Android phone for hiking
November 23, 2018 7:40 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend an Android phone that works on Verizon for hiking and backpacking use?

My priorities are:
- Relatively small and light
- Good camera
- Good GPS
- Good 4G antenna (works on Verizon)
- Long battery life
- Not too expensive so it's not tragic if it gets damaged

If it has a black Friday discount, that would be a bonus.
posted by medusa to Technology (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There's not a lot to choose between phones in terms of quality of GPS these days - most use the same hardware. And weight is largely dependent on screen size.

What I would recommend for hiking purposes is to look for a waterproof phone.
posted by pipeski at 8:02 AM on November 23, 2018

Yeah, came here to say what pipeski said. They're all basically the same these days except that the more expensive ones have better screens and cameras. The biggest innovation in the last couple years has been that the last two-ish generations of flagship phones now have meaningful levels of water resistance. (Supposedly my phone can be immersed for up to 30 minutes, but I'd still call it water resistant rather than water proof.) For the hiker, that really matters. Even if you never drop it in a stream you're going to get rained on, you're going to sweat through your clothes, you're going to hike through wet brush, etc. I've messed up phones that way before so in my latest upgrade, getting something with good water resistance ratings was important.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:28 AM on November 23, 2018

I'm not sure I'm willing to pay flagship phone prices, but I can look. What are some examples of phone models that I can look at? (I don't know much about phones.)

Currently I use a case and screen protector, and my phone has been fine while backpacking during light rain. If it gets really wet I put it in a plastic bag.
posted by medusa at 8:39 AM on November 23, 2018

Where I live, by the time I'm at the trailhead, the cell service is long gone. That's not because of how good or bad the 4G antenna is. If you haven't considered that yet.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:01 AM on November 23, 2018

I have a Kyocera Duraforce Pro (tmobile) that I use backpacking. The camera is decent, and it has some nifty low power modes - the phone will work for over a week.

Its waterproof and hardened. Mine has been to the bottom of a bunch of creeks and streams. I've taken it surfing and kayaking with me. Its had a bunch of cringe inducing falls. Tough phone.

Downsides: heavy - but about the same as a different phone and good case. Opening the little doors is a pain. And, its well sealed, so it runs really hot. Performance kinda sucks because of the hardening and heat management.

Overall, I have really liked it. It has certainly lived up to its name.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:08 AM on November 23, 2018

Check out the phones branded Caterpillar (Yes the construction equipment company). They meet or exceed your requirements except I expect them to be on the heavy side. Rugged equals heavy.
posted by AugustWest at 9:47 AM on November 23, 2018

The Galaxy s active line might be what you want. If you get a previous year model you might find it's perfect for you.
posted by dbx at 9:47 AM on November 23, 2018

Some previous-generation flagship phones are still waterproof. The Galaxy S7 for instance runs about $350 now and is IP68-certified, meaning that it's rated for 30 minutes of immersion in up to 5 feet of water. However, some independent testing has shown it to be less waterproof than that, which is why I consider these phones water resistant rather than water proof. Otherwise I would still say that they're all about the same. I buy phones based almost entirely on how well-rated their cameras are, because otherwise they're all pretty darn similar.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:49 AM on November 23, 2018

I have the Sony zx1 compact - cheap as a refurbed older model but still powerful with good camera. It's waterproof and small. For long hiking and running I've had it in airplane mode with stamina turned on and then just used the GPS sporadically to stay on track which has given multi day battery life.
posted by JonB at 10:03 AM on November 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

2nding dbx on the galaxy active line. I have an S8 active that has taken a severe beating and still looks good. It is in no way a svelte phone but it is definitely a survivor.
posted by Dr. Twist at 10:09 AM on November 23, 2018

I would not depend on a phone for GPS for anything more than brief day hikes. Most phones really suck down the power when using GPS. Standalone GPS devices are better optimized for low power usage and many days of use.

If you do plan on using your phone GPS, only turn on the GPS occasionally to take a fix. Do not run it continuously. And it is a good ideal to carry a USB charger back up battery if you are depending on your phone for GPS.
posted by JackFlash at 11:35 AM on November 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I track all my hikes via a GPS app on my phone (Gaia) and even when I was on a faded old iPhone 6s Plus with a fairly tired battery, I could get two days of use out of it (running in low power mode with airplane mode on and the screen brightness turned down) even if I was also using it as a camera, to read on at night, and as an alarm clock (so, not turning it off at night). I do carry a battery bank for more extended hikes. My new iPhone XS Max seems to have roughly double the life of my old phone, though I've not had it long enough to really put it to the test.

What'll really kill your battery is cold. If you hike in the winter and want to keep your phone happy, you need to keep it warm against your body. You tend to get moisture on it doing that though, which my old non-waterproof phone did not appreciate.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:49 AM on November 23, 2018

I'm not looking for general advice on hiking phone use and battery optimization. I have >10 years experience taking a smartphone on multi-day backcountry trips. I have that part covered.

Other specific phone model suggestions are welcome.
posted by medusa at 12:49 PM on November 23, 2018

I'll second JonB on the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact. It's a lovely phone and waterproof and tough and small. I've had one for 6 months and it's just the nicest phone I've had in years.

Last year I bought a cheap ugly ruggedized phone (by Blackview - they do sell in the US, from $135 new), and it worked OK, until it had a firmware bug which eventually stopped the screen from turning on, so that was a big disappointment. I was more relaxed taking that out hiking, and it could presumably take more drops than the Sony can, but obviously reliability is an issue.
posted by ambrosen at 1:44 PM on November 23, 2018

Every field person I know uses either an iphone in a Lifeproof case or an HTC One series phone. I have an HTC and it's indestructible. But they have gotten so big and no longer sell their mid-priced phones where I live so I might try one of the new Nokia's for my next smartphone..
posted by fshgrl at 2:44 PM on November 23, 2018

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