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The convergence of electronic devices with functions of interest to backcountry travelers took a huge leap forward with the introduction of the iPhone. In one fell swoop on June 29, 2007, the iPhone heralded an exciting but cautiously optimistic path for multi-function electronic devices.

About one year later, the iPhone 3G was introduced. This was perhaps the most important evolution in smartphone hardware technology - the iPhone 3G offered fast processing, lots of memory, a high resolution color screen, improved battery life, and a quality camera.

Finally, the smartphone had evolved into a device that integrated global positioning system with detailed maps on a large color screen, a camera that could produce stunning imagery in the hands of the skilled, a library of reading for passing away the time on long winter nights or tent-bound storm days, and of course, communications (through a cellular network, when available) for SMS and voice calling, and social media connectivity.

With advances in ruggedized cases from the likes of Otterbox and Lifeproof, satellite communications connectivity (see Expedition Blogging, Part 1: A Satellite Phone-Based System), and external battery supplies for phone recharging, the smartphone-as-a-backcountry electronics device is coming to age rapidly.

The primary limitations in today's technology that are of the greatest interest to backcountry travelers are (1) the limited ability to use devices in extremely foul conditions (especially with gloves), (2) short battery life, and (3) the inability to connect directly to satellite networks without accessory hardware.

Satellite connectivity technology is evolving more rapidly than I can write these words, and while not quite ready for mass adoption (in terms of cost and consumer device availability), look for a generation of ruggedized smartphones to incorporate it for the consumer market within just a few years as satellite networks proceed through significant upgrades in speed and bandwidth.

Until then, we have the Sonim XP7.


  • Sonim XP7 Ultra-Rugged Smartphone
  • Features / Claimed Specs:
  • Glove Usability
  • Battery Life in Cold Temperatures
  • Operation in Cold Temperatures
  • Summary
  • Fenix HL22 Single-AA Headlamp
  • Casio Pathfinder PRG-270

# WORDS: 1700

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