BRIGHT SPARKS - An android @ sea

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Bargain-priced Android phones are a popular alternative to the iPhone. KEVIN GREEN goes to sea to see how Android apps stand up

BRIGHT SPARKS - An android @ sea
BRIGHT SPARKS – An android @ sea

Heading off on a delivery trip recently, I thought it a good chance to test some marine Android apps on my LG P500 smartphone. Over the years, I’ve taken the iPhone on similar trips but the meteoric rise of cheap Android phones, where handsets cost as little as $100 as opposed to the $800 iPhone, makes these phones seriously worth a look.

Why Android? Well, call me a contrarian but as a consumer choice is an important facet of any market and can drive innovation. So, as the major contender to the iPhone (which I think has unparalleled user-friendliness by the way), does an Android handset give sailors a similar level of usefulness?

Android supports a rapidly increasing number of marine apps covering everything from navigation (Navionics), AIS, weather data, and a myriad of useful utilities including Skype.

Over the last six months one of the smartest utilities I’ve found is WiFi Analyzer, a free app that helps you pick-up the nearest wireless signal. Useful in various scenarios you simply switch it on to receive a list the best signals to lock on to. In busy marinas there could a large spectrum of signals to choose from so this free app names them, gives their signal strength and shows the information in graphical form. As a travelling journalist I’ve found it invaluable in international airports, hotel lobbies and countries where wireless hotspots exist but you don’t know the names of them.

"Why Android? Well, call me a contrarian but as a consumer choice is an important facet of any market and can drive innovation"

Watching the weather is a sailor’s preoccupation so the ability to have a quick check of the weather radar for rain fronts (that could also bring wind), is something I regularly do and the free app Aussie Weather Radar does this quickly (via either a wireless or 3G connection).

Departing Coffs Harbour the other week on a delivery I switched on my Android’s Navionics charting (RRP $16.99) to check the depth between that outlying island and the coast. The Android Navionics chart sprang to life on my screen and tallied closely with the Garmin onboard plotter — in terms of our GPS position and chart datum. The only downside was the Navionics app’s requirement of having a 3G connection — I currently have an unanswered query with the company about this.

Further down the coast, approaching the usually busy waterways around Newcastle I switched on the Android AIS app. With memories of having dodged around seemingly stationary coal ships in the past, it was comforting to view the Android’s screen to see what was going on. As it turned out, on our route of 10nm offshore there was only one ship and the AIS showed it to be barely moving (at only a knot as it stemmed the tide).

Yet another free app that’s worth installing — all Android apps are installed by clicking the Android Market button on your phone — is the GPS Test app. It has a colourful bar chart listing all available satellites and their proximity to your handset, with green being the highest signal and red the weakest. The Location View option gives you latitude and longitude — which was very near the readout from the onboard Garmin GPSmap 5012.

Finally, for web surfing I recommend downloading Opera from the Android Market, which lets you quickly surf @ sea, as it were.

 

ABOUT ANDROID

US-developed Android is a mobile device operating system owned by Google and has open source code allowing companies to develop apps to run on it. However, only devices that comply with Google's compatibility requirements are allowed to preinstall Google's closed-source Android Market app and access the Android Market. The phone you connect to the Android Market with filters the list of applications presented to those that are compatible with your device, and developers may restrict their applications to particular carriers or countries for business reasons.

From its early inception on HTC mobile phones it’s now available on most brands including LG, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Motorola and many others.

By Q3 2011 Gartner research estimated more than half (52.5 per cent) of the smartphone market was Android. Smartphones connect directly to the Android Market website, which in December 2011 had more than 10 billion downloads. The operating system is installed on an estimated 130 million devices.

 

LATEST VERSION OF ANDROID:
2.3 Gingerbread is available to download onto most phones from the manufacturer’s website.
3.2 Honeycomb is a tablet-oriented version of Android. It supports larger screen devices such as the Motorola Xoom the first tablet to run with it.
4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, recently released, brings Honeycomb features to smartphones

 

ANDROID APPS TESTED
Wifi Analyzer v2.5.16 (Kevin Yuan)
MarineTraffic v0.9.3 (Dimitrios Lekkas)
GPS Test v1.2.4 (Chartcross Ltd)
Compass v2.1.1 (Apache)
Aussie Weather Radar
www.market.android.com
www.navionics.com

Opera mini v6.1.25577 (Opera Software)

 

CAPTIONS
1.
A dry doghouse is the best place for using fragile smartphones onboard.
2-3. Test app shows fairly accurate figures and good graphic representation of nearby orbiting satellites
4. Avoid the rain with the Aussie Weather map
5. A Navionics chart on a smartphone.
6. The Navionics app on the Android smartphone LG-P500 compared favourably to the chart datum on the Garmin GPSmap 5012 plotter
7. Checking which ferry is running on Sydney’s Parramatta River using MarineTraffic AIS
8. WiFi Analyzer is useful for identifying marina hotspot names and signal strengths

From Trade-a-Boat Issue 423, Feb 2012.

 


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