.
Overall, there are lots and lots of ways to choose caches to work with
Once you select a single cache from the map or from one of the lists, a Cache Information screen appears. This screen is very well laid out, and includes all of the details that normally appear on Geocaching.com, and the ‘Distance’ which you see actively changing as you walk around based on your GPS location.
Locating the cache is, naturally, where the fun starts!
The software includes five main methods of navigating directly and (usually) precisely to the cache, or to the waypoints (like the nearest car park), and as part of my test, I decided to try every single one of them.
Having done a little research about Geocaching, I decided that my first time would be in my local area, and I would take my Android phone out to see both how well it worked, and how user-friendly it was for someone new to geocaching. I had read a little about c:geo, and decided that I would test it properly in the real world, by finding some caches!
Picking three ‘Caches’ in my local area, I packed some supplies for the day, my camera and some waterproof trousers and set out to locate the three caches, all within a mile or two of my home. This wasn’t going to be a big challenge by any means, but it would be a good test of the software, navigating to exact points with any level of amount of accuracy.
Heading out to find the caches, I began walking in the general direction of my nearest cache, and used the ‘Turn-by-turn’ navigation, which is designed for driving.
The app passes the destination coordinates to the Android navigation application, so, while this isn’t a criticism of c:geo, I had walked nearly half a mile by the time I had found the hidden option to have walking directions rather than those for driving (it’s on the right in the screenshots below).
To be fair to the creators of the app, this would be a brilliant navigation method to find the way to somewhere that is accessible from the road, for example, the nearest car park, which would be listed as a waypoint, then switch to another navigation method to get the rest of the way there. If there was only the one option, the app would be much less impressive!
After the Turn-by-turn navigation had taken me to the wrong side of the railway lines, I needed to find the way to my first cache. I was about 50m away in c:geo, but according to the navigation application, I was at the destination.
This was a strange feature that I initially couldn’t quite figure out. How to use it is pretty obvious, it shows a map or a satellite view centred on the location where the cache is and I decided to give it a try on my second cache of the day.
It launches zoomed as far in as it can go, and scrolling down (which feels a bit like reading a document that covers several pages) takes you through maps that zoom further and further out, in my case until the view spans two towns.
The real benefit of this feature is that when you store an offline cache, this is stored too. So if you’re ever out of range of a mobile network, which isn’t impossible when you look at where some caches are located, you can still see a bird’s eye view of where to find it.
Map and Ext. Map
I finished off finding the second cache trying both the ‘Map’ and ‘Ext. Map’ options.
‘Map’ displays a Google Maps satellite view with both the cache and your location marked on. You can pan and zoom like any map, and there is a scale along the bottom showing relative distances. It’s a really simple feature, but it makes it really easy to find your way right to your cache.
‘Ext. Map’, on the other hand, is a little different, and sends you to the full Google Maps application, including the options, layers and tools that you are used to, but still displaying a point where the cache is. It’s easy to make use of all of the features in the normal Maps app, like access to navigation, and overlays of things like local cafes.
I don’t have any real preference between the two maps (unless I want to find a local cafe on the way to a cache), but ‘Map’ was ready to use a lot quicker for me!
The ‘radar’ option sounded good, however I needed to install ‘GPS Status’, which is also free from the market. I’ve got no problem with this, and it worked pretty well, but it was a little annoying when if I’d known before setting out, I would have downloaded it over wi-fi at home!
Once I had this installed, I was thoroughly, thoroughly impressed. The compass works almost perfectly most of the time, and the interface is brilliantly set out showing large, clear values for everything you could ever ask, from your heading and altitude, to the margin of error on the GPS values (which was usually about 2m, which impressed me).
Be warned that you may need to calibrate the compass, which is easy from the ‘GPS Status’ application, before the compass lines up reliably. It’s really nice to see the little dot get closer and closer as you search for your cache, and you can see exactly how far away you are all of the time.
This lead me straight to my next cache with no difficulty.
My final cache was along a footpath in a field near my house. I had a rough idea of where it was, but took the turn-by-turn directions to see how well they worked on quieter country roads, and had no trouble at all.
The compass was really useful here. With my phone out, I had a perfect interface consisting of a typical compass with a big arrow on top pointing in the direction I need to go, and a big, clear distance, so I know how far I had still to go.
It was very simple, and frankly very accurate in that context. Of course, in a more urbanised setting, this may not have been so useful, but when wandering about in the hills, it is absolutely perfect!
Logging Your Visit
Logging your visit to a cache is quick and simple, however depending how much you want to say, you may prefer to do this back on the website. You can even save draft posts for the online log, and finish them later, which is a really nice option, when you may think of something you want to say when you find it, but want to expand on the post when you’re in the warm and dry!
There are another few very neat options. For example, when you have selected a cache, you can see a list of the nearest caches, allowing you to plan a little in advance easily from within the app.
After my experience with the various methods to get to the caches, c:geo is definitely my favourite application, and I won’t be rushing to try any others.
This application features a lot of different ways of doing the same thing and some are naturally more useful than others! Overall, I would say that these give you everything you’re likely to need in any imaginable scenario. Some of them aren’t too easy to find, but overall, how simple and easy to use they are makes up for it!9