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How does a compass work on a smartphone?

It's not just for navigating while in the woods...

When you hear the word compass, you may think of people using a compass outdoors such as for hiking, cycling, or any place where there are not roads marked by signs.

While true a compass comes in very useful for outdoor activities, it also comes in very handy in places like cities, large shopping malls and large parking lots.

The compass is your "backup navigation" for when the radio signals on the phone get blocked for whatever reason.

Is your compass calibrated?

Given the orientation of a phone changes quite a bit just from normal use, you may need to calibrate your compass periodically. This can be done through Google Maps. Launch the app, touch the dot showing your location, choose to calibrate the compass, and then twist your phone in a figure-8 motion to calibrate. The app does show a graphic with instructions and looks like this:


Having location (GPS) enabled is required to calibrate the compass in Google Maps. Having data enabled is not required. The map will probably show up as blank when you load Google Maps this way, but you can access the compass calibration so the compass works properly.

Published 2020 Nov 17

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