2011 Best Outdoor iPhone Apps

After considering tens of thousands of iPhone apps and testing somewhere between 600 and 700 of them over the last six months, we’ve learned a few things. One, there’s a lot of junk out there. Two, the apps that take full advantage of the iPhone’s capabilities are few and far between. Three, just because an app is popular doesn’t mean it’s good. Four, ratings in the app store must be viewed loosely, as crowdsourcing reviews often leads to dubious conclusions. Five, in the end, whether an app fits your needs and leaps ahead of all other apps to make itself indispensable is impossible to predict.

Our reviews are by necessity short. Much of the heavy lifting comes from the vetting, where we separate the wheat from the chaff. If you don’t see an app here, it’s because its reviews were so bad it clearly wasn’t worth downloading, it didn’t work well, or it was topped by similar apps that made the final cut. There’s always the chance that a great app slipped under our radar or made it onto the app store after we finished our review; if that’s the case, let us know.

In its entirety…here you go.

Audubon Birds New England
$4.99

Audubon has a huge range of apps on birds, as well as guides to other fauna and flora, so you can easily search on another Audubon guide if New England isn’t home. Like other apps in this realm, it features excellent photography, range maps by season, bird songs and so on. But I like this app for novice birders too, because of its multiple search functions, including search by bird shape. Because if you’re not a professional birder, shape is perhaps the easiest way to know what you’re looking at and the quickest way to learn the differences between species.


BirdsEye
$19.99

This app is expensive, but excellent. It’s a map of all the birds seen around you recently (spotted by an army of birders), with lists of said birds organized by date or species or distance. The big sell: Not only are there images of the birds, so you can ID them yourself, but there are bird calls as well, so if you’re not quite sure what you’re staring at off in that tree you can verify with both your eyes and your ears. UPDATE COMING: In May this app will include the ability to add your sightings on the go into the http://ebird.org/content/ebird/ database.


Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Prey
$2.99

One aspect of birding is how it plays a role in the history of science and exploration: i.e. Audubon, and his penchant for painting birds beautifully, in portraits. Birds of Prey gives that tradition an update, by including paintings as the visual reference in the app, rather than photographs, and giving the user several perspectives on various raptors and eagles and kites (and more), in profile, in different seasons and genders, and from underneath, in case a hawk swoops overhead in a heartbeat and vanishes back into the canopy.




Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America

$29.99

For about a half a century Sibley has sold the most popular book on birds, complete with migration patterns, coloring, habitat, and song descriptions. This app version of the book might seem expensive, but it’s even more comprehensive than the paper copy, because you can hear the songs, and you can dial in your searches more rapidly based on region and time of year. The only negative is that unlike BirdsEye there’s not an interactive feature that’s providing a further sieve to sort what birds are actually being spotted in your area.



By Steve Casimiro
Campgrounds
Free

Well, it’s free. It’s also inaccurate — the campground it listed as closest to my house is actually 400 miles away. But…it’s free. And if it’s one in the morning and you’re desperate to find an RV park and Google Maps isn’t cooperating, well, it doesn’t hurt to keep this on your phone.


Coleman Camping Cookbook
Free

The fact that you can create a recipe on a Coleman stove doesn’t make it camping friendly, a niggling issue the Coleman licensing people forgot when they built this app. This collection of recipes would be more at home at home, especially if your home uses lots of sugar and fat. There are more artery-clogging recipes in here than healthy, that’s for sure. Of course, that’s just me: It has a 3-star rating in the app store, so download it yourself and tell me if I’m wrong.



Knot Time
$3.99

Although it ain’t super purty, Knot Time and its free companion, Knot Time Lite, are darn useful. Not only do they organize knots by purpose (duh!), they include how-to videos for each, which are downloaded when you DL the app, so even if you’re off the grid you can get a bowline on a bight refresher. Free version has just nine knots, paid has 33.



Survival Guide
Free

Love this guide. Love it. It’s based on the same survival field manual the boys and girls in digi camo are given and packed with tons of common sense knowledge for keep it real alive out there. The only problem: It’s packed. Lot of words, not so many illos…read and assimilate before you go and you’ll be fine, just fine.


Ultimate SAS Survival Guide Lite
Free

Lively, fun (in that twisted survivalist way), and chock full of great beta on coming back in one piece, this survival guide by a former British special services guy is much more user friendly than the U.S. military manual. Like all guides, it’s better read before you go — I’d like to see it organized with, “You’re lost, now what?” “You’re injured, now what?”


What Knot to Do
Free

If we were giving out gold stars, What Knot to Do would receive five out of five. Well designed, well organized, it shows you how to tie 70 knots with step by step instructions and includes a pretty informative glossary. Combine the videos from Knot Time with this app from Columbia and you’d have the Gordianist of all knot apps.


By Michael Frank

Bicycle Gear Calculator
$5

Have a favorite gear combo you want to emulate as you convert from a geared bike to a singlespeed? Want to know what single front cog will give you the best gearing options as you swap from a double for ’cross? Thinking about switching to SRAM XX (2×10) for MTB but aren’t sure which combo to go with? If these previous questions just flew over your head like so much higher physics, then this app isn’t for you. But deep bike geeks will rejoice over this little wonder as much as they admire the worn-in feel of an old Brooks saddle.


Bike Maps
$.99

This commuter-focused app has the added advantage of being super useful for any bike tourist in any of dozens of major cities in North America. In the L.A. area alone there are nearly 20 neighborhood bike maps and some (though not all) do a great job at delineating the kinds of paths, trails, and routes you’ll encounter, as well as showing amenities such as bike shop locations. While you couldn’t actually navigate via this app, you could certainly plot a quick workout with it, or use it to bike tour a city in an afternoon, or to redesign your commute for more bliss and less car exhaust.


Bike Repair
$1.99

For two bucks, this app is pretty darn handy. No, it’s not giving out secret info you won’t find all over the interwebisphere, but then again, it doesn’t require a connection to view the fix, so whether you’re on the road and notice a loose hub or are out for a ride and find your shifting is suddenly wonky you can use the app to make necessary small repairs. Video and/or recorded audio guidance would be a great addition, but c’mon, it’s 200 cents, not the $20 you’d probably have to pay if it had video. And without video, it takes up very little memory.


