Using your smartphone as a GPS on the trail is great, but can be frustrating because of the time it takes to lock onto your location in low or no-reception areas (iPhones and Androids mostly rely on cell towers to triangulate). The solution might be a Bad Elf. Bad Elf uses satellites for its GPS products to get your location quickly.  This week I tested two separate Bad-Elf products in the Cascades: the Bad Elf Lightning Connector and the Bad Elf Pro.

Bad Elf Lightning Connector

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The Bad Elf Lightning Connector is a super small GPS device that plugs into your iPhone, iPod, or iPad and works with the Bad Elf App.  Upon opening the package I tested it at home with my iPhone and was impressed that it picked up Satellites inside the house within about 45 seconds, turning off cell and Wi-Fi on another iPhone without a Bad Elf device then opening the Maps app took about 5 minutes to find my general location and I had to go onto the deck.  The main benefit of the lightning connector is better GPS accuracy and a faster lock on your location when there is no or little cell coverage.   Getting your location quicker should also theoretically conserve battery life on your iPhone in the wilderness.

Pros:

  • Performed as Advertised, I was able to get a fix on my location quickly in over 10 tests.  Including in mountains, a drainage, heavy tree cover, inside my house near a window, and my yard.
  • It’s super light and small.
  • Replaces the need for a standalone GPS.
  • It found my location fast, saving time and battery life on my device.
  • No additional fees after buying it, including the free app download, No subscription to sign up with such as the service you have to sign up for with Spot devices.
  • Found lots of satellites.
  • Liked the lanyard clip for easy access and storage inside a pocket.
  • Designed in the USA,  which in my book adds $25 to the value.

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Cons:

  • The App experience didn’t woo me; it gets the job done, but with friction.  Upon first opening the App the opening screen shows other Bad Elf products, my main goal was to get the device and app paired and test it by finding my location.  The GPS, map, and satellites screens were secondary; I would expect the map with my location to be the first screen to save time. The App experience seems first generation Apple and I expected more from a brand new device.
  • Viewing maps offline.  If your device is out of cell coverage you will get your location but you won’t see a map, unless your device has cached a map of the location before hand.  The Bad Elf website does a decent job of pointing to Apps Bad Elf works with for offline maps and giving hints on caching these.  Regardless it’s still a disjointed experience, and a big improvement would be to support offline maps in the Bad Elf App without putting the onus on the user.

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Bad Elf GPS Pro

The Bad Elf GPS Pro is a standalone GPS that also synchs with the Bad Elf App on an iPhone, iPod, or iPad to display your location on a map.  It transfers data to the iPhone through Bluetooth.  The main functionality over the lightning connector is it’s own battery power and GPS screen, in the event your iPhone battery dies.

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Pro:

  • It worked as advertised, was able to get a lock and find my location.
  • Nice lanyard for wearing around your neck.
  • Easy synch with device Bluetooth.

Con:

  • At $150 it’s in the same price range as the Garmin Etrex20 which displays your location on color maps and is a sturdier device.   I found my self either wanting a full color GPS with maps for more extreme adventures or saving the space by not carrying another device and just using my iPhone, the Bad Elf Lightning Connector is the sweet spot for the latter but I struggled to find a fit for the Bad Elf Pro at the current market price.
  • Same app experience as the Lightning Connector.

 

Overall Recommendation:

Due to the size, weight, and performance, I liked and recommend the lightning connector for hiking, backpacking, or to stash in your emergency kit (for those that always have their iPhones on them).

Note: I do recommend you carry extra battery power or a means to produce it when relying on your smartphone.

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