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We have written in the past about ways to enhance your field trip visits and what equipment to take with you. But what if you don’t want to be lumbered with all that clutter? Could a simple smartphone come to your rescue?

With the plethora of apps available these days, the answer is invariably ‘yes’. But of course, safety must always be a major consideration on any trip, so standard caveats apply: we would always recommend keeping a good paper map (and other ‘survival aids’ as appropriate) to hand when travelling across open country. Despite the government’s best intentions, signal availability in remote areas is not always optimal, so when looking at available apps, offline working must always be a consideration. Battery power is also important. Most smartphones are notorious for ‘poor’ (8–10 hours at best, much shorter if hunting for a signal) battery performance, so a fully-charged back-up battery pack is a must when considering a phone-based trip.

So, with the above in mind, which apps will be useful for your field trip? Here are some of our recommendations, most of which are available for both iOS and Android:

Planning, information and reference

It’s always useful to be able to find out information about prospective sites, and so most preparation will be done at home, prior to departure. But there are always occasions when plans change and more ‘on the spot’ information is needed. Of course, in these situations a signal is usually essential. There are myriad apps that provide information about various heritage sites but in our experience these are usually quite limited in scope: for instance the National Trust, English Heritage  and CADW all have apps, for Gardens, Stately Homes etc. but the content tends to be quite selective or limited in such apps. We have previously reviewed the Heritage app from Little Polar (IOS only), which appears to be going from strength to strength. Another app which has recently come to our notice is TiCL, which whilst not strictly heritage-related looks quite promising (check out the Trails functionality). Sadly Wikihood, an app which displayed Wikipedia items based upon your location, is no longer available.

Maps and Route Tracking

When it comes to mapping and route recording, the options are quite staggering. But to our minds, the king of the hill is Viewranger. Plan trips, calculate distances, and view elevation profiles. Use maps offline – Premium topographic maps (can get expensive for larger areas!!) and free global maps are available. Use ViewRanger to record your track as you go and create a mapped trace of your trip, complete with stats and photos. There’s also an active community with downloadable routes to try out, and support (when I’ve needed it) has always been first-class.

Photography and Video

Most smartphones come with photo software that ís more than adequate, and will do for most shots, including panoramas once you’re at the site.

For more technical (surveying) images, Theodolite or TheodoliteHD (IOS only) are useful. Theodolite is a multi-function augmented reality app that combines a compass, GPS, map, photo/movie camera, rangefinder, and two-axis inclinometer into one indispensable app. Theodolite overlays real time information about position, altitude, bearing, range, and inclination on the iPhone’s live camera image, like an electronic viewfinder. A possible alternative for Android users is ThÈodolite Droid, but I have no personal experience of this app.

For image editing, SnapSeed is quite useful, and comes in both iOS and Android flavours. But image editing is a very personal thing, so you may have your own favourites. Please let us know in the comments if this is the case.

For video, we’d recommend Horizon. There’s nothing more embarrassing than finding that viewers have to tilt their heads to see your carefully framed (portrait) shot, and Horizon takes care of this for you by automatically keeping the shot horizontal regardless of the orientation of the phone itself.

If 360 degree panoramas are your thing, PhotoSphere from Google for iOS and Android is quite useful, and hooks into Google Maps for sharing the resulting views.

And don’t forget to set your device to backup up your photographs automatically to the cloud (once in signal range)!

Finds Recording

For those lucky enough to stumble upon any interesting finds, the Find Plotter app (iOS only?) may be helpful. The developer’s web site appears to be no longer available, but the iPhone app is still available in the Apple Store. Although aimed mainly at detectorists, it could prove useful for the casual fieldworkers among us to record basic details to pass onto the PAS.

For wider data collection, the Edina Field Trip GB app will be a much better option. This allows collection of data by a group using customised forms (designed via the web), can track GPS points, collect photos and fieldnotes. Data is saved to a DropBox account.

Damage Reporting

As we’ve reported previously, there is a serious gap in the market for an app which would allow for discovery of heritage crime to be reported to the appropriate authorities. We’d still be happy to share our ideas for such an app with any budding developers out there, and if anyone is willing to provide funding (CBA, Rescue, University Research Depts?) for such a project, please contact us!

Field Notes

For writing up your trip after the event, again the choice is almost limitless. Select your favourite text editor, and away you go! But in terms of organisation, ease of searching, syncing across devices, inclusion of photos etc, Evernote is pretty hard to beat.

That finishes our brief roundup of possible apps that could be used before, during and after a field trip. Have we missed out anything crucial, or a better alternative to one of our choices? Let us know in the comments.

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