So you improve the GPS reception of your smartphone

Satellite navigation is one of the most useful skills of smartphones. Several apps need the position data for their service. In games like Pokémon GO, it is even mandatory. In this article we explain how to navigate with your Android smartphone as precisely as possible via GPS.

How does GPS work in a smartphone?

To know how to optimize GPS, you have to understand how it works. GPS stands for Global Positioning System and was developed by the US Army in 1973. In 1995 it was released for civilian use. It was initially implemented by 24 satellites; there are now 31 GPS satellites in orbit.

Our smartphone receives the signals from the satellites via a GPS antenna, which is part of the hardware in most smartphones and tablets today. This hardware is connected to the software via a driver. There are therefore four sources of error for the GPS signal in the smartphone:

  • The number of GPS satellites at the current location
  • The GPS reception
  • The quality of the GPS antenna in the smartphone
  • The implementation of the drivers in the operating system
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GPS is only useful if you read its data carefully. / © ANDROIDPIT

The last two points are difficult to improve on your part, since they are in the power of the device manufacturer. If your device works remarkably inaccurately compared to other devices, you have to contact the manufacturer.

As far as the first point is concerned, we can optimize the position determination a little. Our smartphone has other methods of localization, which we will go into in more detail below.

Enables high accuracy mode

Due to the small size and the unfortunate positioning, the GPS antenna of a smartphone is never as accurate as other devices. Android compensates for this with Advanced GPS, or A-GPS for short . This form of location determination includes the GSM triangulation , nearby WLAN routers and Bluetooth and reduces the inaccuracy to a few centimeters.

The setting can be found in different places depending on the smartphone manufacturer. The entry for Android 7 should be found uniformly under  Location> Mode , where you can tap on High accuracy . In Android 8, the settings are hidden behind the new menu item “Security and Location”.

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Sets the location determination to high accuracy. / © AndroidPIT

With the latest Android version 9.0 Pie, the options for the different location modes are completely eliminated. Here you can only  switch the use of the location on and off in the settings under Security and Location – Data protection: Location .

Leave the GPS signal active

What makes a lot of sense from a battery saving point of view is a burden for the player of Pokémon GO , Ingress or another comparable AR game. When switching between apps or in standby mode, smartphones from many manufacturers switch off the GPS antenna. This reduces accuracy and when navigating the streets, information about turning is announced too late.

With the GPS Connected app you can prevent this behavior and keep your position determination continuously active. The problem with this, of course, is that your battery life will be significantly reduced. So only use the app when it is urgently needed!GPS Connected

Make yourself visible to the GPS satellites

In fact, GPS satellites need to be in sight. The quality of the GPS signal drops even on cloudy days. The same applies to hiking in street canyons, so that the high accuracy mode (see above) is practically a must.

The following app can help you find GPS satellites and better position your smartphone for a more accurate signal.GPS essentials

On the one hand, the apps help you find satellites within sight. On the other hand, they serve as a diagnostic tool to check the quality of the GPS sensor in your smartphone.

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How good is your GPS reception currently? / © AndroidPIT

Updates the GPS almanac

Another important factor for good and above all fast GPS positioning is the GPS almanac. This is a list of the satellite’s orbital data, which is less precise than the ephemeris, but is valid for longer. Although this is not absolutely necessary for the location, it speeds up the search for the satellite signals when the receiver is switched on by narrowing down the area in which it is necessary to search.

The trick is to load this data over a fast data connection instead of directly from the satellite. The “GPS Status and Toolbox” app helps with this, forcing you to download the latest track data. In the sidebar of the application you can request a download of current information under “Manage A-GPS data”.GPS status & toolbox

You can automate this in the settings so that the data is automatically downloaded when the app starts when it reaches a certain age.

Uses an external GPS antenna with the smartphone

If you need precise GPS data and your smartphone GPS is no longer sufficient, it is worth buying an external solution. This can be paired with the smartphone via Bluetooth and charged with the same charger. The Garmin solution costs just over 100 euros on Amazon.

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