Bike Quiver
$.99

If you’re lucky enough to have a few bikes kicking around, it’s not a bad idea to have a regular log of maintenance, year of purchase, and the serial number. The latter will almost surely never retrieve your precious steed if it’s stolen, but still. The former info, however, is very useful as the shop wrench finds the bearings of your hub shot and asks when you last had the grease repacked, or even when the wheelset was purchased. Knowing that could keep a repair down to a warrantied fix and knowing when other work was done—the last time you replaced brake pads, for example—can make your bike safer.


Biky Coach
$2.99

Biky Coach is also available for free but is less functional. The $2.99 version is like a slightly cheaper iteration of Cyclemeter GPS (see review below), with precisely the same mapping, racing against your own (or someone else’s) PR, export and import file options…and profoundly annoying voice prompts that you can luckily disable. But the Cyclemeter interface is less fiddly. There was hope that Biky Coach’s promise of ANT+ heart rate sensor compatibility would set an ultra-low price threshold for a heart rate sensing bike app but Biky’s site had zero documentation on how to achieve this paring. Our suspicion is that you still need a third-party paring transmitter, a la what Digifit sells (see below). So for now Biky Coach is best compared with Cyclemeter GPS, and the only advantage we can see is a lower cost.


Cyclemeter GPS
$4.99

This is a training app, even though it allows for a great number of map functions. Don’t get confused: Unless you plan to mount your phone on your bars, you can’t navigate using Cyclemeter GPS. That aside, and the fact that there’s no heart rate or power function, for five bucks Cyclemeter GPS is pretty robust. It will track your ride (and works just as well with runs) as well as chart your route. And it will shout out commands (via simulated voice—you can even choose gender and accent) to tell you if you’re behind or ahead of your own pace on past efforts, or the efforts of others on the same route, based on their times, since you can download friends’ workouts via KML or GPX files. Announcements can also be made at time intervals, distance, remaining distance and so on—depending on your tolerance for being bellowed at during your exercise.

Once you finish your effort you can export the workout file via e-mail and see them in Google Earth. Scarier is that a Facebook and Twitter function allow the app to auto-update your location at a time interval of your choosing, and a “read” plug-in can allow those who follow your progress to type words of encouragement (or derision) for you to hear.


Cycle Tracker Pro
$.99

Much like Cyclemeter GPS, Cycle Tracker Pro is largely a training app for tracking your workouts and “ghost” workouts against yourself or another person’s time over the same route. Like Cyclemeter GPS, it will also voice prompt time, pace, etc., although it won’t tell you if you’re ahead or behind of the pace or speed, and as is the case with Cyclemeter GPS, unless you want to mount your phone on your bars (see: http://store.digifit.me/Digifit-Connect-Case-with-integrated-ANT/M/B004GIFEVM.htm) it’s of limited use for scanning your stats while you’re actually riding. That said, it will also prompt interval changes audibly, so if you’re out doing sets for speed work and get bleary eyed between efforts, for 99 cents it’s not a bad app to use as a backup. Also, workouts can be exported via email and of course workout summaries can be sent to all your peeps on Facebook and Twitter.



Cycling Grub
Free

This RSS aggregator lets you slice and dice the cycling news you follow based on sources, blogs, and manufacturer feeds. Rather than compile these sources individually, Grub sucks in all your news and feeds it to you. However, because not every RSS feed is well defined, there’s still some hit and miss in the mix. For instance, Bike Radar’s feed is just a push-down timeline of gear reviews; Bicycling Magazine’s is even more random, a mirror of their tweet scroll which means you have to tap to see the link in Twitter, and then tap again if you want to read the actual story. BBC’s cycling coverage is more consistent and better presented, and a tap through to a story doesn’t navigate out of the app.


Digifit iPower
$14.99

There’s a lot of potential here, but it requires more than the $14.99 commitment. Wait! Don’t run away just yet. Because Digifit iPower potentially offers the least expensive way to convert an iPhone into a fully functional power +HR sensor, along with GPS and complete mapping. While the $14.99 app is fine for tracking workouts, mapping, and timing, there are many less expensive apps listed here that do just that already. If you want a true cyclocomputer, like the Garmin Edge 500 but at $135 rather than $250, this might be the way to go. The math: Digifit only reads power and HR if you buy the Ant+ sensor ($50) that plugs into the base of your iPhone to read your heart rate strap and power meter. BUT, that’s kinda pointless, because you still need a way to mount your phone so you can see the data that’s being collected. Step up to the mountable case and you’re talking $120, but the case does more to protect your phone, pairs with HR and ANT+ power devices, and you can read the data output “live,” as you ride. And unlike the Edge 500, there’s the beauty of Google maps for actual navigation. We’ll do a more complete test of the entire Digifit system in the coming month.


Eurosport
Free

If you live for sports news beyond the two-wheeled variety, Eurosport is pretty sweet. Given the name, you know the focus is on soccer and rally car racing and so forth, but there’s a cycling feed, too, and Eurosport actually does a very good job covering the pro scene from all angles—certainly better than outlets like the NYT or USA Today in the U.S. A handy widget also lets you email a link to any story, though it’d be nice if they added a Twitter and Facebook tool as well.



iCycling

Free

Confusingly this app, which is actually called Pro Cycling Live, is also called iCycling. Never mind: It’s a fast app that, like Cycling Grub, consolidates news feeds from many different sources. Unlike Grub, however, you cannot filter your feed choices, and Pro Cycling seems to tilt heavily toward Yahoo Sports and the AP rather than cycling-focused media. Like many apps these days, you can also view iCycling’s Twitter scroll, where you can interact with others following the same stories that pique your interest.


Kinetic Lite GPS
Free

For zero dinero, this thing looks gorgeous, is highly intuitive to use (more than either similarly functioning sibling, Cycle Tracker Pro or Cyclemeter GPS), and tracks workouts via GPS, pace, mileage, etc., and features an auto start/stop. However, it doesn’t have a voice function to announce pace, it doesn’t let you ride against past PR’s, and although you can export GPX/KMZ/KML records of your workouts, the focus of this app is more toward runners than cyclists. But, it’s free, and if you just want ride record keeping, and you run as well, this is a plenty effective tool.


