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Google Maps

First of all: run (don't walk) to the Android Marketplace and install the latest Google Maps if you haven't already. It will also come with Google Navigation. Both are 100% free and vastly-superior to the included stock AT&T navigation software, which requires a steep monthly fee.


It is also suggested that you enable "assisted GPS" so that the phone can use additional positioning data from cell towers and wifi access points in order to improve the location information. Menu -> Settings -> Location and security -> Use wireless networks. Also make sure the basic Use GPS satellites feature on this screen is enabled too if you want to do any sort of GPS positioning and navigation, otherwise you'll be lucky if it even places you in the proper town.

Note that Google Maps does not have preloaded maps like a normal GPS device, and instead requires a constant data connection in order to pull in local map info in realtime as you move. Not only does this make it a data-intensive app (for those of you without unlimited data plans), but if you lose your data connection you will lose all map and navigation info. Please keep this in-mind before depending on your phone for critical road navigation (this isn't unique to the Captivate, but is common across most phones unless you invest in expensive navigation software that comes with a preloaded map).

Other recommended GPS-enabled apps

For other interesting uses of the phone's GPS, be sure to check out Google Earth and Google Sky Map. GPS Status and/or GPS Test are useful for checking the quality of your GPS signal moment to moment.

GPS Problems

Currently the Captivate has known GPS problems. Most users have issues obtaining a lock or keeping it once obtained. Satellite strength is weak and susceptible to disappearing with the least amount of blockage. Although AT&T continues to deny existence of the issue, Samsung at least has now come forth and not only acknowledged the problem, but promises a fix to be released sometime in September 2010. Leaked internal development builds of the Captivate firmware have proven that they are indeed working on the problem, although none of these leaked firmwares is an absolute, final fix or in a condition to be used by the masses. It is not clear whether this will be pushed out as a separate fix, bundled with Android 2.2 "Froyo", or how long after Samsung releases it that AT&T will push it out.

Many users on the internet have touted various "fixes" for the GPS, but it needs to be stressed that these supposed "fixes" are just tweaks to some of the assisted GPS settings that the phone uses to get additional positioning info from cell towers and wifi access points. These additional data sources are enabled when the Use Wireless Networks option is checked in the GPS settings. While changing these settings might alleviate the problem somewhat for some users under ideal conditions in certain areas, they are not an actual fix for the underlying problem. The GPS receiver should be able to work accurately and reliably, much more-so than it currently does, without these additional sources (which only work with sufficient cell towers and wifi access points anyhow). An actual fix has not been released yet, so any users experimenting with these other settings do so at their own risk and with no assurances that GPS performance will improve for them (it might even get worse).

Some users have also reported initial improvements after doing a factory reset on their phone or exchanging it for new. Unfortunately, almost universally GPS problems resurface after 3-7 days or so. This seems to underline the nature of the problem and should not be considered a solution.

The law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP is currently investigating consumer complaints regarding the GPS performance of the Galaxy S line of phones for potential legal action. You can see their page on the issue here:

On November 30, 2010 Samsung released a utility called GPS Restore which they touted as a new potential solution for users' GPS issues. Unfortunately all this utility does is reset the internal GPS settings back to their defaults... the very default settings that didn't work for most people which is why they tried changing them. Nonetheless, this utility has helped some people so it appears a certain subset of users with GPS issues were either self-inflicted by entering in bad settings, or resulted from corruption of the settings somehow. It can be found on the market using the following QR code:


Calibrating the compass

If you're having accuracy issues with the built-in electronic compass, it might be worth running it through a calibration routine. The free app GPS Status has a built-in feature to do this.

Additional Reading

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