A couple of years ago, I discovered the game of geocaching via the Boy Scouts. It is fun, family-friendly outdoor game, where items (called caches) are hidden and you are challenged to find them. To aid in your hunt, you are given the GPS coordinates of where the cache is located. What makes geocaching a challenge is the types of caches used and how they are hidden. Folks can be very creative and deceptive in how they hide them. The only rule is they cannot be buried. Geocaching has been described as an “electronic treasure hunt.”
Since geocaching required a GPS, Android-based smartphones are a great tool to use since you normally have them with you. To participate in geocaching, you will need to create an account at Geocaching.com. On that website, you can search for caches, create lists of them, log your finds and even create your own. Grounspeak is the company behind geocaching. They recently opened up their API so developers use create Android apps to connect directly to their database. Below are some of the apps currently available to geocache on your Android device.
c:geo - opensource (Free)
This free, open source app has been out for some time and is very popular with geocachers. It is important to note that this app does not use the official geocaching API. Thus, when changes are made to the system (as was done recently), there is no guarantee that the app will get updated. c:geo is a very user friendly app and has a nice set of options. You can easily search for caches near your current location, save cache info to the phone, import lists of caches, and search/ filter the database using a number of different categories.
When you pull up a cache into the app, it gives you all of the key information about it. The information is broken up into easy-to-scroll tabs. When navigating to a cache, the app gives a very simple compass on the screen, with the distance and your current GPS coordinates. Once you find a cache, you can log your find on the app, which will then be updated to your account on the website. The future of this app is unsure, but for the casual geocacher, this free app should get the job done.
This is the “official” geocaching app from Groundspeak. It currently is the most expensive. Once you log-in to your account (via the app) you are provided a number of options such as finding nearby caches, advanced searching, your account information, pulling up your cache lists, saved cache info and logs. The app provides you the ability to do some filtering of your searches.
Now, when you pull up a cache, you get the basic information but the other items such as detailed description, past logs, any hints, your log, etc, are on another screen, so you need to click to open. The app allows you to save cache information to the phone, so if you lose Internet connection, you have what you need. When navigating to a cache, the app has a nice compass feature. On the compass screen, it shows your location and the cache location coordinates, your distance to the cache and heading. Overall this app gets the job done. There is no demo available and some of the other apps I have reviewed have nicer interfaces, organize the material better and provide more options. It seems like you need to do a lot of clicking to get to the information you need to find a cache.
CacheMaid has a 30-day demo so you can try the app before you purchase. The app will remind you of that fact many times. CacheMaid uses the official geocaching API. This is a very basic app and I had trouble logging-in to my geocaching account when using it. This app has four main menus: List – shows a list of caches nearby; Details – shows the details of the cache; Map – shows caches on the map; and Compass – used to navigate.
Through the settings section, there are a number of options you can choose to modify the results in each of four main areas. This app will allow you to import cache lists, log your finds, and even keep some statistics. The compass on the app is very minimal. There is nothing super fancy in, or about, the app. CacheMaid will get the job done and I did not have any problems finding the information I needed.
Neongeo - Geocaching ($4.26)
Neongeo also has a 30-day demo so you can try the app before you purchase. For the new user, the app provides a “tip for the day” feature when you first launch the app. This app also has four main buttons: Map, Geocaches, Settings and Info. The info button contains your account info, status of your GPS signal, and an area to download cache lists. The settings section provides a wide variety of options for the app and phone.
The Geocaches section lists about 50 local caches. When you click on a cache listing, it provides all the details you need on one page. To find a cache, press the menu button and then select “target.” A street view map with the compass over it will appear. Having this duel view is a great feature and makes it very easy to navigate to caches you may need to drive to.
The overall map aspect of this app is very nicely done. When looking at a map, it will show icons where the cache is located but also have a scrollable list of caches on the bottom of the screen, which you can click to view the cache information. The compass is easy to read and by simply clicking on it, can switch to the radar feature. Neongeo definitely is well put together, and makes it easy to find cache information, navigate and log caches.
CacheSense ($9.99 – $5.00 until end of Feb. 2012)
CacheSense has a 30-day demo so you can try the app before you purchase it. CacheSense initially came out for the Blackberry years ago and is now available for Android. This appears to be the most complete geocaching app for Android. The search feature and the filter options are fantastic. When searching you can determine the number of caches, the distance, types and every attribute possible as a means of filtering the results. The app also lets you import cache lists and save information on the phone.
Once you select a cache there are a series of small icons on the top and bottom of the screen to easily access anything you might need: photos, logs, notes, show cache on map, etc. The maps are also well done. You can pinch to zoom and I found the time it took to populate the map with caches the fastest of all the apps I reviewed. The app allows you to create templates for logging caches and easily connects with Facebook and Twitter to share your experiences.
Navigation works well in CacheSense. You can easily switch between map view, compass, and radar. The compass screen will show you your speed, eta to cache, coordinates, and more. On the developer’s website, they indicate that a tablet-optimized version is in the works, along with other enhancements. CacheSense just does a great job and gives the geocacher almost anything he will need to find a cache with his Android device.
Geocaching is a lot of fun and gets you outside. There is so much more to it then what I mentioned here, so I recommend you visit their website or speak to someone who has done it. For those who've never heard of geocaching before, are you ready to give it a try? And for the experienced geocachers out there, which of these apps have you used and would recommend? See you on the trail.