Mountain Bike Trails
$1.99

The Good: There are thousands of trails listed worldwide and you can view at least the main trailhead for every single one of them, so this is a fantastic way to expand your local riding knowledge, or to find trails when you road trip. The Neg: This app doesn’t us the GPS function of your iPhone to help you navigate. If a trail has actually been mapped (not a given) you’re navigated via the app and your phone’s browser to a website called TrailFu.com, and from there you’ll see the track. You can download that to a GPS device or to Google Earth on your phone, but then, you could also just navigate to TrailFu.com, right? Right. But the app is much easier/faster than using Safari to paw through TrailFu.com.


MTB Grub
Free

This is the mirror to Cycling Grub, an RSS feed aggregator from bike brands and bike media outlets all in a single app, but this one is focused on mountain biking. The same pitfalls apply, however. Not every RSS feed is as fluid as their actual site and getting the info you want is still hit and miss, since you can’t do a search within the app for specific news so you have to sift dozens of pages to (maybe) find the info you want.



Rapha Rendezvous

Free

From the chicest crew in cycling comes a very pragmatic app that lets you find group rides wherever you are, create them as well, and best of all, after a group ride is set and others have committed to the ride, the app uses the iPhone’s GPS function to track the location of everyone in the group. So even before the ride starts all riders can see who’s made it to the ride start location (so you know if a laggard is coming or sitting still at his home on the couch), and during the ride you can find a rider who’s straggling and alerts can be sent to the group that someone has a flat, etc.


RMBB
Free

Not in the Rockies? Not visiting? Skip it. If you are in the Rockies, and particularly, Colorado, this app will be at least a little bit useful, though Mountain Bike Trails is superior. Here you’re getting a listing (or you can view trailheads in Google Maps) and a trail description as well as difficulty rating, but you can’t search by rating, only area, so you have a lot of sifting to do to find the trail you’re after. And, sadly, there are no trail maps, only directions to the trailhead and a few tips.



Shiftit!

Free

Kicking back in July watching another hellish TDF climb on L’Alpe, you might hear an announcer tell you a rider’s gearing and cadence…and then: A spark! Fire up Shiftit and see how fast he’ll get to the top. This simple gear ratio calculator uses the gears you input (as well as rpm) to tell you how quickly a rider can climb any of several dozen famous moments of pain throughout Europe and the U.S. Too bad you can’t add your own backyard torture zone. But if that’s so important, pick up and move to the foot of the Pyrenees.


Tour de World
$.99

Do you really need to see dozens of pro roadies’ Twitter feeds? Need…or want? If it’s either it’s here and for some fans it’s way more interesting to see what they have to say for themselves this way than filtered via the MSM. Because I need to know that Bradley Wiggins took his son out for pizza for his birthday…why? Anyway, you could also just search for your favorite athlete’s tweets directly on Twitter.


By Michael Frank

AccuTerra Unlimited
$9.99

This is a pretty darn good app. After purchase you have access to thousands of regional grid maps throughout North America. Almost all of these are downloadable for free, and the advantage is that you don’t need to clog your phone’s memory with bytes you don’t need. Once you have a grid the quality of the mapping is varied. One trail I know well is marked as “Scenic Trail,” when this is actually a section of the 347-Mile Long Path that stretches from New Jersey through the Catskills and north past Albany. Still, the trail is there. If you have a cell signal, you can also see grids in Google Earth or satellite mode. This latest version also has map tracking in background mode, which should be useful for using other apps as well as reducing battery drain.



AllTrails
Free

This trail finder app is plenty well stocked with local goods — if it weren’t free, I’d even pay a buck or two for it just to get fast beta when I’m on the road. In my neck of the woods, descriptions are generally accurate, distances are mostly spot-on, and trailheads load quickly in a Google terrain map. However, map quality varies greatly and this is not a navigation app, it’s a maps app. So you can noodle around on several thousand paths and trails on your phone and daydream, but once you’re out there you’re not getting the most from the potential of your phone.


Elevation Pro
$.99

This is so worth it! The simple app compares USGS altitude with the GPS function in your phone. The advantage is obvious for anyone who’s tried to navigate up a trail-less face wondering precisely where they are on the map by site, by compass, and even by standard GPS. While longitude and latitude will do the same, sometimes just having a better guestimate of your altitude is all you need to quickly find your exact location. A Google Maps function further enhances the app, and, if you want, you can also post your elevation to Twitter.


GaiaLite
Free

GaiaLite gets pretty big ups for being free and still giving you access to the nation’s USGS 7.5-minute maps. Unfortunately the resolution of those maps (at least in the free version of this app) is pretty varied, but because GaiaLite will also give you “turn by turn” directions to navigate, in some ways the quality of the map may not matter. Still, to get the full functionality of Gaia you’re probably going to want the $13 Gaia GPS app which lets you download higher-res maps and import and export GPX tracks.




Garmin StreetPilot
$34.99

For anyone familiar with the Garmin interface, StreetPilot will be like coming home: It has the same simple, uncluttered screen of Garmin’s dashtop units, large easy-to-read type, and bright, cheery colors. Traffic reporting is free, unlike with the competition, and you get rudimentary weather (not that that matters, since the iPhone comes with a weather app). It is a solid navigation app, and the frequent complaining in the app store about audio quality seems misguided or the symptom of a previous app update. The big hesitation I have with Garmin is that it doesn’t download a map pack to your phone — maps are streamed to the device as you’re using it, with a tangible delay as the screen refreshes. Sometimes the maps simply don’t show up at highest zoom levels. And when you’re out of cell signal? Good luck.


GeoShare
Free

Just like Maprika (see below), this app lets your friends see your location. Unlike Maprika, you have to text your location to your friends’ phones. They receive a link, and can then see your location in real time for up to an hour, before the app automatically stops tracking to save battery life. The advantage over Maprika is mapping in Google Maps, although the disadvantage is that defined trail networks/ski resorsts, etc., aren’t on Google.



