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Droid gps performance. How good is it?

gatorguy 326 Points
edited November -1 in Smartphone Navigation
A little over a week ago I ditched my Blackberry in favor of the Motorola Droid. If Verizon had carried the iPhone, I might have chosen that instead but after a few days of use, this is absolutely the better choice for my inner navigation geek.

Forget the iPhone, the GPS performance on the Droid rocks. Layering the satellite view over the road maps emphasizes just how good the gps chipset is. Noticing a 6' margin of error yesterday I had doubts it was really anywhere near that. Can't say as I recall my road use Garmin nuvis or Tomtom Go's reporting est. accuracy that small. We've mentioned before in the forums that manufacturers can use several different "measuring sticks" to display those estimates with some being much more meaningful than others. In the case of my Droid the accuracy report looks spot on.

I wasn't originally planning to test gps performance yesterday, but I noticed that even with no road lock, it was keeping me on the winding road thru the Green Swamp. (What other swamp has panther, turkey, bear and elephants. Another story for another day). So when I pulled to the side of the road yesterday I was pretty surprised: The sat view showed me on the shoulder. I then purposely moved to the left lane on a different backroads two-lane highway a few miles further down the road. Yup, my Droid showed me in the left lane. Manuvering thru lane changes in a construction zone showed the same great tracking results. Coming back to the house this morning from breakfast it properly showed me in the turning lane on a 6 lane highway, and moving across two lanes to the outside lane after the turn. Not once in my road travels the past two days has it shown me traveling off-road when I wasn't. And just now walking my property, the sat view matched my location within 6 ft or less on the entire walk, from showing me standing at the edge of my 12 ft wide driveway, treading past a pine stand, alongside an out-building, back to the house. To say the gps performace comes as a shock is an understatement. My Blackberry (with gps chipset) never performed this good, nor do any of my other current phones. With numerous mentions of the iPhone GPS performance needing a boost, and users claiming benefits from TomTom's add-on chip in the carkit, I certainly didn't expect the Droid's location performance to match or perhaps better my pnd's. But it does. IMO, unlike the iPhone, there would be absolutely no benefit to an add-on gps chip and it's additional expense.

Just how did Motorola accomplish this outstanding gps performance? One of the great new cutting-edge chipsets we've been waiting to see on a mobile? Some newly developed antenna design? Or maybe just dumb luck and fairy dust? Follow along guys to see my guess.

The Droids TI NaviLink chip, built specifically for 3g phones, is fairly common. The original was released back in 2007, and I think they're now on version 3 ( app 6.0). So nothing unique there. But here's what I think is going on. I know Skyhook began working with Texas Instruments early last year on integrating their XPS hybrid positioning system with TI's NaviLink and WiLink mobile solutions. Skyhook's XPS works by detecting WiFi hotspots, cell ID's, reading raw GPS location data, and probably some other location clues, then comparing any of that found info against a known and validated database of geo-located points. And who better to have a huge database of those points than Google. That would explain why a cell signal is needed prior to first lock using the Droid's on-board gps chip. No initial cell connection and no gps sat lock either, even tho your Droid can "see" them. It needs the location hints from your phone to complete the package. I'm nearly certain that's the answer to the excellent tracking and location results on this Android phone, which in my humble opinion is outperforming my Garmin, TomTom or Navigon location results so far.

In any case, I just gotta say it again. The Droid's gps/tracking performance rocks!.


  • gatorguy 326 Points
    Since my original post, I've confirmed Skyhook has it's prints in several 3rd party apps for both the Droid's and iPhone. But the Droid seems to be unique in that it's integrated into the basic gps functions rather than as a 3rd party add-on. That begs the question: If Tomtom for the iPhone (or Navigon for that matter) isn't taking advantage of the added location accuracy provided by Skyhook or some other competitor, why not? Cheaper for the consumer than spending $120 on a mount with another gps chip that still won't be as accurate most of the time. Or am I missing something?
  • Tim 1481 Points
    Skyhook is used natively in iPhone location.
  • gatorguy 326 Points
    So why the difference in gps performance?

