In my continued search for usable iPhone apps for outdoor pursuits, my first foray into GPS apps for iPhone took me to MotionX. At the time, it was featured in the iTunes store, so it was an easy choice (I am a lemming, I guess). After using it for a few weeks, I really like how easy it is to use, but it doesn’t come without a few drawbacks.

Highlights of MotionX GPS iPhone App:

  • GPS (well, obviously!)
  • Activity tracking with pause function
  • Waypoint storage via photos or marker
  • Activity types
  • Integrated iPod interface so you don’t have to exit MotionX
  • Map view or track view
  • Compass
  • Altitude tracking
  • Speed/distance
  • Save tracks with all supporting data
  • Import maps for trips without data coverage
  • Share tracks via Facebook or Twitter
  • Automatic waypoint sharing for route-following
  • Waypoint ETA feature
  • Version Tested: 9.4
  • Price: $2.99 in iTunes store (price subject to change)

MotionX iPhone GPS App Review

I’ve used MotionX on a handful of activities from trail running to backcountry skiing and have been impressed with the GPS lock-on speed and the simplicity of the application. It’s very easy to start an activity and store the details and at the end, share that activity with your friends on Facebook or Twitter.

At first, I thought running with my iPhone would be odd, but I’ve found several jackets and fleece tops in my closet that have the perfect pocket for the iPhone. The best one of the bunch is the Go-Lite Vermillion Thermal Fleece which has a perfectly-sized hip pocket for the iPhone. For other activities, I’ve stashed it in my cargo pocket of my ski pants or in a chest pocket of a lightweight jacket.

In all cases, the GPS fix has continued to be superb inside these pockets though an armband for summer activities will be a necessity.

I really like the Facebook and Twitter integration where I can share (and store, essentially) my activity in my Facebook account. The data displayed in Facebook is as follows with a link to the activity map in Google Maps:

The application has been very solid thus far with no present bugs. Response time seems solid as the app is snappy to switch modes and locking onto GPS fixes. The biggest drawback thus far has been the drain on the battery. I don’t know how anyone can report using this for more than 2-3 hours at a time without a solar charger or maybe the Mountain Hardwear Refugium Jacket, but I’ve not been able to get more than that. Just sitting here writing this, my battery has been drained by 1/4 in only 20 minutes (I have a two-month old iPhone 3GS 16GB model).

Version 10.1 Update (4/12/10)

Version 10.1 of MotionX just came out, so I went out to give it a whirl today (view my track). The updates are not all that great, in my opinion. What was one of the most “techy” applications is still very “techy” looking and even less intuitive than before. For example, viewing the details of a track… seems like a simple enough task, right? Well this bloke couldn’t figure it out. You see the view track screen doesn’t show much in one screenful, so the bottom section scrolls up/down (ah ha). Yeah, that took me a few minutes of frustration to figure that one out. So, in place of intuitive arrows (see above) in the older version, you now have to intuitively know that you scroll up and down using the third screen section (see below).

Here’s the track view showing two different tile options. The four available states are: time/distance (shown), elevation profile (shown), pace and ascent/descent.

The new update is a mixed bag, to be honest. Compared to some of the other activity tracking GPS apps, this one isn’t my first choice. I’d go with either OutFront or AllSportGPS for tracking outdoor fitness events (mountain biking, trail running, snowshoeing, etc.).

Good MotionX

  • Quick, accurate GPS
  • Easy waypoint storage via photo
  • Cheaply-priced with free upgrades
  • Track storage is intuitive
  • Ability to upload maps for offline navigation
  • Email sharing for mid-activity status updates (great for keeping the wifey updated)
  • GPS fix is maintained in pockets
  • Integrated iPod within MotionX

Bad MotionX

  • Drains the battery like you wouldn’t believe
  • Sharing message should be editable upon each share
  • Interface could be simpler instead of mimicking some overbuilt GPS device
  • Version 10.1 update doesn’t make it any more usable and, in fact, makes things a bit clunkier
  • No single overview screen with map and workout details… ya gotta scroll and switch views to see it all

Bottom Line: MotionX GPS for iPhone

This app is easy-to-use and is really fun on the trail. While that fun may wear off over time, it’s still a great little tool to have for tracking activities in real-time and having a ton of data at your fingertips. It is a major battery hog though, so keep that in mind.

More Info: Download MotionX in the iTunes Store

About Author

A Seattle native, Jason developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 --sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.


  1. I’ve used MotionX for about 1 year now and have found it quite powerful for an iPhone app … almost as feature rich as my dedicated Garmin GPS … but would have to disagree about maintaining GPS lock while on the trails. I usually have my iPhone in a chest pocket on my jacket where the antenna *should* be well positioned for satellite reception. I find a lot of drop-outs when on trails with dense foliage or other obstructions. I’m using an iPhone 3G … might be better with some of the improvements on the 3Gs.

    Great app for the price, but it won’t replace a dedicated GPS until they can resolve the battery life and the reception issues.

  2. Martin… thanks for your input. The GPS lock is primarily a hardware issue and yes the 3Gs does have a superior GPS chip in it. But, I will say this… my testing has been in the Winter months with little-to-no foilage interference. I think it’s going to be as good as any iPhone GPS app as far as that goes.

    I’ve since used several other GPS apps and noticed that MotionX just released a new version that I have yet to try. So far, I really like OutFront by Really cool tool and less “techy” looking than MotionX.

  3. Looks like a really nice interface.

    Shame they can’t setup some sort of polling system so it simply turns on GPS to get a reading every 5 minutes or so and then turns it off again.

    It could join the dots to still provide you with a semi accurate trail map. Although, I’m not sure if that would actually save any battery power or not.

  4. Just to comment on the 3GS – there is no improvement in reception! I tried using this app last weekend during a backcountry hike through a canyon. The canyon wasn’t incredibly narrow, but I never could get a lock. Think I am going to spring for a Garmin just to be on the safe side….

  5. Hi all,
    Planning to use the Iphone4 with the MotionX GPS as a back up GPS on my boat, but I only have a 200MB monthly data plan. How much bandwidth does it uses for a 6 hrs boat tour?



  6. Turn 3G off and turn your screen off as soon as you have activated the App. Battery life will last 8 to 10 hours. No problem (also turn off Blue Tooth)

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