Google Earth

Free

If you’re one of the three people left in America who hasn’t noodled with Google Earth at least on your computer, god bless you. Google Earth was one of the first programs that made people realize the scary power of the interwebs. As in Scary Good, since Google Earth allows “fly-over” navigation of pretty much anywhere a satellite has taken images, which is really everywhere. Google Earth is amazing for being able to see a sky’s-eye view of your own house, or as with this example, Mt. Foraker in Alaska. The downsides are also readily visible here, too, as you can see this is a composite view of several different shots of the central Alaska Range and resolutions as well as seasonal changes can make it hard to get a clear sense of scale, not to mention changes. Still, it’s free, and it’s the best dang daydreaming app any outdoors person could want.


iTrailMap
Free

750 ski resort maps worldwide ain’t bad for zero dinero. The $5 iTrailMap 3D version adds a vert+track recorder, sort of like Ski Tracks (with less robust data) and slightly like Maprika, though there’s no way to share your location with other users.



Localscope
$1.99

This might be the coolest app I’ve bumped into in quite some time. Localscope lets you simultaneously search for certain pre-loaded keywords (or type in your own search term, which gets auto-saved) like restaurants, or camping. The amazing thing is the app lets you search for info instantly using a slider and choose from Bing, Foursquare, Twitter, Wikimaps and Google. So, who on Twitter is talking about the things you need to know about right around you? It’d take you all day to find just that conversation thread, but Localscope lets you find the cool cafe (or climbing route) based on the most current conversations as well as via more vertical information listings and then navigates you to whichever location you choose.


Maprika
Free

A nifty little app that lets you keep the trail map handy right on your phone — or any one of hundreds of other maps uploaded by Maprika users, including national park maps. The kicker is that by using the phone’s location/GPS signal, it makes your location visible to friends (within your network or Facebook friends you invite). The system works with most ski areas nationwide, and even some parks and campuses. The potential to find each other for lunch on the mountain, or meet up for a group ride in a park is pretty swell, although the map choices for the latter are still fairly limited. Alternately, you can add your own map, even if it’s hand-drawn. That may not be ideal, but if you want to use the system in uncharted waters (or woods) that alternative could be very handy.


MotionX GPS
$.99

This is the best value in navigation: Just a buck gets you a fully featured GPS nav app. Yes, the maps could be more detailed and you need to download them before you lose a cell signal (make that wi-fi), but it does exactly what a GPS is supposed to do: shows you where you are, gets you to where you want to be. It allows coded location signal broadcasting as well as the ability to post your position to Facebook or Twitter, real-time voice navigation, and a searchable database of locations by Wikipedia, address, waypoint, etc.


MotionX GPS Drive
$.99

If you’re looking for a street navigator and don’t feel like spending $20 or $30 or $35 or whatever Navigon and TomTom and Garmin are going for these days, buy MotionX Drive and don’t look back. It’s as fully featured as any of the supposed premium brands, offers decent maps from NAVTEQ, and has the simplest search functionality. The maps could be a little more sophisticated — they feel cartoony — and the screen is cluttered. But for a buck? Amazing. Of course, if you want live traffic and voice guidance, it’s going to cost you $20 a year just like all the other navigation apps. And because the app downloads maps on the go rather than storing them on your phone, there’s often a lag when zooming in or out.


Navigon MobileNavigator North America
$59.99

The issue isn’t whether Navigon is any good: It’s great. The question is whether you prefer it over TomTom or Garmin. All of these apps have been ported from their manufacturers standalone GPS units, all are expensive (though far cheaper than buying a dashtop unit), and all are excellent. For most of the last year, Navigon was my go-to app simply because I thought the maps looked better, especially lane assist. But the search function bugs me — it’s extremely limited and not well organized. For example, if you search by coffee (far and away my most common search), it’s not recognized under Points of Interest and if you use the Google search function it limits you to 10 responses, with no option to add more results. Like TomTom, traffic costs you $20 a year. My verdict? I still think Navigon maps are more legible, but for the moment, TomTom has the edge.



Ski Tracks
$.99

Log your vert including speed, distance, and debate-settlers like the degree-angle of that double-black you bombed. The latest version allows export to a KMZ file for viewing in Google Earth and your photos are location-pinned on a map view page.


Spyglass
$3.99

Spyglass is the coolest compass app ever: It uses the iPhone’s video camera as a real-time compass overlaid upon the real world like a head’s-up fighter pilot display, making navigation to a particular point about as easy as it gets. Hold the phone flat and lays the compass over top of Google Earth map to precisely locate yourself and also calculate your speed of travel, time to destination, and so on. The inclinometer via the sextant is also super handy: If you’re in avalanche terrain and need to know slope angle, Spyglass is your ticket. Documentation could be better, but if you can figure out your TV remote, you can figure out Spyglass.


Tomtom U.S.A.
$49.99

As mentioned under the Navigon review, for the last year or so I’ve been testing both TomTom and Navigon and the latter consistently came out ahead, mostly because I like how the maps looked better. But TomTom’s updates have pushed it in the lead. First, its search function is superior: better organized, easier to use, more results, and seemingly more accurate. Second, it allows you and its user base to make corrections to the map instead of relying on gnomes in TomTom’s headquarters. Third, its turn by turn instructions are way easier to read than Navigon’s (though not quite so legible as MotionX’s).


Trailhead
Free

On paper (as it were), Trailhead from The North Face has a ton of potential, with excellent Google Maps integration, user-generated trail descriptions, and a solid database of trails. In reality, it crashes often, rarely finds your current location, and could use some editorial oversight on those user reviews. With a bit more development, this could be the go-to trail app.


Trails GPS Tracker
$3.99

This app is a little finicky. It’s fine as a tracking device of your own activities, but there are better apps for that. Where it really shines is in allowing the downloading of other people’s GPX files via sites like mapmyrun and bikely. Once you have the file on your phone you can use it to follow anyone else’s ride, run, hike, etc., much like you would download a GPX file to a Garmin — save that this costs a mere $4. It works without cell signal (after file download) and will track your progress. The biggest limitation is that there aren’t variable map views, as Google Maps and so on.


