Apr 232013

I have been considering purchasing a smartphone for a long time.  In January 2013, our two year contract was ending with Sprint.  So we were free to make a decision regarding our wireless carrier and new phones.   I bought us a couple old used Motorola Razr flip phones.   These were at one time a big fashion statement but are now more of a status symbol of the notoriously frugal.

To make a long story short, we purchased an affordable Android device for my wife for use on our PagePlus Cellular plan.   We can pre-purchase air time and data.   The main rationale for this was her use of the texting features.  And we also have a trip planned to Colorado this summer, so having that as a navigation aide will also be nice.   I’ve decided to stick with my old RAZR for now, but have not ruled out a smartphone in the future.

There are a couple smartphone applications that apply to my leisure time interests.  Model Railroading, Cycling and Running.

Model Railroading

The first is a JMRI mobile interface application.  Java Model Railroad Interface is open-source software that allows pretty much any DCC system on the market today to be connected to a computer.  There is some cheap intermediate hardware needed, but the concept is that any computer can be connected to the command station.   One can do things like program decoders and operate locomotives from a computer without the DCC system’s throttle.

The JMRI people have extended the throttle piece to a mobile app.   The phone connects via WIFI to the computer that is connected to the DCC system.   Then the computer sends out signals out over the DCC command bus to the locomotive.    The result is that you can run trains from your phone.   Nevermind I already have two expensive Digitrax throttles.   But this isn’t such madness to the guys who don’t want to invest in a bunch of throttles for every one of 10 or 12 guys that come to operating sessions on their layouts.   It seems that smartphones are more prolific every day.  So this might work out for guys that operate regularly.


The second application is in running.   A colleague recently demonstrated the MapMyRun.com application to me.   The app tracks your distance and pace by using built-in GPS.   It also has  a neat little feature that allows you to run out into an unfamiliar area.  When you are ready to turn around, it helps you get back to where you started.   Handy for those that want to put their long runs in when traveling in unfamiliar territory.  Of course the runs can be recorded on the user’s account on the MapMyRun.com website.

The GPS piece is a nice feature to have, but I live in residential area that is very close to some very neat and very dimensional mile roads.  It is easy for me to count miles without the aid of GPS.   Of course I am in the dark when it comes to speed and pace  but I wear a heart monitor, which probably is more important than pace anyway.  And my Polar RS300 does keep track of mile splits, so I know instantly at the end of mile, or within the mile where I’m at.

One big drawback I’ve heard from other runners about any GPS-enabled running aide-type device is that they are very hard on batteries.   I’d hate to miss a call because I’ve been on a run and I have a low battery b/c I forgot to charge my phone the night before!


Same as running above, but substitute MapMyRide.com for MapMyRun.com.


I don’t really have time for some of the other stuff a smartphone offers, nor do I welcome the added expense.  And to think of running with an expensive phone tied to my arm isn’t exactly enticing either.  So for now, I’ll wait to see what else develops in the market.  It will be fun to find out what my wife thinks of her phone.