Oh Ranger! ParkFinder guides you to public parkland

I often forget the amazing wealth of national parks, hiking trails and historic sites within easy access of my home. For instance, did you know there’s 260 sites within 100 miles of Brooklyn, NY? In fact, iPhone users can now find out for themselves just how many great outdoor sites are near their hometown using a great smartphone app called Oh Ranger! ParkFinder.

The American Park Network, a publishing company that creates visitor guides for national parks, is behind Oh Ranger, a searchable database of outdoor activities ranging from cycling to historical sites to camping to bird watching. In addition to their free web database, they’ve released Oh Ranger! ParkFinder for iPhone and iPad Touch, a fantastically useful mobile extension that makes it easy to track down your favorite activity at a park near you. Once you’ve downloaded the app, you can easily search for parks based on favorite activities, search for a specific park, or use your iPhone’s location to find sites nearby.

Whether you’re a die-hard outdoor lover or simply looking for some great weekend or daytrip getaways, Oh Ranger! Parkfinder is a nifty, convenient way to find it. You give it a try for free by downloading from the iTunes app store. Although there’s not yet an Android version of the app, the Oh Ranger website utilizes the same park database.

Gadling gear review: Stem Innovation Time Command Mini clock

I’ve always enjoyed having a collection of my music with me when I travel. It helps me to relax on a long flight, keeps me entertained while on the go, and is much appreciated when I’m passing the time in a hotel room. Thanks to MP3 players and smartphones, it is now easier than ever to carry our entire library of music with us wherever we go, and enjoying that music is made even easier with a compact alarm clock/speaker system such as the Time Command Mini from Stem Innovation.

Designed specifically for iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), the Time Command Mini is a very small and lightweight clock that has the potential to be a favorite amongst travelers. The device weighs just 9 ounces and measures less than five inches in diameter, which makes it easy to pack and take along with you when you hit the road. Better yet, it offers surprisingly great sound out of such a small package, filling a room with your favorite music with ease.

On it’s own, the Time Command Mini is a very basic alarm clock with limited functionality. As you would expect, it tells time and can wake you as needed, but other than that, it doesn’t do much else. It doesn’t even include a built in radio, which is a standard feature on the vast majority of alarm clocks these days. But when you plug an iOS device into the dock, located on top of the Mini, it can easily play music, podcasts, or streaming Internet audio, quickly making up for these shortcomings.Stem calls the Mini an “app enhanced” device, and that is a very accurate description. Installing the free Stem:Connect app, which can be downloaded directly from Apple’s App Store, unlocks the true potential of this clock, giving you control over a variety of settings, including display brightness, snooze interval, alarm volume, and so on. The app can also tell you at a glance what current weather conditions are and whether or not you have any alarms set. You can even select from a variety of alarm tones or choose to wake up to music from your personal collection.

But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. The Stem:Connect app also includes a variety of pre-set Internet radio stations to listen to, as well as a “sleep to audio” mode which gradually lowers the volume of your music over a pre-set time, while you drift off into blissful slumber. There are even a number of included natural relaxation sounds, such as ocean waves or summer rainstorms to help you rest easier.

Stem included a number of other nice features in the design of the Time Command Mini as well. For example, docking your iOS device automatically sets the time on the clock, making it a snap to adjust while traveling or for changes in Daylight Savings Time. As you would expect, the built in dock charges your phone or iPod as well, and has been designed to accommodate devices in a protective case too. This is especially handy for iPhone users who don’t want to remove their case just so they can charge their device.

While I appreciate what the Mini brings to the table, and think that it makes a great alarm clock for iPhone owners, especially with the app installed, it does have one large caveat for travelers to keep in mind. For me, a true travel alarm clock needs to have the option to run off batteries for those times when you are staying away from a power outlet. That isn’t an option with the Mini, for obvious reasons. A clock like this one, working in conjunction with an iPhone or iPod, would eat batteries very quickly, making it less than ideal for travel use. If you’re not the kind of traveler who strays very far from power outlets, than this won’t be an issue for you, but I thought it was worth mentioning none the less.

When paired with an iOS device running the Stem:Connect app, the Time Command Mini is a great little alarm clock that is both versatile and fun to use. The clock provides excellent sound and great options for listening to music or streaming audio, both at home or while traveling. The size is perfect for a nightstand or your suitcase, making this a great option for use just about anywhere. With an MSRP of $79.95, it is also surprisingly affordable when compared to other clocks that include an iPhone/iPod dock.

NORAD tracking Santa on your iPad and smartphone

As it has done every year for the past 56 years, NORAD is once again tracking Santa this holiday season. But for Christmas 2011, the military organization that watches the skies above North America, has added the ability to follow St. Nick’s progress on your iPhone, iPad, and Android devices as well.

The satellite tracking went live earlier today and has been following Santa’s sled as he’s made his annual rounds through the timezones where it is already Christmas Eve night. Even now, he is delivering presents to homes on the other side of the planet and spreading holiday cheer where ever he goes. You’ll be able to check in on his progress throughout the day today, and watch in anticipation as he nears your neighborhood as well.