Yosemite Valley Trail Map
$4.99

It’s a beautiful map of Yosemite Valley, drawn by Tom Harrison, and it scales quickly and shows all major trails. You can navigate by GPS with it. Terrific. On the other hand, it only shows the valley itself, where you can practically see every point you want to reach. Verdict: For five bones, it’s for digital diehards only.


By Steve Casimiro



Camera Mic
$.99

In theory, the iPhone desperately needs Camera Mic — at my last search, this was the only option you have for snapping a picture without pressing the central shutter button. With Camera Mic, you snap your fingers or even speaking loudly into the phone’s microphone and the camera snaps. In practice, though, it doesn’t always capture the moment you want, and it’s impossible not to feel like a nerd going, “Yo! Yo!”


CinemaFX Video
$2.99

This is the only robust, stable app for applying effects, exposure changes, and color correction after you’ve shot your video clips, and as such seems like a mandatory purchase if you’re going to do any post-production work at all. You can export to HD 720 rez and exercise control over many of the effects, like vignetting. The only complaint? The more effects you apply, the longer it takes to process — just as with your desktop processing, rendering can take a looong time.


8mm Vintage Camera
$1.99

The retro effects popularized by Hipstamatic are beginning to come into videos, too, and 8mm Vintage Camera is the best of the early bunch. It’s the most stable and offers the most control, whether you’re applying 1970s warmth or 1920s black and white, providing four film types and five lenses. There’s no limit on how long your clips are — but there is on resolution. Processing demands have restricted your output video to 480×260 pixels. And you can’t apply the retro effects to videos you’ve already shot.



Gorillacam

Free

Thank you, Joby, for not trying to bite off too much. Gorillacam is a like a Swiss Army knife for shooting (not post), with almost all the tools you need for greater manual control and nothing more. Everything functions perfectly: self timer, time lapse, level indicator, touch anywhere to shoot, viewfinder grid, and more. Missing? Just the ability for ultra-long exposures and to snap the photo with sound.


Hipstamatic
$1.99

I can’t stand Hipstamatic and have only included it in this list because I’m curious what you think. In my opinion, it’s awkward to use, overly commercial, and limited in function. All of its effects can be found via other processing apps, most of them free. Other than the catchy name, I don’t get it.


iMovie
$4.99

If you’re going to edit movies on your iPhone or iPad, iMovie is your pick. The state of the art for on-phone editing, it’s simple to use, reasonably full featured, and extremely well documented with in-app how-tos (the best I’ve seen, actually). I’d like more control over inserting blank screens for titles and transition effects, but for a phone…amazing.


iSupr8
$1.99
iSupr8 is far from perfect, but when it comes to adding retro effects to video, it has two important selling points: You can add 8mm effects to videos you’ve already shot and you can export at 720, unlike 8mm Vintage, which restricts you to 480. The downsides? You have little control over the intensity of the effect and the app crashes a lot. However, it often shuts down when it’s finishing processing a video and returns to the home screen — technically a crash, but it doesn’t affect rendering. Other than CinemaFX, it’s your only real option for adding retro in post.


Lo-Mob
$1.99

Lo-Mob is what Hipstamatic wants to be, and if you’re an old-school film photographer, it’s also more readily understood. It comes with nearly 40 filters, almost all of them old school and film based, and perhaps my favorite of all, the tweaker apps. Rendering your effect to the selected image takes about five to seven seconds — an eternity when you’re experimenting — but Lo-Mob provides a menu of all effects showing your target image processed as a thumbnail with each effect.


Pano
$1.99

Very, very impressive. Technology has gotten to the point where we expect perfection, but we do. And while Pano isn’t flawless — its seams aren’t always seamless — it succeeds most of the time. With most landscapes, Pano is spot on. Street scenes and interiors with hard edges and 90-degree angles, less so. But the natural world…bingo!


Photoshop Express
Free

There’s nothing playful about Photoshop Express, and that’s both praise and a lament. If you want to adjust the exposure, saturation, etc., of your images, this free app is your best bet: It offers more control over tweaks than just about another app. A must-have utilitarian tool. So why the less than exuberant praise? PE offer just seven filter effects. And one’s a rainbow effect. Huh? Adobe is totally missing the opportunity for the retro fun.


PhotoSync
$1.99

Apple could learn something about wireless transfer from the folks at PhotoSync (hello, Steve: iTunes? really?): Fire up this little app, open up a web browser like Firefox on your desktop or laptop, enter the address PhotoSync provides, and select the image you want from the computer screen. PhotoSync packages them in a zip file and seconds later they’re on your hard drive. It’s easy, fast, and wire-free.



Quad Camera
$1.99

Camera phones and processing apps that mimic the effect of plastic toy cameras are cool, but they don’t mimic the spontaneity and surprise of an actual toy camera. QuadCamera brings that joy of creative surprise back: It shoots sequences of four or eight images, then stitches them together in a grid or row. A great party app and one of my all-time faves.


RetroCamera
$1.99

RetroCamera (no space between the words) has the widest selection of retro filters, film grain overlays, textures, frames, and more, but it has one fatal flaw: No matter what size the image you start with, it exports to 320×480 pixels. Huh? It’s fine for Facebook, but for anything else, nyet. As soon as they change the rez, this is a must-buy app. Until then, it just depends on how high you want your res. Or how low.


Sun Seeker
$4.99

Oolala, this is a sexy app for photographers and anyone else who needs or wants to know where the sun will be when. It has two extremely cool functions: The 2D map pegs your current location via Google Maps and then shows the sun’s locations throughout the day. The 3D orientation is the same idea, but it show you where the sun will be in the sky. Well planned, well executed, a must-have for any photographer.


360 Panorama
$1.99

This panorama app is getting a lot of buzz, and it’s easy to see why. It creates 360-degree linear or spherical panoramas and is fun to shoot — just point your camera at the scene and “paint” the image by moving it around and watch what you’ve captured on screen. There’s no shutter to snap. As you might expect, making it seamless is a challenge not always met. 360 Panorama struggles to keep color and exposure consistent across the photo, to put it mildly. And then there are the seams. But still, it offers more coverage than traditional panos and is worth experimenting with.


