With the cheapest GPS with proper OS mapping still in the region of £200, plus a significant whack on top of that if you want significant mapping coverage, we ponder if there’s an alternative with the glut of cheap 7” (why the imperial i ask!) Android tablets and cheap mapping apps (see here). With Viewranger you can find your location on 1:50,000 OS mapping cheaply, with £25 buying you all the UK national parks. While Backcountry Navigator Pro, is a less featured GPS app but provides access to the whole UK at 1:25,000 scale for the price of a single map. Both apps also allow you to store the maps locally as you’ll have no signal in the hills when you tend to need it the most.
A cursory look on Amazon will find you a tablet for around £60 for the cheapest model, or a modest £70 for something like the Andy Pad (which I keep calling the Andy Capp). For that meagre sum, you get a functional tablet along with Android 2.3 and unlike some cheap tablets, full access to Android Market. The screen is an inferior resistive screen, as expected on a low end device but weighs in at only 356g. Battery life is also impressive at 6 hours, almost enough for a decent walk if not quite.
This looked like an option, until we realised that it doesn’t come with a GPS built in as standard. This, it seems is one of the corners cut at the lower end of the scale. Unfortunately, another corner is the battery life as the 6 hours provided by the Andy Capp is exceptional at this price point with a meagre 2 hours more commonplace. Compare this with the 25 hours that the Garmin eTrex 20 boasts, and you start to get the picture.
Finally, the tablets will need a decent waterproof case that adds further to the cost and hassle. Wile Aquapac for example do excellent cases, you’d need to see if they fit your ‘generic’ tablet and if the device was still easy to use when enclosed.
I think that as of yet, the 7” tablet will not replace your outdoors GPS, but soon enough these devices will start to hit a decent Price point with both decent battery life and a built in GPS. Though, considering how long it took for us to see the first weatherproof smart phones, I wouldn’t hold my breath for the arrival of the mountain tablet. In the meantime, I’ll continue to use my Motorola Defy as a GPS replacement. It function well enough in order to check my location, but soon runs out of juice if you keep it running all day to record your route. With the advent of more waterproof smartphones such as the Panasonic Eluga at an eye watering £380 sim free , I think that’s probably going to be the case for a fair few years yet as you can’t whack a tablet into a pint and tell smug owners of certain other phones, “ok, let see yours do that!”