Sometimes, you just need a quick display of GPS satellite status and current position. GPS Test and GPS Status are two handy Android apps for just that, with additional functionality as a bonus.
Application Name: GPS Status
Description: GPS satellite status and coordinate display.
Publisher’s website: Eclipsim
Cost: Free (ad-supported); €1.49 euro donation removes ad.
Version/date reviewed: v.1.01 / 10-2-10
Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2
Of the two apps reviewed here, GPS Status has more settings and is more technical, which has both good and bad aspects. Starting with the main screen …
Figure 1: Loaded with info, not all of which is GPS/orientation related. Top listings in the data display are for pitch/roll, magnetic field, and acceleration. That might be interesting but not as useful as the GPS/orientation data, and there’s no way to turn those off. You can’t turn off the battery voltage/temperature readout either.
The green bars represent GPS satellite signals with a full data lock; they’re gray if a signal is picked up, but full position data isn’t yet acquired. The position of the bar left to right represents the GPS satellite ID number, which runs from 1 to roughly 30 depending on how many satellites are currently active in the GPS constellation. I wish this display was larger, and more detailed; the bar display is a bit too foreshortened to display signal strength accurately, and figuring out which bar goes with which satellite number is problematical.
The green and brown circles in the satellite display are related to the device orientation, with the brown circle being a “level indicator” and the green circle an “orientation indicator”. If you tilt the device so that the green circle overlaps a green satellite dot, your Android unit is pointed directly at that GPS satellite; fun once or twice, but not particularly useful. And there are better “level” apps than this one. Fortunately, you can turn these two orientation indicators off in Settings.
On the plus side, this is one of only a few Android GPS apps that displays “DOP”, Dilution of Precision, a measure of the best GPS coordinate accuracy you can expect based on the geometry of satellites as scattered across the sky; lower is better (H = horizontal, V = Vertical).
The displayed coordinate can be changed in Settings; supported coordinate systems include latitude/longitude, UTM (as here), MGRS, and the Swiss CH1903 coordinate system; datum isn’t specified for the first three, but I assume it’s WGS84.
Figure 2: GPS Status also has a “Radar” mode, essentially a tool for navigating from or two a point. “Mark” a point in the Menu, and as you move away from it, the position of that marked point will show up on the “radar screen” as a green dot, with each circle on the radar screen representing a distance away from your current location. Data readouts show coordinate data for your current location and marked point, heading (where you’re currently pointed) and distance/bearing (the distance/direction to go to get to the marked point. As you get closer to the marked point, the brown circle expands; further away, it shrinks.
You can also use the radar screen as a compass, as it always rotates so that your heading is up (slightly SSW in the image at left). Direction is true north; the “needle” embedded in the center is aligned to magnetic north, usually slightly off from true north. As a compass app, it’s not all that great, but the radar screen is a nice touch. And you can display the marked position, and your current position, in a map app like Google Maps.
Lots of options in the Settings section for display and control. Of particular note are controls for managing assisted GPS (aka A-GPS). If you have A-GPS enabled on your Android unit, it will download GPS satellite data based on your position as determined by the nearest cellular base station antenna, which can increased the speed with which you get a position fix. GPS Status has options in Settings => GPS & Sensors that let you delete/refresh this data, useful if it’s gotten corrupted somehow; you can also configure the app to refresh this data every time it starts up.
No problems; worked fine every time I tried it.
I liked some of the extra technical data displayed (e.g. DOP), the radar screen is a novel navigation aid, and the A-GPS tools are useful. But the app is a bit too busy with extraneous data displays for my taste. It’s a permanent app on my Android phone, but it’s not my first choice for checking on GPS satellite/signal status.
Application Name: GPS Test
Description: GPS waypoint acquisition and management.
Publisher’s website: Chartcross Limited
Cost: Free; £1.50 Plus version adds compass/altimeter/speedometer page.
Version/date reviewed: v.1.19 / 10-2-10
Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2
GPS Test has a very distinct and clear graphic style …
Figure 3: Here’s the main GPS satellite signal page; the color scheme is the default Android, but you can choose between 7 different color schemes in the Settings section. GPS satellite signal strength is clearly plotted by height, color and numbers at the top of the bar; the satellite ID is shown clearly at the bottom of each bar. The buttons at the very bottom of the display switch you to different displays.
Figure 4: The satellite sky map shows the position of every satellite in the sky. It’s linked to the compass bearing, so it rotates as you change direction. So, you could use it as a compass, but it’s not really a very good one. The local magnetic declination (difference between true and magnetic north) is shown at lower left.
Figure 5: Coordinate choice is one of GPS Test’s biggest pluses. You can choose between seven different coordinate systems, and independently choose between 5 different datums (WGS84, NAD83 CONUS, NAD27 CONUS, ED50 – Mean, ED50 – Spain). Daylight/night map isn’t necessarily that useful, but kinda cool.
Figure 6: HUD (Heads-Up Display) view might be useful for auto use; you can change the units for virtually every app data readout in Settings.
Figure 7: Time display …
Figure 8: The paid “Plus” version adds an additional display, with a better compass and dial displays of altitude and speed.
None on my unit – always worked fine.
While I appreciate some of the functions of GPS Status, GPS Test is my go-to app for checking my Android unit’s basic GPS status. The display is clearer and easier to read, and the larger choice of coordinate systems and datums is a huge plus. Both apps are available in free versions so you can have both, but if you only need/want one app of this type, GPS Test is highly recommended.