Android is a great system that is unfortunately plagued with a couple rather irritating flaws. One particular issue is rather noticeable as soon as you start Google Maps: the sketchy GPS. The Android navigating system is unreliable and glitchy at times. We have often experienced issues with the GPS being unable to locate the phone in question. It isn’t much use if it can’t find you. Thankfully, there are ways to fix the problem.
The perpetual upside of Android is its openness to modification and third-party solutions. Once again, our good friends over at XDA Developers have you covered with a variety of bug fixes and tricks. With a little luck and some creative modifications, a broken Android GPS should be able to work.
Note: After doing any of these fixes, be sure to reboot.
Updating Your Phone
The first step to take is the easiest: make sure your phone is completely updated with the latest software. Go to the Settings app, and read the Software Updates section. There should be a few categories there: firmware, profile, PRL, and software.
Make sure that the profile and PRL are both fully up to date. These two parts of your phone handle communications with the cell tower. Usually, a broken GPS means that they need to be updated. Even people with a custom Android ROM should try flashing to stock to do the updates.
Stock and Sense
Speaking of flashing to stock, this method is recommended by some to fix the GPS. If your phone uses a custom ROM not based on Sense (but the phone originally came with Sense), try reflashing to stock. Once at a stock Sense ROM, try these steps.
Download MSL Reader from the Android Market (Download link below). It will read the code (with root access). Write this down. Now dial ##4772579# and type your MSL code. This should help with the tower connection. If the GPS works, reflash back to your favorite ROM and carry on.
Give the GPS a Boost
Under the Location & security settings, there are two options. One is the basic GPS satellites toggle. The other is to “Use wireless networks.” A wi-fi hotspot is usually pretty small (at least by GPS standards). Using the location of the wireless network, the GPS satellites can get a more accurate reading on your precise location.
However, the wireless assistance doesn’t always work. Sometimes technical issues will muddle up the connection. If that’s the case, then your best bet is to download GPS Status & Toolbox. This app resets the connection to a cell tower. Fair warning: this is a temporary solution, not a permanent fix.
Check Your Apps
The Android system can get a little complex at times. Sometimes the interactions between apps cause problems. Some users have reported trouble when running multiple location-based apps at the same time (e.g. FourSquare, Google Maps, Navigation). Other people have reported third-party task killers as the ultimate culprit.
Without the careful use of their task-killing abilities, they can inadvertently shut down the background location service. Their exact effects are still pretty unclear, but some programmers consider them nuisances to your phone.
This one requires a little more creativity (and root access). The CyanogenMod development team found out that one of Google’s background services seems to interfere with the GPS process. Nobody is quite sure why, just that it does.
Thankfully, there is a way to kill it. Using a file explorer like Root Explorer, mount the /system partition so that it’s read and write. This way you can edit a few essential files and kill the service. Navigate to /system/etc/gps.conf and open it with a text editor. Delete any and every line beginning with “SUPL.” This is reported to be most effective for users of the CyanogenMod ROM.
Flashing Something New
Another preferred fix over at XDA Developers is flashing new drivers. These are system files that should help increase the speed and efficiency of any GPS app. They do require a custom recovery like ClockworkMod, though. We found this page of drivers for the HTC Evo 4G.
Yet another option is to flash a new radio. A radio is an essential part of the phone that helps Android OS communicate with the telephone bits of the hardware. Installation is handled like flashing a new ROM. Just be sure to make a backup and know what you flash. Radios vary by phone, but Google should lead you to something good.
Sometimes, the final answer might be as simple as rebooting and giving the GPS time to work. The service isn’t perfect and might just need extra time. We found reports of a phone requiring twelve full minutes to load. This also seems obvious, but there’s always the help line for your carrier. In our experience, the Sprint helpline is surprisingly helpful (especially since they can make technical adjustments to your reception that you can’t).
As a very last option, you can always take the phone into a carrier’s store for repair/replacement. We recommend this as a last resort. Anyone who knows how to root their phone and flash a custom ROM probably knows more about Android than someone in a Sprint store. Have you encountered GPS problems? If so, how did you fix them? Did our fixes work for you? Let us know in the comments section below.