Survey123, Collector and GeoForm (a quick comparison)

Blog Post created by ichivite-esristaff Employee on Sep 4, 2015

[Last updated April 12 ,2018]


A pretty common question, so we thought we would clarify this a bit. Lets start with a simple table:


Survey123 for ArcGIS
Collector for ArcGISGeoForm
Data collection styleForm CentricMap CentricForm Centric
Supports capturing new dataYes (points only!)

Yes (points, lines and polys)

Yes (points only!)
Supports editing existing dataYesYesNo
Smart formsYes (xForms)NoNo
Works offlineYesYesYes*
Supports external GNSS receiversNo (planned version 3.0)YesNo
Supports integration with SpikeYesNoNo
Supports anonymous accessYesNoYes

iOS, Android, Windows (7,8,10), Mac, Linux, Web

iOS, Android, Windows 10Web
Technical SupportEsri & CommunityEsri & CommunityEsri & Community


Lets get into the details:


  • Form centric vs Map centric: Survey123 for ArcGIS is a form centric data collection app. Just like GeoForms it is all about questions! With Survey123 and GeoForms you can certainly capture geographic information (points), but geo is just one more question in the questionnaire, and not the center of everything. That is why we call them form-centric.  Collector for ArcGIS is a map centric app: it opens maps that you can use to capture geographic information. Of course, with Collector you can also capture attributes associated with those features, but the map comes first and that is where the app excels.
  • Supports editing: Survey123 and Collector can edit existing features. This is critical for inspection workflows were a particular asset is visited again and again. GeoForm is just about capturing new data.
  • Smart Forms: Forms in Survey123 for ArcGIS can be quite sophisticated. In fact, if you need to convert a paper form into a digital one Survey123 brings the most features for you. Collector for ArcGIS and GeoForm allow you to edit attributes but the rules you can apply to a form are quite simple (choice lists and basic question types).  Skipping questions, applying expressions to pre-calculate and validate responses, presenting the form in different languages, capturing signatures are some of these unique smart form features in Survey123.  Survey123 uses the xForms specification to bring forms to life.
  • Offline: Survey123 and Collector can work while disconnected from the network and sync any changes when online. Offline capabilities are also supported in GeoForm, as long as you never close your browser.  The offline capabilities in GeoForm work reasonably well when you have spotty connectivity, but Survey123 and Collector are much more reliable for offline use.
  • Supports external GNSS receivers: While both Survey123 and Collector can take accurate locations from external GNSS receivers, only Collector can also take important metadata regarding the accuracy and type of fix from the GNSS antenna.  Collector is also designed to work in different datums, whereas Survey123 is limited to WGS84. 
  • Spike: Spike is a laser-measurement solution that helps you measure lengths and areas all from a photo. At this point in time only Survey123 supports tight integration with Spike.
  • Anonymous access: GeoForms, Survey123 and Collector all can use your ArcGIS identity (named user account) in order to secure access to your data. Using named users also helps with QA/QC workflows because ArcGIS will help you understand what  gets submitted by who and when. GeoForm and Survey123, can also be accessed anonymously.  This means that people without an ArcGIS identity can submit data with them.  This is particularly useful for crowd-sourcing scenarios. To learn more about using public surveys with Survey123 you can read Getting Started with Public Surveys 


Next lets move away from details and present some use cases:


  • Say you want to setup a quick crowd-sourcing exercise so anyone in the city can submit to you the location of stuff that interests you. That is a good fit for GeoForms and Survey123 Web Forms. Keep the questionnaire simple, make it available in the web so anyone can quickly fill it out and submit interesting observations to you.  Nothing to download, quick to setup.  
  • Say you want to capture assets out there in the field and you want people to be able to work while disconnected. Forget about GeoForms then, because working with it in true disconnected environments will get you on your nerves. You should consider Collector or Survey123. Your decision will be driven by whether your workflow is map centric or form centric. If this is all about maps, then you should go with Collector, but if you need complex forms a better choice will be Survey123.  Think about the following:
    • Damage Assessments: Typically a form with lots of questions capturing the location of the asset damaged. Most likely a form-centric workflow.
    • Population Census: Fairly sophisticated forms during enumeration: Go Survey123. Pre-enumeration workflows: go Collector.
    • Inspections: Inspection records are typically persisted in a table related to the asset you are inspecting.  This allows you to keep one feature for your asset, and then use a one to many relationship to keep track of inspections or activities on that asset over time. There are many inspection workflows where Collector is a great choice: You can look at all your assets in the map, then add extra rows into the inspections table.  If the inspection form is simple, and in many cases it is, Collector will do well. In cases where the inspection form is more complex, the smart form features of Survey123 will come handy. You can bring all your assets and their related records into Survey123 and handle inspections that way. Survey allows you to display all assets in a list or map so you can find your assets quickly, but at the moment, you will be limited to point assets (polygons and lines are planned for a future release).
    • Map inventories: There are some specific workflows where a map-centric approach is ideal. Say for example you are mapping water meters. Typically, you will want to map the meter, the lateral line and the elbow. That is three assets in three different layers... Collector and its map-centric approach is perfect.  Now say you are working on mapping trees, or hydrants... The simplicity of a form to capture attributes and location quickly may make you lean towards a form-centric approach.


There are some cases that are no-brainers, and many others where one could go one way or the other.  In the end, for these cases in the middle it is a matter of personal preference. Collector and Survey give a choice. If you are of the opinion that choices are bad, flip a coin.  If you want the best, try both approaches and work closely with people who will do the job in the field to learn from them what they prefer.


By now you may be thinking... well I want it all: Something that runs anywhere, offline and with great tools to edit both maps, their attributes and smart forms.  Absolutely having all of it may be a stretch, but you will see some of these features converge over time in Collector and Survey123.  You will see Collector incorporate some more intelligence in the attribute editor; and you will see Survey123 for ArcGIS been able to not just capture but also edit data as well as handle not just points, but also polylines and polygons.  A common pattern I see emerging is that people are using these apps in combination:


The above will give you some hints, but my recommendation is that you put some time into experiencing the different options. Only with first-hand experience you will be able to make the right choice.