    EDIT: I saw my Droid against an iPhone that my security installers were using yesterday. My Droid was much more accurate.
  • Tim 1481 Points
    I think you're making some assumptions about the impact of SkyHook that might not be quite as dramatic as you think. SkyHook has some big limitations. For example a friend of mine in the LBS industry moved to Maine from Hawaii. Their wifi router at home is "registered" by Skyhook as still being in Hawaii. So every time they use the Maps app and ask it to center the map on their current position... if the phone is at home or in their driveway it shows them in Hawaii. This likely throws off GPS acquisition too (the "Assisted" part of A-GPS).

    Also, the biggest difference is likely that they are simply using different chips. Third, I think you are generalizing the overall GPS performance of the iPhone. While I don't think the iPhone 3G's GPS performance is as good as a typical PND, there are plenty of people who disagree. There are others (including people in the forums here) who believe their iPhone's GPS performance exceeds their PND.

    My experience driving around with aerial photography on the iPhone (without a car kit) shows similar performance to what you describe with the Droid-- quite often able to accurately draw you in the lane you are in.
  • gatorguy 326 Points
    I might have answered my own question. The XPS-version of Skyhook's app used with TI's chipset looks as tho it may be more robust than what Apple is using. I only see wi-fi mentioned with Apple's use of it.
  • gatorguy 326 Points
    While what I saw on the security guys iPhone yesterday may not be typical as you say, I'm still very impressed with any display that will very accurately show me standing on the edge of my driveway and 8-10 feet from the road itself on the sat view. Perhaps I'm easily impressed. I'm going to watch for an iPhone I can borrow for an hour or two to compare side by side on a drive using the same maps. If the iPhone is truly comparable, I can't imagine why anyone would think the TomTom or Magellan mount is needed. How can you do better than 6', which appears to be the standard once all the elements are in play on the Droid?
  • mvl 191 Points
    Don't forget Moto's phenomenal track record on antenna design.

    The Startac had by the far the best CDMA cell phone reception of any phone ever made. The Razr v3 was the first phone to lose it's antenna and still keep at the top of the reception pack.

    No doubt a sophisticated Moto antenna is also a contributor here.

    I'm expecting the cellcos to move from "pay per device smartness" back to "pay per GB" in about 1-2 years. At that point I'll probably upgrade my Razr v9 to a smartphone, till then I don't use the "smart" features enough to pay the carrier smartphone tax.
  • gatorguy 326 Points
    I've still got my startac
  • Tim 1481 Points
    If the iPhone is truly comparable, I can't imagine why anyone would think the TomTom or Magellan mount is needed.
    My issue with the iPhone GPS reception isn't the minute to minute need. Rather about once every hour or two something will just kind of freak out and it will drop the fix for 10-20 seconds. That is unacceptable to me, thus the car kit. Otherwise I wouldn't need the augmentation.
  • mvl 191 Points
    I've still got my startac
    I've got 3 of them in a box in the attic. If Verizon didn't ban them from their network (no E-911) I'd still be using them (and still be on Verizon).

    I'm a true Moto loyalist. If Moto releases another real good phone, I'll be first in line to upgrade my Razr. The Droid (and all smartphones these days) are MID's that you can speak into - I can't get myself to talk into a brick.
  • gatorguy 326 Points
    But Google Sky is so cool :)
  • pando881pando881 0 Points
    But Google Sky is so cool :)
    yeah, i like it ttoo
  • markob83 0 Points
    Evo works great with the stock google navigation. The sprint Navigation App is ok... it seems to lag at times and takes a while to determine a route.
  • Leopo 0 Points
    Hi ,
    I had a trouble with GPS connection and performance. There was lot of communication lost, long time posisioning etc. I try to experiment with gps.conf file. After some changes in gps.conf, my GPS performance is excelent.
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