Application Name: Bluetooth GPS
Description: Lets you use an external Bluetooth GPS unit instead of your Android unit’s built-in GPS
Publisher’s website: None
Version/date reviewed: v.0.4 / 11-4-10
Phone/OS: Droid X / Android 2.2
About a month ago, when I was first reviewing apps for using external Bluetooth GPS units with the Android OS, this app was available, but didn’t have the option for use with other apps instead of the built-in GPS. Now, the latest version (0.3) has just added that option as a service. As with other similar apps, before using this app, you will need to pair your external Bluetooth GPS with your Android phone, and enable “mock locations”; see the Appendix at the bottom of this post for more info.
Figure 1: Starting up the app, you’ll need to select the Bluetooth GPS receiver you’re using from the dropdown menu at upper left (Holus_M-1000 in this case); you’ll also need to have Bluetooth enabled on your Android unit. Make sure your Bluetooth GPS receiver is turned on, then tap the “Connect” button to establish a link between it and your phone. It can take several tries to establish a connection – this is a common Android issue. Having said that, it seemed to me that this app was able to establish a connection faster than other similar apps
Figure 2: Once a connection is established, and the Bluetooth GPS has gotten a position fix, you’ll see coordinate data showing up on the screen, and the blue globular icon show up on the status screen. To use the Bluetooth GPS instead of the built-in GPS, you’ll now have to check the “Enable Mock GPS Provider” box. This will now run continuously as a service on your Android, even after you exit the program; you’ll have to press the “Stop” button from the program window to discontinue it.
Figure 3: Tap on the Status tab, and you’ll get a view of the satellite signals acquired; unlike other apps, all of the satellite numbers appear to be correct. The WAAS satellite signal is also displayed here at far right (#51); depending on your location in the US, you may see either WAAS satellite 48 or 51. The sky map is new with version 0.4, and is better than many sky maps for Android apps dedicated to the built-in GPS.
Figure 4: The NMEA Logs tab lets you view the raw NMEA data stream from the GPS receiver. Since you can’t save this data (yet), this is of limited use.
Figure 5: Finally, the Map tab will show you your current location in a Google Maps interface, an easy way to check whether you’re getting a good position fix from the Bluetooth GPS receiver.
Other Issues: None, other than the usual problems with recalcitrant Bluetooth connections.
Final thoughts: If you need to take advantage of special features for your external Bluetooth GPS unit, the Bluetooth GPS Provider app might be worth considering. But for most applications, the Bluetooth GPS app reviewed here is superior – it connects faster, shows satellites more accurately, and even provides a built-in map app to check whether you’re receiving a good location fix. Recommended.
Appendix: Setting up an external Bluetooth GPS for use with your Android unit.
Here are some inexpensive external Bluetooth GPS units; a search on Amazon.com or eBay will bring up many more:
After you’ve bought the unit, charged it up and turned it on:
1. Go to Settings => Wireless & networks, and make sure Bluetooth is turned on.
2. Go to the “Bluetooth settings” section, and have your Android unit scan for new Bluetooth devices.
3. After it finds your Bluetooth GPS, it may ask you to enter a four-digit security code; for GPS units, if no code is included with your unit, “0000” usually works.
4. Your Android unit will now be “paired” with this Bluetooth GPS device; any apps that support Bluetooth GPS will have this device listed as an option. Unless you remove this pairing, you only need to do this once.
5. To use a Bluetooth GPS with apps that don’t support it natively, you’ll need either the app reviewed here, or one that performs a similar function. You will also need to enable “mock locations”: Settings => Applications => Development => check the “Allow mock locations” box.
6. DON’T DISABLE THE BUILT-IN GPS ON YOUR ANDROID. Some apps (e.g. Google Maps, Bing Maps) won’t work with external Bluetooth unless you have the built-in GPS enabled, even if they don’t actually use the built-in GPS for positions.