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October 19, 2010

VZW Droid X Flunks Foreign GPS Test – GPS Status to the Rescue

Where in the world are Tom and Mary? We knew we were in the Hertz lot in Catania, Sicily; but our droid X GPS insisted we were in Somalia – not what we had in mind. Mary wouldn't let us sit more than five minutes to let the GPS find itself; good thing because a day later it still didn't know where it was. Driving with printed directions is so yesterday – and didn't work very well since the signs Google thought would be there weren't and street names were invisible. We weren't even talking to each other after neither I nor my droid could navigate in time to give Mary directions on twisty, narrow streets in the rain and gathering dark.

Once I had an Internet connection, I searched for droid GPS problems. There are a lot reported on various fora, most involving loss of GPS capability but not all related to foreign travel. I tried all the various prescriptions for hard reboots including taking the battery out for half an hour, holding the power key for 30 seconds with the battery out, etc. etc. Droid is still lost a day later.

There are two related problems. I already knew (and posted) that standard droid navigation, which downloads Google maps on the fly, wouldn't work without a wireless connection, which I wouldn't be able to get with my CDMA Verizon Wireless phone in GPS-standardized Europe (even if I wanted to pay roaming data rates). Lots of people who posted about problems with navigation outside the US were confused about the lack of Google maps. But I had downloaded a free map of Sicily from MapDroyd; that wasn't my problem.

On some forum I read about GPS Status, a free app (donation requested), which gives you details on what satellites your GPS sees. Downloaded that and saw that my GPS saw nada –like all the birds went silent at once. GPS Status also lets you flush and reload your GPS assistance file. Hmm, I thought, that could be the problem. When cell towers are available, the droid gets a crude location from them and then can more easily do the trigonometry to figure out precisely where it is from GPS signals. The last time my droid knew where it was, it was in Vermont; it can't get info from European cell sites. Maybe my new location just didn't compute.

So I reset from GPS Status and used a WiFi connection to download a new helper file, which would presumably contain hints based on my IP address. Looked hopefully at the display: no satellites. Did all the battery out drills, some twice. Restarted the GPS and GPS Status. Still no satellites. Another trip of grim paper-based navigation, in thunder, up Etna.

Did two things: emailed EclipSim, the makers of GPS Status, to ask if they heard of similar problems and did a more serious search of the Motorola Support Forum. EclipSim (to whom I'd as yet paid nothing) wrote back within an hour saying that users had reported a problem getting the GPS to work when in airplane mode; roughly the same thing in a post on the Motorola forum.

Now, naturally, you're in airplane mode when you don't expect to (or want to) connect to cellular networks. In Europe I can't connect to cellular networks but still want to save the battery. Once I turned airplane mode off (meaning turned the cellular radio on) and did one more reset and reload with GPS Status, my screen showed a sky full of good GPS signals and MapDroyd correctly located me on a rainy balcony halfway up Etna! The cellular network shouldn't be needed for GPS location even though it can provide hints. In fact, the cellular network ISN'T needed for the GPS to work. But you still CAN'T be in airline mode when you get your first fix – allegedly can go back to airline mode after but I haven't thoroughly tested.

BTW, in droid settings under "location and security" I have "Use wireless networks" off, "Use GPS satellites" on, and "Enable Assisted GPS" off; don't know if this matters but it does work.

A raspberry to Motorola and Google for this weirdness. And a hat tip to EclipSim for both a great product and great support. Now let's see if I can be a better navigator.

Related posts:

Packing My Droid for Travel

Droid, Gmail, gSyncit, iPhone, Outlook, Mary and Me

Navigating on My Droid

Swyping from my Droid – The Supplement

This post was swyped on my droid

Droid Setup – Day 1 of My Re-Retirement

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