App Review: MotionX GPS by MotionX

Once in a while we have an opportunity to spend some time with a really cool app and for the past few day’s I’ve been checking out MotionX-GPS by MotionX.  Like every other tech or gadget junkie out there, GPS falls right in, and so does this app.  However, you definitely don’t need to be a techy person to use MotionX GPS, in fact the app is developed with the active, outdoorsman in mind.  So, if you are a biker, walker, jogger, hiker, sailor or do pretty much anything outdoors, then keep reading.

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When you launch the application it will immediately start to try and get a lock on GPS satellites.  Now, remember this, MotionX GPS is a GPS application that utilizes the iPhones location services and as such requires the ability to lock onto the necessary satellite signals.  So if you are indoors you may find that the GPS satellite signal is weak or even non-existent, so go outside.  We never once had a problem getting a good satellite lock indoors or out, even on rainy days, but your mileage may vary based on obstructions in your area.

MotionX GPS has many functions that you would find in a typical handheld GPS unit.  Some of these functions include GPS readout, Stopwatch, Track Record, Waypoints, Compass and Navigation.  Your typical GPS readout screen is just that, it shows you your latitude and longitude as well as altitude.  This screen is also where you can see your GPS signal strength and if you’ve previously set a waypoint, then it shows distance and bearing to the waypoint.

Stopwatch, one of the more useful functions, is for when you are about to start your run, or hike or walk and want to track various aspects of it, such as plotting it on a map, measuing your time and distance and more.   To get started, touch Start then as you go MotionX GPS will track where you go, distance travelled, max speed, average speed and elapsed time.  This is useful for runners or bikers during training or for anyone wanting to know how long it takes and speed measurements to travel some distance and then also to see it plotted on a map.

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Waypoints is the ability to find a distant point (waypoint) on a map, then allows you to mark that point on the map.  Now, using the GPS unit, you can navigate your way to that point.  Using the Compass it will show you the direction to the waypoint and you can also see the distance to it.  This function is usefull for Geocaching or finding your way to a distant point where roads and other obvious markers wouldn’t help.  You can enter a waypoint by double tapping on a map, entering lat and long, or entering range and bearing.

Our one complaint with MotionX GPS is that it does require a cellular signal in order to download maps from either MotionX or Google. In short, there is no offline maps for those looking to go into the backcountry where cell signals are non-existent resources.  So if this is you then you’ll want to pass on this version of the app, hopefully a future version will have the ability to download maps to the device and remove this limitation. UPDATE:  Thanks to MM in the comments we were put on to the fact that MotionX GPS allows for map caching.  Using this feature you can, theoretically, pre-cache maps into the app for use when no cell signal is available.  We didn’t fully test this but I did play with it for a few minutes and it does appear to cache maps locally.  However, the one major problem I have with this method is that you must pre-navigate the area in which you want cached maps for (a similar shortcoming to oMaps that we reviewed earlier).  If you don’t pre-browse the area then there will be no maps for it.  Also, Google maps are not available offline since their T&C’s do not permit caching.

In all I found that the app worked extremely well.  In fact, I was a little hesitant based on some of the bad reviews in the App Store, most of which complained about no GPS signal (see warning above).  We did not experience any such issues while runnig this app on an iPhone 3GS either sitting in my living room our outside on rainy days.  It simply just worked.  Something else to be aware of when running this app: you’re running it on a phone – not a true GPS device.  So some of the built-in features of a phone can also limit the functionality of the app, specifically auto-lock.  Once your phone locks this app is suspended by the iPhone OS and will stop tracking.  To overcome this limitation MotionX added their own application lock.  Enabling this disables the auto-lock of the phone and allows you to keep the app running for longer periods.  However, beware, the app is a bit of a battery hog.

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If your the outdoorsy type and stay within a cell signal then this app is a must.  If you’re just like me and must own everything that is techy, then the $2.99 is also an easy spend for such a usefull application.  The rest of you that are just looking to play with GPS may find the lite version is sufficient.

The lite version is free.

MotionX GPS Website. Checkout several videos here.

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