Ask LH: How Can I Fix My Android’s Crappy GPS?

Ask LH: How Can I Fix My Android’s Crappy GPS?

Dear Lifehacker, I love my Android phone, but lately it seems like it’s taking 10 minutes for the GPS to get a lock, which makes navigation very difficult. What can I do to make it work better? Thanks, Never Navigating

Image remixed from an original by Robert Adrian Hillman/Shutterstock.

Dear Never Navigating,

This is a problem that has plagued Android users for a while, and while the root cause can vary from person to person and device to device, there are a few things you can do to help fix the problem. Here’s what you should try.

Make Sure You’re Using Assisted GPS

Before you do anything else, you should make sure your GPS has all the help it can get. Android phones use what’s called Assisted GPS, or AGPS, to determine your location. AGPS uses not only GPS satellites, but also nearby mobile towers and Wi-Fi networks to lock onto your phone, and you want to make sure you have this feature enabled. To do so, head to Settings > Location & Security and make sure both “Use Wireless Networks” and “Use GPS Satellites” are checked. By default, your phone only uses GPS satellites, so adding wireless networks should help quite a bit. [imgclear]

Reset Your Assisted GPS Data With GPS Status & Toolbox

Using AGPS, of course, can’t always fix everything. In fact, sometimes your AGPS will keep trying to use satellites or towers that aren’t nearby, which makes it hard to get a lock. If you’re still having trouble, head to the Android Market and download GPS Status & Toolbox. Essentially, this app lets you flush and re-download your AGPS data, which can help re-acquire the correct satellites. Once you’ve downloaded the app, here’s what you need to do:

  • Launch GPS Status & Toolbox. You’ll see a compass and some other stats. Hit the menu button for more options.
  • Make sure you have an active data connection and go to “Manage A-GPS State”. Then, tap the “Download” button in the menu that pops up. When it’s done, exit the app.
  • Now, go back to Google Maps (or whatever app you use to navigate) and try to get a lock. You should find that it’s much quicker than before.

The one downside to this method is that it isn’t necessarily a permanent fix. You may have to do this again every so often to get the GPS locking quickly again, but it’s a small price to pay to be able to navigate again.

Flash A Custom ROM Or Radio

Lastly, if you’ve rooted your phone, you can try flashing a new ROM or radio, which could give your GPS a more lasting fix. We’ve shown you how to flash a custom ROM before, so I won’t get into it here. Just know that it can sometimes make your GPS a bit more reliable.

Even better, though, is flashing a new radio. It works just like flashing a new ROM, though it can be a bit riskier. It also varies from device to device, so we can’t give specific instructions or links here, but we recommend searching around forums like XDA Developers to see if there are any other radios out for your device. If there are any specifically designed to fix GPS problems, that’s even better. My HTC Thunderbolt, for example, had a few other radios available, and flashing one of them fixed a lot of my GPS problems. Just make sure you get one that’s been given the stamp of approval by the community, since flashing a new radio can cause all sorts of problems if it’s untested.

There are other methods of fixing your GPS (like this configuration tweak in CyanogenMod), but for the most part the above tricks are easy and should work very well. Remember that if your phone ever reverts to its old, finicky ways, try rerunning GPS Status & Toolbox, as it is pretty reliable at quickly getting a lock. If readers have founded any other GPS fixes, share them in the comments.


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    • The article points the finger at Android, which isn’t really the cause – it’s hardware and firmware related; both of which come down to the manufacturer, not Android.

      Some phones are great – my Nexus S has never missed a beat; others are crap – my old HTC Legend was woeful.

  • In fact the most likely thing that is affecting your ability to get a GPS lock isn’t even mentioned – an accurate clock!

    Some mobile networks do not have accurate network time (looking at you, Vodafone), so installing an NTP client to get accurate timekeeping makes the world of difference. Needs root.

    Also, fasterfix has proven useful for troublesome GPS on various devices. Also needs root.

  • As a technologically backward old bugger, I’ve enjoyed having a Garmin-Asus A50 with built in GPS. Another reason for not updating to the latest-and-greatest toy?

  • I have a Samsung Galaxy S2 on Telstra and the GPS will not read speed in 1km/hr increments instead it seems to be around 3 or 4 km/hr increments. So when on cruise on the highway it either displays 108 or 112km/hr. Does this for the the build in nav system and for a couple of speedo apps I d/l’ed. I can’t find any Google mention of this as an issue for anyone else and it certainly wasn’t an issue on my old HTC windows phones have have had over the last 4 years.

    Any ideas for a fix?

    On topic though there are times when my phone just will not get a fix………reboot and all is OK.

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