Written By Tom Foulkrod.

Posted on February 20th, 2017.

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I still have a flip phone (shocking, I know!). For what I need, it gets the job done. But lately even I’ve realized my flip phone has limits. I hate to admit it, but smartphones do have some advantages for those who spend time in the woods.

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The first time I held a cell phone was in 2006. That’s pretty late for my generation. My work provided it for safety reasons. For someone who often wanders alone through remote hills and woods, I enjoy having that safety net.

That said, if it weren’t such a safety issue, I’d return to not having a cell phone. My life doesn’t happen that fast. And as outdoorsy as I like to be, even I’m not immune to the fascination of staring into my palm at that glowing screen.

I still have a flip phone (shocking, I know!). It’s rugged and water resistant (though its designers don’t advertise it that way). For what I need, it gets the job done.

But lately even I’ve realized my flip phone has limits. Folks have sent me pictures of projects they’ve done on their land, suspicious-looking insects they’ve found, or galleries bored into cuts of wood. On my phone’s tiny screen I often ask, “What am I looking at? Is there something specific I’m supposed to notice?” The image they took on their fancy phone is clear, but my flip phone just can’t handle it.

That’s what I’ve taken to calling smartphones, by the way. I coined the term “fancy phones” in frustration after being corrected over and over (with increasing scorn) by my six-year-old nephew for using the term “smartphone.” “It’s an iPhone,” he would say.

Fancy phones have some other advantages for those who spend time in the woods. Among those exponentially increasing smartphone apps, there are a few that can do some amazing things. We’ve linked to a few free ones in various MyWoodlot activities, among them:

  • Leaf Snap – Photograph a leaf, and your phone tells you what kind of tree you’re looking at.
  • Merlin – This app from Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology just might replace your birding field guide. Answer a few questions, and it suggests possible birds you may have seen. It also allows you to play back calls to compare them to those you hear in the field. That’s a big improvement over my current method—using my tin ear to try to memorize the call until I can return home to my Peterson Birding by Ear cassette tapes.
  • Star Chart – Point the phone at the night sky, and it tells you which stars and planets you’re looking at. Pretty cool for those dark nights out here.

So whether you like fancy phones or not (I’m in the “not”), you have to concede they have some compelling advantages—even for an outdoorsman like myself. Yes, my curiosity has definitely been aroused…but no thank you for now.


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