Tilt Shift Generator
$.99

This is the best app for creating the blurred depth of field that comes from a tilt-shift lens, hands down. You control the range that’s kept sharp, plus the amount of blur and whether the blurred field is round or linear, and it also gives you quick access to exposure adjustments and vignetting, too. Even if you’ve never heard of tilt-shift, you’ll be making such images in seconds. This should be on your must-get list.


By Steve Casimiro

Focalware
$4.99

Focalware has been in my camera bag for a year or two because of its ability to display where the sun and moon will be via compass cardinal points, which it does well. If you want a no-frills solar locator, it’s a good choice. But with apps like Sun Seeker taking advantage of the iPhone’s GPS and gyroscope to display augmented reality locations of the sun, Focalware is dropping off the back.



GoSatWatch
$9.99

If you’re way into satellites, GoSatWatch is worth every buck, with detailed tracking of anything you’d want to follow, from the International Space Station to Iridium satellites. It maps what’s in the sky when and will track objects on a world map in real time. And the key feature? An alarm that alerts you when something’s passing overhead.



GoSkyWatch
$9.99

LOVE this app. Simply point your phone at any celestial object and GoSkyWatch clues you in. It’s beautiful, a pleasure to look at, easy to use — and fast. Unlike some star finder apps, which lag as they display a map of the heavens, GSW zips around the sky as you point your find, so you can resolve Betelgeuse from Rigel in a blink. The crosshairs aid orientation, too, and when you have your goal in sight, you can tap for more information, which includes a link to its Wikipedia entry.



iEphemeris
$1.99

Simple app to tell you what’s happening in the sky above in regards to sun and moon: sunrise, sunset, phase of moon, etc. Feels more professional than Sunrise Sunset, offers a bit more info.



Moon Atlas
$5.99

The most powerful moon-specific app. Six bucks will weed out the casual from the lunartics, which is a shame cause this is one very sweet and detailed application. It represents the big chunk of cheese as a sphere, which is how you really see it (as opposed to flattened), and has 1,800 named features and the locations of 26 spacecraft. You can search for features by name (or select from a list)…it would be nice if there were descriptions of those places, their history or more info on the name.



MoonMapLite
Free

A good choice if all you want is the basics: Divides the moon into quadrants and lets you scroll through seamless NASA photos of lunar surface, with 200 named objects. The image zips across the screen with the flick of your finger–it’s a great companion with binoculars. But you’re left wanting more detail, more objects, more resolution. All those features are available for $2 with the full version.



Planets
Free

Wondering whether that bright spot is Venus or Mars? Now you know. Planets locates the sun’s satellites in the sky, then goes way beyond, displaying the heavens in visible light and also showing how they would look if you could see x-rays, microwaves, and more. It shows you when the planets rise and set, provides basic info on each, and, coolest of all, displays each of them as a rotating globe stitched together with NASA images.



Satellite Watcher
Free

Up in the sky! It’s a plane! It’s…it’s…it’s a CIA eavesdropping satellite! If you’ve ever seen tiny, fast-moving speck of light in the sky, it almost assuredly was some kind of satellite — this app will tell you which one and how big it is. Rudimentary, but look at the cost.



Starmap
$12

Like many star apps, this full featured finder uses the GPS and internal motion sensor to let you point your iPhone at the sky while it displays a map of constellations, planets, meteors, and other objects. It’s not as pretty or slick as GoSkyWatch, but is easier to search if you’re looking for something specific. And at 12 bucks, probably not worth it.



Star Walk
$3

Star Walk was once the go-to app for sussing out stars from nebula by holding your phone up to the sky, and it’s still among the best, but GoSkyWatch edges it out for locking on objects and quickly learning about them. Where Star Walk rules is its extra features, which include seeing what’s happening in today’s sky at a glance, daily astronomy pics, and the ability to bookmark favorite objects and be led back to them in the sky. And the price — at $3 vs. $10, it’s tough to argue with Star Walk.



Sun Seeker
$4.99

Oolala, this is a sexy app for photographers and anyone else who needs or wants to know where the sun will be when. It has two extremely cool functions: The 2D map pegs your current location via Google Maps and then shows the sun’s locations throughout the day. The 3D orientation is the same idea, but it show you where the sun will be in the sky. Well planned, well executed, a must-have for any photographer.



Sunrise Sunset
$.99

Stripped to the solar essence, this app displays…duh, sunrise and sunset times. You can add locations by city name or latitude/longitude and pick any date of the year. Next time you’re trying to figure out how much daylight you’ll have in August in the Aleutians, this is your app.


By Steve Casimiro

In The Snow
Free

In The Snow is a snow-based news aggregator. It’s mostly European based and makes for moderately entertaining reading. The fatal flaw: There are no dates on any of the stories, so you have no idea when they were written or filed.



iTrailMap
Free

For the moment, iTrailMap is an acceptable way to keep images of your favorite resorts’ trail maps. It will zoom in or out, as you’d expect, but that’s as dimensional as it gets. Someday we’ll have trail map apps that are as interactive as Google Maps, but we aren’t there yet. Until then, this is as good as any.


Mammoth2Go
Free

This is the future of ski apps. Mammoth Tapped (and its sibling apps for Jackson Hole and Smuggler’s Notch) takes full advantage of the iPhone’s data, display, and GPS capabilities: It tracks your skiing throughout the day and logs your runs throughout the season, shows where your friends are on the hill, and displays open lifts, which trails have been groomed, and more. It’s like having an information command central in your pocket, with trail map, snow report, forecast, resort Twitter feed, live web cams and more. The only negative? A seriously drain on the phone’s battery.



REI Snow and Ski Report
Free

REI has improved its app dramatically since our last visit, though it still includes overly commercial appeals on the home page to spend money at REI. Snow report information is well-organized, easy on the eye, and intuitive to navigate. Forecasts, webcams, and trail maps are displayed within the app rather than kicking you out to Safari. Nice.



