Smartphone data considerations when using iNaturalist abroad

I live in the US and am traveling to Spain and Europe. I plan to use iNaturalist in my travels but curious about smartphone data considerations and wonder if anyone has any insight or experience? From what I gather, if I want to continue to take advantage of my iPhone’s location services, then I’ll have to purchase an international data plan to avoid exorbitant rates (ATT is my service provider). I just wanted to pose it to the community in case there may be other tricks I may not know about and should look into.

I don’t know how US plans work not living there, but do you get data charged if you put the phone in airplane mode and rely on the internal GPS for positioning?

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You should be able to select “use GPS only”, which does not use data. I only use WiFi data on my phone. So my workflow is to take photos, edit photos, go to a WiFi hotspot, browse, select, and share photos with iNaturalist, selecting taxons as I go. Then upload observations. It uses zero data on my phone.

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That’s something I’m curious about. I just assumed that if it’s in airplane mode, then that would disable the GPS. Is that not the case?

Even if it is, I’m sure I’ll need to double check with my provider to make sure I’m not getting charged for GPS usage?

No airplane mode,at least on an android, I assume also on an iPhone does not disable the internal gps. It still works just fine, and the mobile app works fine in that config. It is a touch slower, but it works fine. You can test it now if you wish

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Excllent–great to know! Is that something that should be the case no matter what my service provider is?

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It should be the case. GPS doesn’t use cell data. My phone has device only(gps), battery saver(WiFi and data service), and high accuracy(both) under location services.

My phone is a pay as you go phone.(TracFone) I actually have mobile data turned off on it so that I don’t accidently use data. I toggle it when I want to use data. Works great except for when I initially started iNat and location service was set to battery saver. The location would be the last open WiFi source I had passed while driving. :)

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If you take photos within the app (rather than in a separate camera app and the importing into iNat) you can turn off Auto Upload (I believe I beat @charlie to this!) and the observation will save in the app but not upload right away. You can wait until you’re on wifi and then manually upload the saved observations.

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GPS service is free to the world and independent of any cell service provider. The only cost is a receiving device, which virtually all smart phones are these days.

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In Europe if you buy a simcard in an EU-country you can use it in other EU-countries. Maybe some blogs will have answers for you what is the best option. https://www.theworldwasherefirst.com/best-international-sim-card-for-europe/

Inaturalist needs
a data connection to recognise species names. Other apps have build in species-lists and can be used offline. It would be nice if this was added to the iNaturalist app too. See this feature request: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/android-app-offline-species-list-to-add-ids-offline/2179/3

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only because i was at a field site :) But yeah, with auto upload off, as long as you don’t accidentally upload over the phone it will be fine. In fact many phones including my iphone let you turn off data roaming, then it won’t let you do it at all.

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Thanks all for the input. I should have taken @cmcheatle’s advice and just tested it. I just spoke to AT&T, my service provider, and they told me the GPS would not work if all data was disabled. After I got off the phone (iPhone 7) I…
-turned off Cellular Data
-turned on Airplane Mode
-turned off wifi
… then took this photo: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/32857946. Once I enabled wifi, I was able to upload the observation, coordinates and all, successfully. I guess the customer service representatives don’t always know their features in and out.

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gps provides the best coordinates outside in most cases, but i’m pretty sure you can also do cell tower triangulation even without a SIM card (or with SIM card but data disabled), as well as wi-fi positioning, as long as the respective antennae on your device are turned on. the non-gps positioning may be useful indoors or if you have a lot of tall buildings or such around you.

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If your provider is Sprint, you get global roaming for free (no extra cost for text or data usage w/i your existing plan limits). I used it with iNaturalist on 2 previous trips.

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I travel a lot overseas and use iNat in a wide variety of countries.

The easiest (and cheapest) way to do so is to buy a local SIM card with data.

It’'s what I do all the time and it has other advantages (maps, email, etc).

Just make sure your phone is a GSM phone (most iPhones are) and that it’s unlocked. If it’s still on a service contract you can call your provider, tell them you’ll be traveling abroad, and ask them to unlock it for you.

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Two quick thoughts. I could not get this website and another similar site (for language learning) to fully load in China. I had to take photos and add them in the USA. Second, my solution is to use a Chinese phone and SIM card in China, so there’s no problems with converters for power or AT&T’s $60 a month extra they wanted plus $3-4 per minute for each call on top of that. Outrageous, but so American! Economists call it “willingness to pay” which Americans have far too much of. After living in China for 27 weeks over four years, there are some things I’m simply no longer willing to buy, at least in the US. Need a pen in China? $0.34. In the US? $2-3 for the same pen!

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