The high-tech treasure hunt called geocaching--using GPS devices to find hidden objects--has been around since 2000, and while the rise of automotive GPS navigators has made people more interested in GPS activities, car devices aren't well suited for geocaching. A new program from Trimble Navigation called Geocache Navigator, however, makes GPS-enabled phones ideal geocaching partners.
Getting Started with Geocache Navigator
In standard geocaching, someone creates and hides a small container (the cache), with a log and a few random treasures inside. When a searcher finds a cache, he or she signs the log and exchanges a treasure of their own for one in the cache. Caches are created by whoever wants to make one--including you. They're not updated per se but are typically monitored by whomever created them.
To use Geocache Navigator, you'll first need to register and activate your software (a downloadable 236K file), then create a free account at Geocaching.com--the premier geocache information site--and link the software to your online account. Simple instructions at www.geocachenavigator.com, under the Get Started link, walk you through the steps. Geocache Navigator is compatible with dozens of phones from Boost Mobile, Nextel, SouthernLINC Wireless, and Sprint, and it's even free for some Nokia models. We tested it with a BlackBerry Curve 8310, and it worked perfectly.
Once you've linked to your free account, you're ready to have fun. Take your phone outdoors with a clear view of the sky and start the Geocache Navigator software. Select the Quick Cache option to view a list of geocaches near your location. The software gives the distance to each location.
A Multitude of Viewing Options
Choose a cache and you'll then see the program's well-designed navigation options. A tabbed interface lets you switch between a compass view, radar view, map view, and cache details. Start with the compass view, which tells you which direction you need to travel and how far away you are from your target. We haven't read a compass since grade school but, after a little practice, we found our locations with no trouble.
As you approach your geocache you can switch to the radar view, which is better for close proximity work. This view shows the cache at the center of the screen with your position marked by a moving arrow. Our BlackBerry's GPS chip was amazingly sensitive and directed us to the exact foot of space where our target was hidden. One was in the trunk of a dead tree (saying any more would ruin the game). We didn't take anything, because there wasn't much to take, but we left a small plastic monkey and wrote our name in the log.
The Map view lets you pull down street maps, topographical maps, or aerial maps of the area, while the Details tab shows you notes written by the person who originally hid the cache. Notes could contain hints about how the cache is hidden or offer interesting historical facts about the area you're visiting. One of our geocaches came with a brief history of New Jersey's Morris Canal.
Tracking Your Progress
After you've found a geocache, you can use Geocache Navigator to mark it as "found" in your online account. On a BlackBerry, this means calling up the pop-up menu of contextual commands and choosing Mark as Found, which automatically creates a list of caches you located. When you're back at your computer, you can view a list of all the caches you've found and leave notes for others to read. You can also do this from your smart phone, but it's easier on a larger screen.
If you get interrupted during your search by a phone call, a notification window appears on your screen. After we finished a call, our BlackBerry returned to the Geocache Navigator screen we were on. After testing the application for several hours over the course of two days, we didn't notice a significant hit on the BlackBerry's battery.
Spending a Small Fortune to Seek a Small Treasure
The only thing we don't like about Geocache Navigator is the pricing. You can't buy the program; you need to subscribe to it. That means geocaching could quickly become an expensive hobby. The cost is either $5.99 or $6.99 per month, depending on your carrier. BlackBerry users have the additional option of subscribing for $39.99 per year. Sprint subscribers can get an even better deal: For $6.99 per month, they can get Geocache Navigator plus two other GPS applications: Trimble Outdoors (for outdoor trip planning) and AllSport GPS (for exercise and calorie tracking).
Trimble Geocache Navigator Verdict
If you've ever been curious about geocaching or if you're just looking for a new way to enjoy the outdoors, give Geocache Navigator a try. It makes cache hunting simple and fun.