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How to improve GPS accuracy on Android

The GPS sensor on your smartphone is absolutely essential for the use of navigational apps and various services such as Google Maps. However, there are times when your GPS signal can go wonky. Here are some ways you can fix and improve location accuracy on your phone. We’ll show you how!

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What is GPS?

It’s helpful to understand how GPS works in order to optimize it. GPS stands for Global Positioning System and was developed by the US Army in 1973, but it was released for civilian purposes in the eighties. It was initially used with 24 satellites but now there are 31 operational GPS satellites in orbit.

Your smartphone communicates with these satellites via a GPS antenna, which is part of the hardware in the vast majority of current smartphones and tablets. The antenna is connected via a driver to the software. This means there are three main sources, which GPS problems can arise from:

  • The number of GPS satellites at the current location
  • The quality of the GPS antenna in the smartphone
  • The implementation of the driver in the operating system
Read on for the solutions to many of your GPS woes / © NextPit

1. Enable Google Location Accuracy

To get the best possible signal, you have to be prepared to use your battery a bit more than normal. It’s a necessary sacrifice, and you can always reverse that decision later when you don’t need to use GPS anymore. Enabling this is easy: just follow a couple of steps and you’ll be on your way.

Go into your Settings and select Location to ensure that your location services are on. You should also be able to enable it from the quick toggles when pulling down the notification bar.

Under Locationyou need to go to Advanced and then Google Location Accuracy. Tap it and make sure the slider for Improve Location Accuracy is on. This will make use not only of your GPS but Wi-Fi and mobile network connection as well to provide a more accurate estimate of your location. Of course, this setting will drain additional battery life, but it will make use of all available methods to provide you with the most accurate location possible.

Navigation settings 01
The Location menu in the Settings app lists the many geolocation options / © NextPit

On some smartphones, you will also find additional options under Scanning in the location settings page. You can enable Wi-Fi scanning and/or Bluetooth scanning. The first will improve accuracy even more by allowing apps and services to detect Wi-Fi networks all the time. The same applies for Bluetooth scanning, which will detect nearby Bluetooth devices.

Navigation settings 02
You can use Wi-Fi networks to improve the accuracy / © NextPit

2. Use a compass app to recalibrate your GPS

If you suspect that your GPS signal is not up to snuff, you can force it to recalibrate. In order to do this, you will need a compass app. Some smartphones already come with one pre-installed. If yours does, launch it and go through the recalibration process to give your GPS signal a much-needed refresh.

If your Android device does not come with a compass app, you can download one from the Play Store and do it this way. Compass Galaxy is a good and reliable option with an average rating of 4.1-stars from over 100,000 users.

nextpit compass oneplus
It is also possible to calibrate your compass from Google Maps itself. / © NextPit

Alternatively, you can also calibrate the compass via Google Maps. To do this, launch the Google Maps app and click on the blue dot. A pop-up window will appear where it provides a summary with ‘Your Location‘ as the title. There is a ‘Calibrate‘ option that can be selected. Tap that and you will be asked for permission to use the camera, and as you make a sweep of your surroundings, and Maps will then try to figure out where you are exactly. If the compass accuracy runs into any issues, the phone will display it as ‘low’. You can then calibrate the compass by tilting and moving the handset in a figure eight pattern a few times until it is calibrated. 

3. Keep the GPS signal active

One of the main problems that we encountered when switching from one app to another is that the GPS is turned off to save battery. For example, whenever you play Pokémon Go and want to take a look at your latest messages, your GPS could be turned off. 

However, you can ensure that the GPS signal remains active at all times. In order to do this, you will need to install a GPS app. We recommend Connected GPS. It’s a simple app and does the trick. Once again, do bear in mind that doing so will most probably result in a shorter battery life. Connected GPS is also available as a PRO version that has no ads.

4. Find out if your GPS issues are hardware- or software-related

With GPS Essentials, you can diagnose whether a poor GPS signal is due to a hardware or software issue. In the GPS Essentials main menu, select Satellites, then watch (with a sense of wonder) your smartphone connect to the numerous satellites that hover around the earth.

If no satellites appear, then this could be due to interference from metallic objects around you, your smartphone case, or even malfunctioning GPS hardware. If satellites do appear, but your GPS is still out of whack, then this is a software issue, and you should refer to the other tips in this article to help you. In any case, you should always be out in an open space and not within the confines of a building or in a basement when you are trying to obtain a GPS lock.

Navigation GPS Essentials
See if your GPS is connected to any satellites with GPS Essentials / © NextPit

5. Refresh your GPS Data

Sometimes your device will get ‘stuck’ on certain GPS satellites, even if they’re not within range, causing it not to work properly. Good thing there is a fix to this issue as you can use an app like GPS Status & Toolbox to clear your GPS data and to start connecting to satellites from scratch.

In the app, tap anywhere on the screen, then tap the menu icon and hit Manage A-GPS state. Tap Reset, then when that’s done, return to the Manage A-GPS state menu and tap Download. Your GPS data should now be refreshed. If it starts acting up again, just repeat this process.

6. Get an external GPS receiver

If your smartphone GPS is no longer sufficient or working properly, it might be worthwhile for you to purchase an external receiver. It can be paired to the smartphone via Bluetooth. On Amazon, the Garmin GLO GPS receiver costs slightly north of $100. Click the link below to check it out.

7. Bonus tip: Fixing Pokemon GO GPS problems

The apps that most often utilize your GPS besides Google Maps would most probably be AR-location based games like Pokemon GO and Ingress. However, the dreaded ‘GPS signal not found’ error is a rather common occurence. How can you fix it? First, make sure your location is enabled and then turn on high accuracy, as described in the steps above. You should now be able to go on the hunt for more Pokemon and be the best trainer there is.

pokemon go gps signal
The ‘GPS signal not found’ error is quite common, but easy to fix / © NextPit

If the error does not disappear, however, you will need to restart the app. If it still persists, log out of your account, close the application from the recent apps menu, wait a couple of seconds and re-open it. Once you log back in, the problem should have cleared up. Restarting your phone is always something you should try as well as a last resort. Finally, you should also make sure you have the latest version of Pokemon GO or Ingress by checking the corresponding app version on the Play Store.

Do you have any other tweaks to help improve your GPS accuracy? If so, share them in the comments.

Article updated in March 2022 with new instructions. Older comments were preserved and may refer to outdated versions.

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