Ski and Snow Report
Free

We have a winner! Ski and Snow Report from skireport.com is the gold standard for snow apps. Reports are as accurate as they get, info is well, organized, webcam images load quickly, there are forecasts and tweets…if you have this app, you don’t really need another. The snowfall chart is a quick snapshot that compares this season’s bounty to last (how stoked is everyone in Jackson?!), and you can tell the app to alert you when there’s fresh at your favorite spots, and you set how much has to fall before they ring your bell. The only complaint? There’s a map function, but it shows where the area’s located, not the trail map.


Ski Tracks
$.99

Log your vert including speed, distance, and debate-settlers like the degree-angle of that double-black you bombed. The latest version allows export to a KMZ file for viewing in Google Earth and your photos are location-pinned on a map view page.



The Snow Report from The North Face

Free

The North Face’s app gives Ski and Snow Report a run for its money and, while it doesn’t put key information quite at your fingertips as efficiently, it offers several features that will ensure a place for it on your phone, including in-app trail maps and, more important, recent avalanche forecasts. There’s also a North Face news feed, image gallery, and place to log your season’s efforts, which is, as they say, added value. But it’s still glitchy or confusing. If you enter the news feed, you can’t go back to snow reports — you have to exit the app and restart. And the trail maps are great, but don’t rotate when you turn your phone sideways.


By Steve Casimiro

FlightTrack Pro
$9.99

If you travel a lot, it’s worth the 10 bucks to track all your arrivals and departures via FlightTrack Pro, which also connects to TripIt so you can forward itinerary emails and have them logged automatically. FTP sends push messages if flights are delayed, provides weather reports, and gives you terminal maps of your in/out airports. The one big beef? None of the data is available unless you’ve posted a flight.


Google Translate
Free

Finally! Google has absolutely killed it with this app, which turns spoken or written English (or 56 other languages) into text. It will also translate and speak 23 languages aloud. I found word recognition to be flawless, rarely needing to repeat myself for clarity, and was blown away by the accuracy (in Spanish, at least). And those reports of buggy crashes? I didn’t experience one.



Help Call
$.99

Pray you never need this, but if you do…Help Call recognizes whatever country you’re in and automatically plugs in phone numbers for police, fire, and rescue. You can even set it to shake the phone to dial — it works (and I learned how quickly I can disconnect a 911 call before it rings through).


Kayak
Free

Soooo much more user friendly than the Kayak website. Simple, streamlined, fast, and efficient. Lots of extras, like a currency converter and a packing list. But I’d like to see more power in the search. Yes, you can enter dates of travel, but there’s no option to tell Kayak to use dates on either side to find cheaper fares.


Skype
Free

Though not technically a travel app, this phone app is indispensable for cheapening the cost of talking to your home nation from foreign lands. Pretty epic for instant messaging, too.


Travel #s
Free

Pack every imaginable airline, hotel, and car rental number in one list. Super handy. But: When you tap a company name, it dials immediately, without showing you the number. Not so smart if you’re using VoIP. Also, it would be really valuable if it told you how to skip the infernal computerized operators and get to real people – and gave you website addresses, too.


TripIt
Free

Funnels all your itineraries sent by email into one master organizer, which can be downloaded to your calendar. The free version just dropped the nagware ads, so there’s no reason not to test it — unless you have FlightTrack Pro, which has TripIt built in.


Urban Spoon
Free

One of the bigger app geek debates is whether Urbanspoon or Yelp is better at recommending restaurants. In my experience, Urbanspoon. Its choices are more consistently spot on. But hey, they’re free. Try them both and see what mileage you get.


By Steve Casimiro

Buoys
$.99

These guys should do themselves a service and hire some marketers: There’s a lot more going on here than “Buoys” suggests. Such as, yes, basic buoy info like swell direction, height, and interval, but it goes well beyond that: It gives you graphs of all important information, so you get a clearer picture of those details over time. And if you really want to geek out, it breaks the swell direction into nine bands so you discern just how much south is in that southwest swell. Wave geeks will be in heaven.


iSurfboard
$2.99

Nice idea, poor execution and calling the “ultimate directory of surf spots” is just plain wrong. It didn’t include a major break less than a mile from my house, overlooked the first surf shop in the area, misspelled the most popular surf spot a few miles away and called it a point break when it’s a beach break. Meh.


Magic Seaweed
Free

The more time I spend with Magic Seaweed, the more it appears to be at the head of the crowd for surfing forecast apps. MSW packs a lot of solid information into its bag of tricks, and though you have to dig a little to find it and it’s not always easy to read, lurking below the standard issue wave reports are swell charts, buoy readings, wind reports, and more. Coverage is worldwide; in my area, key breaks were listed, with no major oversights. Short news stories add to the content. Excellent. But why was the forecast two feet at the spot below my house yesterday when the sets were overhead? Also, there are scads of complains in the app store about it being buggy — I’ve never experienced that.


Oakley Surf Report
Free

Surf reports don’t get much better. They can get more thorough, but not better. Oakley’s interface is easier to use than Magic Seaweed and the forecasts, provided by Surfline, are more consistently accurate. It also breaks swell down into its component directions and tells you how each break responds to which direction. A few quibbles: The “community” section is mostly about pushing Oakley team propaganda, and undere OS 4.3 the app has gotten a little buggy, closing abruptly for seemingly no reason. It hasn’t been updated since December 2009, so it’s long past due for a refresh.









River Guide
$4.99

River Guide has more bugs than the Upper Peninsula in July — it tries to do too much and ends up doing little right — but it does aggregate river flows around the States, which you can see at a glance on a map. You’ll be hard pressed to find another app that does this as well, even with its glitches, but at $5 you need to be pretty dedicated to throw down for it. It also collates canoe, rafting, and kayaking news, but this seems little more than an RSS feed for Google Alerts — better read in a news reader.


Skullcandy
Free

Brand extension, baby — the hip headphone makes goes deep into music and action sports with this free app, but it’s here because the surf and snow reports aren’t half bad. The surf coverage, provided by Surfline, covers every one of the significant breaks in my hood, which counts big. But it’s little more than today’s surf report — there’s no forecast. People seem to love it for the tunes; great, but don’t expect any heavy lifting on the sports side of things.



