Android gpsI recently bought a Samsung Galaxy Gio, an entry-level Android smartphone priced at €149 (approx. $212). Overall my experience with the device has been great, but the phone seemed to have trouble picking up the GPS satellites and therefore couldn’t pick up a GPS signal in most locations. If your GPS-enabled Android phone has trouble locating you, there may be a simple way to improve your reception that doesn’t require a mobile internet connection.

Chartcross Limited has released a free Android app called GPS Test that displays diagnostic information about your GPS reception. After enabling your GPS, the device first needs to locate visible satellites and obtain a position fix. As soon as the GPS signal is locked in, the phone will have less trouble keeping tracking and updating your GPS position.

GPS Test displays information about the GPS satellites that are in sight. You can use this information to lock in your position as follows:

  1. Enable your GPS and start the app. The GPS status icon should be yellow. This means the app is trying to connect to the satellites.
  2. Move your phone around so that you have at least five satellites in sight. Also pay attention to the signal-to-noise ratio (higher is better).
  3. When your satellite reception is good enough, stop moving your phone and wait for the signal to lock in. Some satellite indicators will become colored (indicating they are in use) and the GPS status will turn green as shown on the screenshot.
  4. You can now switch to Google Maps (requires network connection or offline caching), MapDroyd (my favorite app for offline maps) or any app that uses your location.

After successfully connecting to the satellites, the GPS signal should stay locked in without too much hassle. GPS Test also offers some additional features you might find interesting, such as a display of the satellites mapped out on a compass. The GPS satellites can be used to determine your altitude, your exact UTC/local time and the time of sunrise/sunset. These features make it a nice companion for outdoor adventures.

Update: To avoid confusion, I’d like to emphasize that this tool doesn’t magically boost your GPS signal. However, if you’re unable to connect to the GPS satellites normally like I was, you can use this tool to move your phone into a position in which it sees enough satellites to establish a connection.

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