Using a Compass on your Mobile Phone.

Using an electronic compass in your Android or other mobile phone is much like using a traditional compass. Here are few simple steps that will allow you to use one effectively in outdoor recreation. 

Orienteering compass used in map software on Android phone.

Types of Compass
A traditional compass can have a number of forms, and those forms are often mimicked by compass software you see on your mobile phone that has a compass sensor. 

I have a bearing compass like what is shown here on my kayak. You will see many compasses like this where a marked ball turns in response to orientation.  They are good for showing you the direction you are headed. 

Bearing compass as used on a kayak.  
In most land based navigation such as hiking, is it more common to use an orienteering compass,  shown below. This type will have a dial that allows you to set a certain orientation (in degrees) and a needle that you will line up. The key advantage to an orienteering compass is that it will allow you to target a certain direction that you want to go. How well the needle lines up with north will tell you how closely you are walking the line.
An orienteering compass allows you to set a direction. A similar compass is available on your android phone.  

The method for using an orienteering style compass on your Android phone is the same as for using a traditional compass made of plastic. Here are the quick and simple steps:

  1. "Program" the compass to the desired direction by turning the numbered dial. The above compass is set to 322 degrees.
  2. Hold the compass ( or phone) level and place it firmly against your chest  above your heart.
  3. Look down at the compass by tilting your head down. 
  4. Turn your body until the red compass needle points at the N. It will often fit into an arrow etched in the inside circle. 
  5. Lift your head up slowly and site your eyes along the arrow on the front . 
  6. Find a semi distant object in that direction. 
  7. Walk towards that object resolutely. 

For mobile phones such as the Android or IPhone 3GS, it is occasionally necessary to add one more steps.

  • If you don't believe the compass readings, wave the phone around gently in a figure eight pattern until the readings get more realiable. This is known as "calibrating". No, I am not making this up.  

 In a future article, we may cover how to orient a paper map with the ground using an orienteering compass. Due to the compass in the Android phone, though, it is now possible to do this automatically. 

Using compass sensor data allows us to rotate a topo map on Android

Have you tried the steps above with your compass or phone? DId they work for you? Please comment.