Note: This is an inside out review of the Vertical-Life App 2.0. As a thank you for reading through, you will find a free Topo code of an area in South Tyrol – Italy, in the content.
The Zlagboard inventors from Bozen released last Winter an update for the Vertical-Life climbing App with a big redesign and a handful new features. Sport climbers and boulderers (!) can now be excited about an 2.0 App version that lists many major sport climbing and boulder areas in Europe, neatly kept in your Smartphone. A digital library to take along during your trips.
You could see the App as an extension of the printed guidebook. It takes a little getting used to, but once you’ve played around with it, you could actually leave many heavy prints (< 1 kg) at home. Old school climbers might still prefer to have a book in their hands.
To ensure a good quality of the information provided, Vertical-Life has teamed up with leading authors of climbing guidebooks. Why reinvent the wheel, when it is there already. Major climbing destinations like Finale Ligure, Kalymnos, Arco or even Asturias are already some of the main content of this App. At the same time, it is a chance for these climbing authors to expand their source of finance – important for the upkeep of old areas, and bolting of new ones. So yes, the App serves a “fair” purpose too.
Do you really need a digital App?
You don’t, but you can have one. It makes life a little easier and lighter. It saves on trees. It’s not a great help when your Smartphone display is tiny, but with a 4.7″ display, the App can help you get through the logistics. One of the best examples I experienced was during our last big road trip to Asturias. We made a stopover in Ariege in the French Pyrenees, and got through 14 days of extensive climbing with the help of a digital App. If you’re interested in just a certain crag or region, purchase just that and not the whole guide-book. With an App, that’s possible.
Partnerships with major Alpine Clubs and online climbing community portals all confirms that the concept of Vertical-Life is on the right track. The future is paved for the next generation.
What else does it do other than viewing Topos?
It has become more social. You can follow your favorite climbing friends, and challenge them. The Zlagfeed shows now real time Zlags from other climbers. You can “tick” off your projects and watch your stats grow (or shrink).
You can also find and follow the “local hero” of the area (what a name!). The hero is someone who has been often to the crag, and climbed x% of the routes there. Once discovered, you can see a graphic and the routes climbed. You can choose to follow this climber, to spy and adore him/her closely.
Bouldering areas are new on the App. As a part-time boulderer, I found this really great. I could browse through some of the areas that could be of interest, and if it gets serious, I could purchase them immediately. First hand information of climbing grades and the amount of routes, a description of the crag / boulder gives me enough information to get an impression to know if the boulder area / crag is right for me. Nothing simpler than that.
The new search feature allows you to search and filter for a certain crag. So say if you’re looking for shady crags in the Arco region, tap this and you’ll get a list of crags, with the grade you’ll want to climb. You could also look for crags that are nearest to you, when you enable the gps locator on your phone.
Nice to haves
It’s very positive to see how the company works closely to the Feedback of its users. Usability feedbacks has been taken into consideration and they ironed some issues out quickly. Updates are carried out frequently. I still do have a few points to contribute.
- While looking at a hero’s profile, I found it nice if the route he climbed is linked to the topo. Right now, if I would also be interested to try out the route he red pointed, I would have to search for this route on another level again. Forgetful as I am, I often can’t remember the name of the route or the crag and will have to keep on switching to and fro.
- A stronger visual integration of the feedback or comment from users to be visible when anyone checks out a certain route. In that way, you will get the advantage to be informed of any updates or news e.g. “Beware beehive nest after the 4th bolt.” or “one grade harder after hold broken at 2. bolt” in the App. This is at present only available in the desktop version.
- Topos should be designed to make full use of the smartphone screen resolution. A great asset for the old and strong, weak eyesight and big fat fingers. Too much jiggling of the topo in the display causes headaches. (You can zoom only to a certain extent before it jumps back – Iphone specific)
- There are 2 search functions on the App. It’s a bit confusing to know which does what, and you might not discover the powerful search function on the other navigation level. Maybe give it another name?
- I missed having a complete overview map of available crags in the region. Like say if I’ve never been to Spain before, I’d like to know where the areas are, before planning my climbing vacation. With this extra, a book will be really not any more be essential.
- At the backend: If there would be a way to separate personal data and topo information, I would welcome a function if the topos stay put on the phone once you’ve downloaded them. I have suffered hiccups before, when I opened the app and everything I uploaded was gone . Of course it had to happen while I was out of the country.
- Smaller issues like “change email” in the user account would be great. That could reduce work pressure and hassles on the support team for the future. With information dear to you after keeping a diary for months, it would be a shame to lose it all just because you’ve changed your email address and forgot your password.
- Heavier data usage while using mobile network. While it’s not a problem within a WiFi premises, there’s a few things to take notice of while moving around on mobile network: The App has gone a little heavier since it’s release in December. We’re maybe talking about some MB, loading each single picture that you won’t need (while you’re on limited mobile network) can sum up to a “end-of-life-hell-my-data-limit-is-gone-what-am-I-going-to-do” situation on the go. There were times when the App started loading stuff that’s not transparent and that got me pretty worried that it would suck up all my mobile allowance. The old version showed you what it was doing. I once did try measure what it took to load the App, and 4MB showed until it started. However, I can’t confirm this as I did not measure a second time.
Some tips during travels:
- What you shouldn’t do: Logging out of your account after downloading all the topos you need. This is a critical task to do while you’re abroad and using mobile data. The App deletes all information after logging out due to privacy issues. While it’s not a problem to download everything again after logging in (within a few minutes, depending on your bandwidth), you will definitely need a stable WiFi connection and expect some heavy data load. So it’s best to get everything you need while you still have wi-fi, and go. (you can close the app, just don’t log out.)
- If you leave the option “mobile data” on while you’re out of the country, you will notice that your smart phone is collecting tiny bits of data every now and then, even though you don’t have a valid roaming connection. If you open the App at this moment, it takes almost up to 2 mins until the App realises you’re not retrieving any data from the internet, before it’s fully functional. Best is, switch off that option before you open the App for a faster reaction. (tested with an Iphone)
The way to discover and climb outdoors is now much easier than it was before. 20 years ago we were dependant on topos drawn on pieces of paper, or by word of mouth. Today, you have everything within an App that gives you quickly a first hand info of the area you are interested in, without having to buy the whole horse or waiting for the book to arrive from the book store. Once you’re serious, get it – online, immediately.
Sexy, colourful and more social. The App 2.0 has seen plenty of improvements with this update. The Vertical-Life App has become extremely attractive, it offers you a wide range of destinations in EUROPE available in one single Application.