General info > GPS > Memory-Map TX3 Android GPS

Memory-Map’s rugged TX3 Android GPS phone

TX3 PhoneMemory-Map has often been at the forefront of new developments in the digital mapping and GPS markets. Its application for Ordnance Survey maps on PC has been popular for over one and a half decades and it’s still one of the best products on the market. The company launched mobile software for PDAs equipped with GPS long before smartphones came on the scene and, when they did, it quickly developed Android and iPhone apps. It should come as no surprise then that Memory-Map has been quick to satisfy the latent demand for a rugged waterproof phone that can also double as an outdoors GPS. For many this would be the ideal device, provided battery life were more than adequate for a good day out and the price point is not too high.

On the latter Memory-Map appears to have delivered. The base device costs around £280 and the cost stacks up better when it is combined with full sets of OS mapping: £429 with the whole of GB at 1:25,000 Explorer scale, £329 at 1:50,000 Landranger scale, and £499 with both. The bundle includes a licence to install Memory-Map software and OS mapping on your PC and indeed on a further three devices of your choosing. I have just laid my hands on a refurbished Tesco Hudl for just £59, which should work well for map reading in the car or for planning routes at home, if not out in the rain. There’s no extra cost for putting the app and your maps on such a device, or indeed on another Android or iPhone mobile.

With posh smartphones costing up to £500 and beyond there are, inevitably, some compromises in reaching a lower price point while still delivering a high standard of waterproofing and ruggedisation. The TX3 device is certainly solid and its waterproofing is rated to military standards, having been put together by specialist Seals Technologies, but one of the costs is in terms of weight. It’s pretty hefty at a little over 200g. It sits comfortably enough in the hand; however there’s a risk that you’ll be testing its ruggedness because it also slips rather easily out of the hand. It could do with a rubberised back to make it less slippery. You might well want to attach a strap and in fact there’s a built-in bar for attaching one. Overall you may think twice about using it as your day to day mobile phone, simply because it is so chunky.

The main compromise, however, is in the age of its Android operating system; with Android v2 it’s around three years behind the times. For many this won’t be a major issue – in fact the interface is clean and uncluttered and the main functions work perfectly well – but it may mean that newer apps won’t install if the developers don’t have backdated versions. If you want to use the device for very specific apps it would be as well to check that they offer appropriate versions. I was able to install the vast majority of the apps I wanted, but one or two were not available.

Another small niggle is that the charging socket, which takes a standard micro-USB connector, is deeply inset and rather narrow, so it won’t take many micro-USB cables. If, like us, you have these sitting around for other devices you’ll need to be sure to pick up a suitably thin one before going out with your phone. Pulling off the waterproof cover for the socket is also fiddly and you can imagine the small plastic link to the cover breaking eventually; it is secured with an easily reached screw so it should be simple enough to replace.

On the battery front there are fewer worries. On standby the battery keeps going for many days, while with fairly heavy use out and about, the GPS turned on and regular reference to one’s position on the map, there’s generally enough power for a long day. Of course one of the downsides of any smartphone is that you can’t simply slip in a couple of AA batteries as you can with a Garmin GPS, for instance. Memory-Map does supply an effective waterproof battery pack which can be used to recharge the phone ‘in the field’ (and which incorporates an LED torch and laser pointer to boot). Good practice would be to top up the battery when you stop for lunch, say, so that you don’t get caught out when conditions become tough.

Having got the negatives out of the way, there are plenty of positives. The phone works well and, despite the touchscreen being protected by shatter-resistant glass, the interface is responsive. The basic Android menu system has, thankfully, not been messed with and it’s easy to change settings and turn features on and off (to save battery I generally turn off data, wifi, bluetooth and GPS unless I need them). The phone has a dedicated button on the side which can be used to access any menu. I have set this to go straight to the GPS on/off selection; it can also be set to send a preset SOS message to a set of contacts when held down, although I would tend to ignore this feature as it would be easy to set off by mistake.

The phone can take a pair of SIM cards from any network provider. Having two card slots could be useful if you want to have a choice of networks in remote locations (although it’s worth remembering that a 999 or 112 emergency call will go through on any network in the UK) or if you would want to add a local SIM card when going abroad. For those who decide not to use the device as their main phone a simple ‘Pay As You Go’ card from any network provider would make sense and would allow you to make calls, send texts or check the weather forecast.

I have found the screen perfectly readable in bright sunlight – it is adaptable for brightness so it doesn’t use any more power than necessary – and sharp enough despite being behind an extra layer of toughened glass. The phone has a 5 megapixel camera, although the image quality of the resulting pictures is merely adequate – not many people would contemplate replacing their digital camera with this device. The phone also packs a digital compass and barometer, both of which appear to be reasonably accurate once calibrated, although once again I would rather rely on a good old Silva compass for pointing me in the right direction. Even so, they are useful backups.

GPS testThe GPS receiver is not super fast at finding its location but it’s not bad either, rarely taking more than a couple of minutes even when turned on in a completely new place. I use a free app called ‘GPS Test’ by Chartcross to display the data from the GPS receiver. The app shows the OS grid reference in nice big characters, the signal strength from the satellites in view and an estimate of accuracy. Using this the in-built GPS in the phone fares pretty well against a Garmin GLO bluetooth GPS receiver which takes its measurements from a combination of US, European and Russian satellites. Against this very high performance GPS receiver the inbuilt one only displays a few metres less in terms of accuracy in most locations, although it is noticably slower in narrowing down its position. It works well enough in more difficult environments, for instance under trees or in the car, and fairly quickly picks up its location when the phone has gone to sleep while in the pocket.

As for the Memory-Map app itself, it does the job and it does it well. By default, the whole screen is filled with the map image with your position shown as a simple red circle. The screen size is decent enough for a GPS but this makes sure that every centimetre is taken advantage of. A single tap on the screen brings up zoom buttons and a tab to pull down for more data and to stop and start track logging. The phone’s setting button is pressed to bring up other options. All in all, it’s elegant and simple – just as it should be.

If you are on the lookout for an all-purpose mobile phone and GPS device to use when walking or when working in the outdoors, that won’t fail if you drop it into a stream or consult it in a thunderstorm, this device certainly fits the requirement. It’s best value if you buy it in conjunction with the full sets of OS mapping, so it will appeal to those who have yet to invest in GB-wide Landranger or Explorer mapping for their PCs or who are looking to upgrade. With the whole of GB at 1:25,000 Explorer scale for Memory-Map’s PC application normally costing £300, it’s only £129 more to get the phone, and that begins to look very good value indeed.

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David Stewart