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Paperless sketching gear, both rugged and precise


New member
I just returned from our annual basic surveying course here in Poland.

The last thing we do on this courses is some paperless sketching. The previous six times we gathered all legacy WM PDAs we could from all around the country and did this part of the training on PocketTopo. But since it was becoming more and more difficult to source enough devices, this year we gave up and let people draw on their smartphones.

Now I am somewhat depressed after this Sunday afternoon. It turned out that it's not just my phone and my being accustomed to these good old resistive screens - but that generally drawing on this modern glass leaves much to be desired. With a rubber ?0.50 stylus, no-one could get even close to the quality we used to get on a 240x320 screen of a long discontinued Dell Axim X51.

I bought a so-called "active stylus" for ?50, it works somewhat better but still worse than a chopstick treated with a pencil sharpener (applied to a resistive screen). Besides, it seems a delicate piece of electronics and I really can't imagine using it in our Alpine projects (on rope and in mud-covered gloves etc.). Same goes for Galaxy Note styli. We also noticed that some cheaper devices (eg a particular lenovo tablet) perform ugly no matter what kind of finger or stylus is used: something hoped to be a straight line becomes a zig-zag anyway...

Anyway, I am writing not to complain but in hope to learn from others' experiences. Can you guys debating here on Sony Z-series phones and other fancy equipment that can be ruggedized tell us your newest tricks and share your results?

These modern devices cost significantly more and I would love to know what is actually possible before buying a phone, case and a stylus for a total of ?200+. Maybe my expectations are too high and I have to go back to paper and pencil...

To start with, this is what we used to get with a rugged Fujitsu-Siemens PDA (480x640). Obviously it's not a beginner's work: http://jaskinie.jaszczur.org/im/yes-you-can.png



Well-known member
Mateusz, i use a Samsung Note 4, with the active Note Stylus. I buy the stylii cheap on eBay (~?5), eg

I generally have one tied to the device on a short cord, and one "installed" inside the device as a spare. They seem very robust, and give as much tactility as the sharp pointers the original PDAs used.

I carry my Note 4 in a ?20 plastic housing, more for rubust-ness than waterproof-ness. Although full IP68 housings are available.

Not sure of any problem with this setup, other than the device cost (~?120 secondhand).


New member
This probably won't work for everyone, but, I use a wireless mouse in a plastic bag.

I'm using Topodroid on a cheap Amazon Fire 7. The android os recognises the wireless dongle and hey presto a moving pointer on the screen. Allows for very precise drawing, and line editing too.
The Amazon Fire is in a water proof envelope, the mouse and very small mouse mat is in another bag, wirelessly chattering.
No moving parts in mud. Screen stays cleaner. But the mouse bag does rustle a bit.

Not all Android OS's will happily recognise a mouse...


On expedition we have been using a number of Nexus 7 (1st Gen) tablets with a 7" screen.  These can be picked up for around ?25-35 on ebay.  It can be pretty slow if upgraded to the latest android version, but if I just run topodroid and not much else on it, it works fine.

They are housed in Otterbox Defenders. Around ?10-?20 each (but now difficult to source)

Also then housed in a waterproof bag (?5 on ebay).

The point type stylus' won't work on this device but the big rubber ones do.

Picture attached



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New member
from my side, i'm using Trimble Juno SB, till now it's doing the Job, but it start getting old, i have some good feedback for Samsung Note 4, i will miss the PocketTopo on WM if i move to android  :confused:



New member
Thanks for your feedback. I think I'll give the Note a try. I overlooked the fact that the replacement Note styli are so cheap!



Active member
I have just got me an S60 as I had to replace my phone. One of the things I was thinking of doing with it due to it being waterproof and dustproof is paperless surveying. Has anyone had any experience of using that, though I guess its a little more expensive than the note stylus, so I would be less willing to risk breaking my new phone.


New member
I use Samsung note 2 with Otterbox e peli case 1040.
But I have troubles with Topodroid because I cannot hide splays in any station
Does anyone get same problem?


New member
Happy with a Note 4, and Topodroid is nice to use.  Big problem for me is that it's Therion based and I have trouble working it through the same process i use with Pocket Topo i.e. the Cave Converter, Survex and Illustrator route.

Dell Axim and Pocket Topo isn't as smooth to use but the programme seems compatible with more software packages.

Anyone else - Eldon Rob - have any problems with Topodroid?


Well-known member
Cassidy said:
...Big problem for me is that it's Therion based and I have trouble working it through the same process i use with Pocket Topo i.e. the Cave Converter, Survex and Illustrator route....

Have you discovered the "Export" feature, accessed by a long click on the survey file?

It is MUCH more powerful than PocketTopo...


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New member
bumble said:
This probably won't work for everyone, but, I use a wireless mouse in a plastic bag.

This is an interesting idea, but I'm struggling to imagine how you might physically do it. How do you look at the phone/tablet and operate a mouse-in-a-bag at the same time? (without taking a handy table with you)
Do you have some kind of board/prop/clip to hold the phone and mousepad up in one hand?