Feature – Parcel tracking with just your smartphone

A short while ago we detailed our new challenge. It seemed simple enough, but we immediately hit problems. The challenge was to put a smartphone in a box and send it to a destination whilst tracking it. It didn’t seem like a big ask, but sadly the battery technology we all battle with daily didn’t seem to perform for us.

Luckily the sending of the parcel was easy enough. More on that in a short while. First though, the kit we used. The phone itself was a HTC Desire. It’s a little worse for wear and has a cracked screen, but I added a brand new battery and a portable battery charger too. That charger is basically just a large battery which charges the phone.


On the phone I installed Real Time GPS Tracker so that I could, in theory, watch my phone travel around the country in the back of a van. This, when combined with MyTracks, should mean that I could see the location live and, when the phone arrives, the exact trace of the journey.

Getting the parcel sent was surprisingly easy. Sadly, with my local Post Office closing recently, it’s become a bit of a pain to get parcels sent, so I used a website called Parcel2Go. It’s simple enough. I just needed to add the dimensions and weight of my parcel, plus the collection and destination address, and I’d get an instant quote on how much this was all going to cost me.

Feature   Parcel tracking with just your smartphone

The rise and rise of internet shopping has meant that there’s a number of parcel companies offering a range of options. Some give you the ability to drop off a parcel at a local shop, whilst others come and collect it from your door. You then pay a bit more for a faster delivery time and, although you’ll have to add on the VAT to all these prices, they all seemed fairly reasonable to me.

Feature   Parcel tracking with just your smartphone

Once you’ve bought the service you want (and they took PayPal too, which was good), they then give you a sheet to print off which has the destination address and all sorts of clever barcodes so that the parcel company don’t lose the thing, which is always a bonus. We stuck this onto the jiffy-bag containing the phone and waited for the courier to arrive.

Feature   Parcel tracking with just your smartphone

Yes, you may have noticed our advanced and very professional method of keeping the additional battery and phone together there. Two elastic bands were used to ensure that the charging cable remained plugged in and that the portable charger didn’t simply drag the phone around. It seemed to work quite well in testing.

When the courier arrived to collect the parcel I quickly started the Real Time GPS tracker software and taped it all together. I immediately logged into the online portal and watched the parcel moving along. I worked very well indeed and I monitored it until it arrived into an industrial estate in Cannock. There, it stopped. I waited for it to move again but figured it was in a depot for the night, so checked it the next morning.

Feature   Parcel tracking with just your smartphone

Sadly, the next morning, it still hadn’t moved. Amazingly, even though it was in Cannock, it somehow arrived at the destination in Scotland.

We quickly found out that the additional battery had come loose, so the return journey involved a lot more packaging and a box instead of a jiffy bag that we’d originally used. We also decided not to do live tracking, and just to use MyTracks to plot out the journey.

Sadly, the outcome was the same. The parcel was tracked as it travelled across Scotland but, at the depot, the constant GPS use drained both the phone battery and the additional portable charging unit.

Feature   Parcel tracking with just your smartphone

The MyTracks app, when used on your phone, lets you fly over the journey. The app can export the trail into Google Earth and looks fantastic, but here we’ve simply stuck it into Google Maps. You can then drag the Street View peg man onto the track and see the beautiful scenery that the courier drove past along..

Feature   Parcel tracking with just your smartphone

It wasn’t a total failure though. I did track the parcel, but in the end I used the Parcel2Go tracking system to find out where the package was. Sure, it’s not quite as accurate, but it was more reliable and didn’t involve the battery-life problem. Yes, batteries. Despite using a brand-new battery and a battery pack, the constant GPS use simply sucked the life out of the batteries all too quickly. It’s something that I’ve seen more and more recently, especially when using sports-tracking apps when I’m cycling around. If you’re going for a long ride, which I’m starting to do, you have to ensure that the phone is fully charged as the GPS usage works that battery harder than the hills I’m cycling up.

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  • Simon Allum

    Couldn’t agree more. Gps is a nightmare on battery drain, fine if you are in a car with a charger but on a bike or on foot you can kiss your battery goodbye!

  • Jamie Wright

    I’ve been hunting around my house for my old bluetooth GPS receiver in the hope that it will work with the phone and improve the battery life situation. Not found it yet though – irony!

  • Martin

    Bluetooth is a drain on the battery too though? Or does it use less than the GPS?