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The Android GPS

The Android GPS in phones enables apps to get location and navigate. With the right apps, it can replace a handheld outdoor GPS. Here are some things to keep in mind about the Android GPS and its capabilities. 

Because they contain a GPS, Android smartphones have already become popular in street navigation where cell service is readily available.  They can also be used in an outdoor recreation setting, where a handheld GPS has traditionally been used. If you want to use your Android GPS in an outdoor setting, keep these points in mind: 

Android Apps can get a location with the help of cell towers
If you look at the location settings of an Android phone, you will often see two different kinds of locations mentioned.  One is called the network location. This is found using cell towers or wifi hot spots. It is only a rough location.
The other is the GPS satellite location which is what you need for navigation.  
Android phones, like many smartphones, also use Assisted GPS (aGPS). This allows them to compute satellite position using the network and get the location faster. 
   
The Android GPS can also get a location without cell towers. 
It is common to think that a cell phone can't get a location without cell service. In fact, if you ask the average employee of your cell service provider if you can use the phone's GPS without cell service, they will say no. It is often beyond their comprehension that anyone would want to, plus they want to sell you software that uses an expensive data plan. 
An Android phone has a real GPS chip in it, which can get the location from GPS satellites. 

Getting a first location in the backcountry (a first fix) requires patience.  
If you've used your Android GPS in urban areas, you may have to adjust to how long it takes to get your location the first time in the backcountry. Instead of ten seconds, it might be 1-5 minutes. It won't have the benefit of aGPS to get the satellite locations faster. Don't worry. The next time you start your GPS, it will probably take less than ten seconds.  

The map source matters when using Android GPS 
If you start Google Maps when you do not have cell coverage, it will say 'This app requires an active data plan'. This is also the case with many of the apps that your phone company wants to sell you. These apps use online maps, which require constant data coverage. 
You want to use an Android GPS app that use offline maps, such as BackCountry Navigator. BackCountry Navigator allows you to download offline topo maps in advance and store them on your storage card.  

The Android GPS needs a view of the sky.  
While this is familiar to those who have used a handheld GPS, it can easily be forgotten when your phone can get a network location through the thickest roofs. When the location comes from satellites, it is best for the phone to be able to see them. 

The Android GPS will use battery life. 
When the GPS is active, it is using battery life. Unless you are using GPS tracking, you can get much more battery life if you deactivate the GPS when not in use. BackCountry Navigator, for example, will let you turn your GPS on and off through a toggle button in the app. You can get many days of outdoor use.

In short, if you keep these facts in mind, Android's GPS can be used as a traditional outdoor GPS device. Have some fun using it in outdoor recreation! 

 

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