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Memory-Map TX4 Android GPS

When you have been waiting for a rugged and waterproof Android phone for years, two come along at once. In the summer of 2014 Memory-Map released its TX3 phone / GPS device, available as a standalone phone but more usefully bundled with its mobile navigation app and Ordnance Survey mapping. We reviewed the phone at the time and have been giving it a good workout ever since, not always in the kindliest of conditions. It’s a perfectly decent piece of kit which ‘does what it says on the tin’, although we did have some niggles from the start.

What were they? Well, we were somewhat unkeen on the thee year old Android operating system which may mean that some newer apps won’t run; the deep recess for the charging socket doesn’t allow room for some micro-USB charging cables; it’s quite weighty and a bit slippery in the hand; and the screen isn’t super sharp. That said, it’s not a particularly expensive phone and it remains perfectly servicable. Memory-Map continue to stock it with some attractively priced bundles and for some people it will do the job.

Memory-Map’s newer addition, the TX4, addresses those niggles and gives some extra performance on top. It’s based on a phone made by UK manufacturer Toughphone, who market it under the very rugged and rather military sounding name ‘Defender’. You can buy the Defender as a standalone device from other sources but you will pay much the same as from Memory-Map and you will miss out on the app and map bundles that make it better value. The Memory-Map TX4 also comes with a micro-SD card, which will save you a few quid. Overall you will pay about £80 more for a TX4 than the TX3.

For a start the phone has a right up to date Android OS. Whether this is always a good thing from a usability point of view could be questioned – some things seem to get more complicated with new software releases and facilities you have got used to mysteriously disappear. But overall the interface is straightfoward and, most importantly, it hasn’t been customised. The start-up routine is a bit over the top and features an embarassingly loud clap of thunder (we haven’t yet found a way of turning the sound off). The trick is to never turn the phone off, except when flying or at the theatre, maybe.

The phone is slightly heavier than the TX3, although because it has a comfortable rubberised casing and is bigger overall, it actually feels lighter. It is much more difficult to drop. The screen is bigger too, a proper 4” which is beautifully sharp. Side by side with the TX3 OS maps display in brighter colours and with more contrast on the TX4, making them easier to read in all conditions. The screen is just about big enough to use as a mini-tablet, so most websites are readable providing you have good eyesight or a pair of reading glasses. If anything the touchscreen is a tad over-sensitive, responding the the lightest of taps, so you can find yourself entering menus when you meant to scroll. But that is probably better than a sluggish response which could be frustrating out in the outdoors.

The GPS receiver appears to be quick and accurate. The device finds its location, even when you have travelled hundreds of miles since last using it, much more quickly than the TX3, which was relatively sluggish in this respect. As when testing the TX3 we installed the free to download Chartcross GPS Test app, which gives a visual display of the satellites it is receiving and an indication of its accuracy (as well as a nice big readout of the OS grid reference).

Like the TX3 the TX4 has two SIM card sockets, so you can use it with two separate mobile phone accounts. Many will find it too bulky to use as their standard mobile phone, but no doubt it will find favour with those who work permanently outdoors, and for them to have the option of a work and personal number could be beneficial. It is very simple to turn SIM cards on and off, so you can be ‘out of the office’ very easily. Even if you have a separate phone for day to day use you might consider getting a Pay As You Go card for your TX3 or TX4, perhaps on a different network from your other phone to provide greater chance of a signal while in remote areas.

As for charging the mini-USB socket sits behind a rubber flap that lifts out of the way easily. The recess is much wider than on the TX3 and has taken all the connectors that we have tried. This is surprisingly welcome; having to be careful to take the right leads for the TX3 has proved to be a cause of frustration. Now that most devices – iPhones and iPads excepted – have the same universal connector you really do want them to work in every device you have.

The TX4 has other features that some may find interesting. With the addition of a supplied aerial and an app it turns into a private ‘push-to-talk’ radio. To use that, of course, you need someone else with the same type of radio – which we don’t have, so we haven’t tried that particular function. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t work fine and again might be useful in some work or group environments.

The TX4 boasts an 8 megapixel camera which sounds quite impressive. Actual image quality is, of course, limited by the quality of the lens so whether you are getting much from all those pixels is open to debate. The pictures we have taken are perfectly adequate, certainly considerably better than those from the TX3. You wouldn’t want to publish them in a book but they are good enough for viewing on screen or uploading to Facebook. Keen photographers will definitely want to carry a dedicated camera but on the grounds that the best camera in any situation is the one you have in your hand, this one does the job.

The question then is whether the TX4 really is a game-changer in the world of GPS. Well, yes, in many senses it is. It’s an up-to-date Android smartphone that really does match up to dedicated devices from the likes of Garmin, in terms of screen size, feel in the hand, waterproofing and ruggedness.

On the plus side it’s an open system, so you are not restricted to using it with Memory-Map software. There will be plenty of GPS-using apps that you will be able to run on it, for instance for geo-cacheing. On the downside the inability to carry spare batteries to install in an emergency remains. It would be good idea to get a battery recharger which allows you to recharge the phone ‘on the hill’. If you are out for the whole day it would be wise to keep it topped up, perhaps remembering to put it on to charge when having lunch. That said, battery life is decent, even when using it in anger as a GPS.

All in all the TX4 is a good buy. It works well as a GPS and you may find it doubles as a useful mobile phone, whether as your main one or for emergency calls when in the outdoors. Bundled with OS mapping from Memory-Map you get what we consider to be the easiest to use mapping application on the market, to go on your PC, tablet or second mobile phone, at no extra cost. You can install Memory-Map and use the OS mapping on up to five devices (so the TX4 and four others). This makes it an excellent overall solution for planning and following your walks. We like it a lot.

David Stewart