If you’ve come here looking for the best compass app for iPhone, you probably already know the built-in compass app isn’t all that great. It will most certainly tell you which direction you’re facing and it can switch between true north and magnetic north, but you’re not going to get much else out of it. If you’re looking for something a little more powerful, allow us to recommend Spyglass.
Spyglass is of the jack-of-all-trades school of compass apps. It gives you the direction in every way it can, and it does so very, very well—assuming you have a device with a magnetometer equipped. Those include the 4th generation iPod Touch 4, the iPhone 3GS, 4 and 4s, and all the current iPad models. Assuming you have one of those devices, you’re set to start working with Spyglass.
The app’s big gimmick is that it can overlay the compass over a live image from your device’s camera. If you’re out and about and don’t want to trip while navigating, this could certainly be good. It might also come in handy when you need to compute elevations. Otherwise it’s may be something you want to disable—it will drain the battery faster.
For the layman, the best feature of this compass app is probably the simple location tagging. Spyglass will give you all the same info the built in compass does, but it will also point you where you want to go. Simply choose your destination on the built-in map and you’ll have an arrow pointing your way no matter how turned around you get. Or go deeper and define your destinations by bearing, latitude, longitude, altitude or MGRS (Military Grid Reference System). You can also define a star to follow or choose one from a catalog. It won’t be easy to get lost as long as you have access to GPS—if you want to pick a location on the map, though, you’ll need Internet access.
If you’re looking for more complex information, Spyglass really starts to shine. You can, of course, choose between magnetic and true north, and show the magnetic declination. You can also show the current date and time, and track the Sun, Moon and Polaris by default. If you’re looking for serious precision, you can enable precise scales to refine the information you’re given. Metric units are optional, as are nautical miles and milspec units. Though you can tone it down to your liking, Spyglass is capable of pumping out a huge volume of information.
Then there’s the actual compass setup. The app includes a number of color options, so you can set it up to be visible in whatever situation you face. You can turn the needle or the compass. You can choose the gyroscope or not. You can even enable car mode, which uses course instead of bearing. The settings get downright granular.
There are simpler compass apps out there, and a handful that are more complex. Spyglass does a great job of giving you as little information or as much information as you need, though, and that’s a big advantage. It helps that it looks quite nice in the process, focusing as it does on clean information layout and not skeuomorphic design.
If the price is off-putting, you’re in luck. If you’re willing to give up the augmented reality features and color options, Commander Compass Lite is otherwise identical. It’s by the same developer and includes most of the same features for free. Spyglass has a leg up on it, but either way you decide to go you can rest assured you’re using the best compass app that’s currently on the market.