Stormrider Surf Guide

$7.99

An unequivocal disappointment. Stormrider is the gold standard of surfing guides — in print. As an app, information on each break is so shallow as to be useless for anything more than a quick overview. Admittedly, you won’t find a broader selection of worldwide information with thumbnail sketches from every continent and if you’re hitting the road it’s probably worth the cheddar. But what’s woefully absent is beta on how each wave breaks, on what swell direction, and at what tide — the kind of skinny that’s truly important when you roll up at a spot you’ve never surfed.


Surfline
Free

Reports of extreme bugginess were not mirrored here. Surfline proved stable and solid, a consistently good performer against Magic Seaweed and Oakley’s surf apps. You’ll love the live webcams that appear for each location you’ve tagged as a favorite (if available). Surfline mixes forecasts and reports with a bit of weather and tide data; deeper metrics such as buoy readings are linked but take you out of the app to Safari.


Surf Watch
$9.99

The price will weed out lookie-loos, for sure, and that’s fine: You have to be a relatively serious wave geek to parse buoy reports for yourself, but if that’s you, the app is worth every penny. It displays interval, height, direction, and wind for up to three remote sensors, provides it on an hour-by-hour basis, and lets you set up alerts when conditions match your ideal. Given that Buoys provides most of this information at a tenth of the cost, the only real selling point is the alerts.


TideGraph
$1.99

Yet another tide app and a darn good one at that. This one’s claim to most excellent usability is the big arrow it plops in the middle of the screen telling if the tide’s going up or down. At a glance, you know which way it’s headed. It’s portrayed on a nice graph, too, so you can see where you are in the cycle, along with the speed it’s rising or falling.


By Steve Casimiro

Accuweather
Free

After running neck and neck with the Weather Channel, Accuweather pulls ahead thanks to smarter, more appealing design. Let’s face it: They’re all pulling from the same data, so presentation is everything. Accuweather’s is easier to grasp at a glance: hourly forecast, 15-day forecast, even the maps are gentler on the eye. If you have just one weather app, make it Accuweather.



AeroWeather Lite

Free

Aimed at pilots, these forecasts and conditions come from reporting stations at airports and are stripped of fancy graphics and frills: Just the facts, presented in the aeronautic reporting formats of METAR and TAF. Shorthand: Weather junkies should get this one.


Hurricane Tracker
$1.99

Wow. Wow. What a fantastically valuable little app for weather voyeurs. Although designed to run herd on hurricanes, it makes for a great general satellite hookup, too: Animated radar views of both coasts and mid-latitude waters are on display at all times. And the hurricane beta is super rich, with a daily built-in podcast, forecasts, computer modeling…the deeper I drilled, the more I found, and I’m not even sure I hit bottom. (Took the screengrabs out of hurricane season, though. Sorry!)


Meteorology
$.99

Meteorology channels the National Weather Service radar mosaic of the United States in real time and cycles through a short animation with a forecast. You can drill down to metro areas and have it show cloud cover, winds, precip, and more. It’s simple and effective, but Weather Radar is better dialed to take advantage of the iPhone’s touchscreen and display.



Weather Channel
Free

Although Accuweather gets the nod at the moment, Weather Channel isn’t totally off the back in the race for number one and two: It packs a bit more information onto its daily forecast screen, including sunrise and sunset times. But does it really need to spend 40 percent of the page on menus and ads? Time for a facelift, folks.


Weather Radar
$1.99

LOVE this app. It doesn’t offer as many weather variables, but Weather Radar is more full featured than Meteorology. When you pinch and drag to zoom in, it redraws the map on Google Earth, unlike Meteorology, which simply enlarges its maps. Offers cloud cover and base reflectivity.


{ 10 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Schankdawg

    pano 360 is awesome. been using it as shows and mountain tops. Camera+ is also an app that is a great way to save and organize photos with out having to save them to the camera roll.

  • Joel Stevens

    I can’t believe you did not cover iBird and iBirdpro in your birding apps. It is the gold standard for what an app should be.

    Ski Tracks deserves a little more info in the description. It is a pretty nice app.

    I only saw one tide app mentioned. They are very important to beach goers and boaters.

  • Stuart Green

    Enormous list, and quite a few on there that I’ve never heard of. Good mix of free and paid apps in here, too. Maybe there’s no mention of the Cal Parks app because it’s only regional. EveryTrail app is pretty good too – though it takes a while to discern the wheat from the chaff in the content they provide. Thanks for the thorough job, Steve.

  • Maprika

    Great list! We are happy to see Maprika here. With more than 200 world’s largest ski areas mapped, we hope it would also deserve a place in “snow” category.
    Thanks

  • Peter

    For surf reports, swellinfo is top notch on the east coast. It’s usually spot on with what it’s actually doing out there. I haven’t used it with other locations to know if it’s on track with other breaks. I know the guy working it was from delaware, so he knows how to predict that area well.

  • mike

    camera apps, thought camera+ was supposed to be good? not on your list. otherwise, one of the best iphone apps review i’ve read, many thx!

    • steve casimiro Post author

      @Mike: Previous versions of Camera+ didn’t impress, but this one does. It’s fantastic — in the last few months, Camera+ and Photoshop Express are pretty much the only ones I use.

  • 69thsoldier

    In looking at all of these, Thank you for filtering all those apps for an outdoor guy like me, new to the iphone world. Was wondering if the 16 or 32gb would be better? any suggestions. Although I am thinking 32GB with all that map info even though i have a rugged pentax camera, so no i don’t take pics with my phone but would like to use ut as a back up to my physical and mental compass. Thanks again, Jim -ret Army Infantry!

  • twistedankles

    Thanks for this great list. You might also check out “photsynth,” (another 360 degree photo stitcher), Wx Alert USA (does emergency wx alerts, but also a good wx forecast), Living Earth (stitches together wx satalitites for the world), “marine traffic” (lets you see what ship that is and where it is going), “wind alert” gives you wind forecasts, “wind meter” (gives you a GROSS approximation of the wind speed based on the iphone’s microphone noise), and either “Peak finder” or “peaks” for identifiing “that” mountain.

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