Collecting GPS data with mobile devices: troubleshooting tips & optimization

Publication language
Date published
03 May 2019
How-to / Tutorial / Tips
GIS & mapping, Mobile Data Collection

This resource was originally published on the CartoBlog in 2019 by CartONG. It was transferred to the IM Resource Portal in May 2021. The CartoBlog will be decommissioned in early 2022.

Is your smartphone or tablet not operating smoothly during mobile data collection events (i.e. with apps such as ODK or Kobo collect)? Here are some tips and suggestions by CartONG to optimize GPS data collection.

Effortless collection of GPS coordinates is what researchers in the field are looking for but barely encounter: either it is taking a very long time to get the GPS coordinates, the displayed accuracy is very low, or sometimes coordinate collection fails altogether!

Proper GPS data collection takes time, and it is often advisable to wait a few minutes to obtain accurate coordinates. However, no official threshold exists for GPS data collection times. This leaves field researchers wondering where the line is between an “appropriate” time interval to collect the points and an interval which would be considered “too long”.

This support document is built around 2 main sections: 1-Basic tips for GPS data collection (such as disabling the battery saver, a list of apps that can assist one’s device in coordinate collection, etc.), and 2-Advanced tips (such as constraining the wanted GPS accuracy, etc.).

It also accompanies the reader on the subject of hardware issues while providing the steps required to test one’s own GPS, and gives advice on a list of further options to consider.

Please note this document was developed in support to the Information Management activities of the FICSS/DPSM (Field Information and Coordination Support Section/Division of Programme Support & Management) of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).