Samsung Android phone GPS defect

Hans's picture
Fri, 2012-09-21 21:23 by Hans · Forum/category:

I used to track airline flights with my old Garmin GPS receiver. The device was not very sensitive, but tracked most of the in-flight segments when being held directly to the window of an airliner, requiring a minimum of 4 satellites for 3D tracking.

I tried the same with a HTC Google Nexus One. It did not work initially, but at some time before or since upgrading its radio firmware to the latest available (Korean) release and the operating system to CyanogenMod 7.2, it has worked exceedingly well and has been a very reliable track recorder in flight.

Then I bought a Google Samsung Galaxy Nexus. While being a very nice phone (apart from its obvious shortcomings like very limited and not expandable memory) it has failed to record GPS tracks in flight. It does record very nicely and reliably during takeoff and landing, but after takeoff and some climb, when faster than 600 km/h and higher than 3,000 m, it fails in a peculiar mode. A typical example is that the GPS Status app shows some 8 satellites, all green, i.e. perfect reception, but the position and speed indicators are frozen to some obsolete value. Other programs that show the GPS track on a map, like Locus, also freeze the aeroplane indicator and end track recording.

I feel stupid now, because I had heard multiple times that Samsung phones contain crappy GPS receivers. I would be interested in hearing reports on other phones, particularly new HTC and Motorola phones. I would also like to know which, Samsung or other, phones have the same defect. Please add a comment here, if you have more information.

It seems that the Galaxy Nexus and possibly all other Samsung phones have an arbitrary limitation programmed into them that stops GPS position updating when the plane is either faster or higher than that limit. I could not find out so far whether it is the speed or the altitude that causes the failure. My guess is that it is the speed.

Obviously this is not a normal technical limitation, as other older and cheaper phones and other cheap consumer GPS receivers show no such problem. Also, the GPS system itself has no such limitation.

I have asked Samsung support about this defect, but they are arrogant enough to not even reply at all.

I would particularly like to hear about workarounds, patches, alternative radio firmware, etc., that could repair or work around the defect in the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Also, if you tested any other type of smartphone in an airliner, please add a new comment below and report whether the GPS worked properly. So far we only know whether the GPS works at high speed in these two devices:

  • HTC Google Nexus One – works fine.
  • Samsung Google Galaxy Nexus – does not work.

Attached is a screenshot of GPS Status in a typical situation with excellent reception of 9 satellites. The latitude, longitude, speed, and altitude figures were no longer changing after a certain point. The GPS indicator in the notification bar was blinking.

GPS Status display
GPS Status display

Additional keywords: airplane inflight in-flight

Samsung Android phone GPS defect

Mon, 2013-02-18 00:21 by sroux

Same problem !
I've a Samsung Galaxy S4 4G, and even if GPS seems to follow the track (more than 4 satellites) "My tracks" doesn't want to store points. I only got a few points at the departure and arrival.
Some blogs say that it work better with carrier network ok.

Not really better with data connection

Tue, 2013-02-19 08:00 by admin

Thanks for your report! Samsung may be using the same GPS hardware and (radio?) firmware in all their smartphones, so many Samsung phones may have this same defect.

The GPS locks on faster when it has a data connection, which is to be expected when A-GPS (Assisted GPS) data is fetched from the Internet, but this has nothing to do with our problem.

With a data connection the GPS, when started, can lock on within a couple of seconds. Without it takes three minutes or more, because it has to receive a lengthy data block uninterrupted from a GPS satellite.

Once the GPS has locked on to the satellites, it no longer needs this data block, because it already has it.

The method in an aeroplane is to either leave the data connection enabled until the GPS locks on or patiently wait for a GPS fix while holding the phone to a window while the plane is still on the ground. Once the GPS has a fix, switch to aeroplane mode. The GPS should keep working.

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