Of course, many of us have full days of shopping ahead, not to mention gatherings with friends and families to attend, so we won’t always be close to our computers to track Santa ourselves. But never fear, as NORAD has released the NORAD Tracks Santa app, which is available in both the App Store for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, as well as the Android Market for the plethora of devices that run that mobile operating system. Through this app, you’ll not only be able to keep an eye on the Man in Red, you’ll also be able to play the amusing “Elf Toss” game too. If you’re old school, you can still track Santa in Google Earth too.

Be sure to add these apps to your device now. After all, you’ll definitely want to be home, and snugly tucked in your bed, when Santa comes to deliver your gifts tonight.

National Geographic releases Trail Maps app

Last week, National Geographic added yet another offering to their growing list of mobile apps available for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. The newest app, entitled Trail Maps, offers a host of options for navigating both urban and wilderness environments, while also remaining useful even when you wander outside of cell service coverage.

The app uses both topographical maps from the U.S. Geological Survey and high resolution satellite imagery provided by Microsoft Bing. The software comes pre-loaded with maps of Yellowstone National Park, and surrounding areas, but you can also download highly detailed maps of just about any other place in the lower 48 States, and add them to your library. The files are quite large – about 100 MB each – but having them installed on the device allows you to use the maps even while you have no data connection.

The amount of detail on the maps is highly impressive to say the least. The app allows you to quickly, and easily, zoom in and out using typical iOS gestures, such as pinching and double tapping. When zoomed out, you get a nice overview of the region the map covers, but as you slowly zoom in, more and more details emerge, right down to topographical lines for indicating slope and elevation. You’ll also find the locations of hundreds of landmarks, including campsites, rest areas, and even mountain peaks, or – in the case of Yellowstone – individual geysers. If the map you add to your device is for a city, you’ll find even more points of interest.

Of course, detailed maps aren’t the only thing that National Geographic brought to the table. The app also allows for live route tracking using your device’s built in GPS chip. It also provides detailed reports of your treks, both urban and wilderness, charting speed, altitude change, direction, distance and so on. There are also built in tools that allow you to measure distances on the maps, place waypoints, and even navigate by compass. In short, everything you need to find your way around just about any place in the U.S.If you already own an iOS devices, you probably know that there are a plethora of navigation apps available, including Apple’s very own Maps app that comes pre-installed. The Trail Maps app is specifically designed for hikers, backpackers, and campers however, giving them the option to download insanely detailed maps for use in the backcountry, where they are not likely to have any kind of data connection or cell service at all. That alone makes it unlike any other navigation tool in the App Store.

Over the past few days, I’ve had the opportunity to play with this app, and I’m quite impressed with the GPS tracking functionality and the level of detail on the maps. However, while those details are fantastic, I didn’t actually see any trails listed, which is surprising since the app is called “Trail Maps.” The maps are also confined to the 48 contiguous States at the moment as well, which means those wanting to go hiking in Hawaii or Alaska are out of luck. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but using the GPS also drains your battery rather quickly, which has the potential to be problematic while using the app in the wilderness. If you’re using Trail Maps while on an extended hike, you’ll need a way to charge your device while away from civilization.

Those shortcomings aside, the potential to have all those USGS topo maps on a portable device is pretty impressive for any hiker or backpacker. With a price tag of just $2.99, Trail Maps offers a lot of value for anyone in need of backcountry navigation.

National Parks app comes to the iPhone

Visitors to America’s national parks now have a new high tech option for learning more about those amazing places. Last week the National Parks Conservation Association released an app for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch that offers up a wealth of information on 50 of the most popular parks in the country, including Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite. (For a complete list of the parks covered click here.)

The app is completely free and provides information on the plants and animals that travelers can expect to find in the various parks, including the ones that are poisonous and dangerous, something this always helpful when you’re not sure if your about to step into poison ivy or not. You’ll also find comprehensive lists of threatened and endangered species, as well as a brief history of each of the parks, including great photos from each location as well.

But that’s not all. The app also allows you to find parks that are close to your current location and offers directions on how to get there. It includes information on making reservations at each park, directions on how to find the visitors center, and current news from the park system on featured parks as well.

The field guide app was developed in conjunction with eNature.com, a company with an extensive database of information focused on wildlife. That database has been created by top biologists, zoologists, and conservationists, and contains information on over 6000 different species. That information is now, quite literally, delivered to the fingertips of visitors to the national parks.

There is one caveat to using the app however, as a data network is required to download the information. The iPhone will work where cell service is available, although in more remote areas of the parks that can be spotty at best. iPod Touch and iPad users will need to use wifi, which is available in some visitor centers, to load up their maps and information ahead of time. Keep that in mind when relying on this app to help guide you through the parks.

To download the new app click here.

[Photo credit: NPCA]