Pin Me

Using a Cell Phone as a GPS Receiver

written by: Om Thoke•edited by: Heather Marie Kosur•updated: 6/9/2010

It is widely known that most cell phones are equipped with GPS receivers, but the answer to this question greatly depends upon the purpose of usage. In case you're asking whether you can use a cell phone as a GPS receiver just for recreational purposes, the answer would be yes, but not always.

  • slide 1 of 6


    The GPS receivers in cell phones can be used simply for locating the position of the owner of the cell phone for fun or, alternatively, may help first responders in tracking the location of the individual in a dire emergency. In earlier times, only a few cell phones were GPS-enabled, but, with the increase in the usage of these types of cell phones, GPS has become a common feature in most of the medium to high end cell phones.

    The basic meaning of a cell phone being GPS-enabled is that there’s a GPS receiver with a chip inside the cell phone, which may be used for navigation purposes besides the regular usage. Therefore, if you have a cell phone which is GPS-enabled, the chances are high that you may be able to use the same as a GPS receiver. The accuracy of your specific location is dependent upon the cell phone that you as an individual possess, and their accuracy levels are far below that of the dedicated stand-alone GPS units.

  • slide 2 of 6

    Can High End Cell Phones Act as Replacements to Conventional GPS Devices?

    The capabilities of GPS-enabled cell phones widely differ. Before buying a GPS enabled cell phone, consult the manufacturer and ascertain if your phone meets your requirements like whether you would just track a particular point or if you can perform data collection with regard to a specific location. Therefore, rather than asking "Can I use my cell phone as a GPS receiver?", you should be asking questions like "What level of GPS tracking does it support?" and "Which receiver has been provided in the cell phone?"

    But, when you try to compare the capabilities of a conventional GPS tracking unit like TomTom or Garmin, even the best of cell phones are no match to them. A simple Garmin Nuvi 255 can outsmart a Nokia N-96, Nokia Navigator 6110, N-95 8GB, N-97, Sony Xperia, and all the latest smartphones like Garmin Nuvifone G60.

    Hence, you must never think of buying a high end cell phone as a replacement to a conventional GPS device, although GPS-enabled cell phones can definitely work as inferior alternatives for personal usage, wherein the accuracy of position and time delays in tracking aren't that important. Buying Garmin Nuvifone G60 may be a good option too.

  • slide 3 of 6

    Selecting the Right GPS Receiver

    You will find many GPS receivers dumped in today’s market, which differ considerably in meeting the accuracy besides being designed for particular technical applications. The majority of the GPS receivers these days are used for personal reasons like mapping something of interest. Only high end GPS receivers, with high accuracy, like an estate of a Government agency, are enough for the preparation of maps used for official purposes.

    Before buying a GPS Receiver, you must be firm in your mind regarding the purpose for which you will be using the device. If you require very high accuracy of measurements such as with the survey of areas, you will need a GPS receiver with a very high level of accuracy, and even the most sophisticated cell phones will fail to perform the task in such cases. However, for exclusively personal use, the ordinary receivers in cell phones that are designed for recreational purposes would be sufficient to accomplish the task at hand quite efficiently.

  • slide 4 of 6

    Improving the Accuracy of Your GPS Receiver

    The accuracy of your GPS receiver also greatly depends on the method of usage as well as the conditions prevailing in the atmosphere and the positioning of the receiver and the satellite at any given time. The mere handling position of the GPS receiver affects the accuracy in the calculation of a specific location. If an antenna is attached to the receiver, the accuracy depends on how you hold the device, especially the direction in which you hold it. To optimize the result of the receiver, read the owner’s manual and follow the instructions as stipulated in the manual.

  • slide 5 of 6

    Factors That May Hamper the Accuracy of GPS Receivers

    Any ionosphere electrical charge delays the signals of the GPS and thereby reduces the accuracy of the Receiver. Throughout North America, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) makes use of the base stations on the ground for calculation of ionospheric delays in signals and corrections in broadcast to WAAS satellites which, in turn, transmit the rectifications to WAAS-enabled GPS receivers. The accuracy of the GPS receiver will be affected if your receiver is not a WAAS-enabled GPS receiver. Even if the receiver is WAAS-enabled, if this option is switched off, the ionospheric conditions affect the accuracy of the GPS Receiver.

    A delay of GPS signals also heavily contributes to the reduction of accuracy of locations to be calculated due to the presence of water vapour in the atmosphere. These types of conditions can change comparatively swiftly and are also difficult in accounting for the variations.