How to use your phone as a compass + the best Android compass apps

How to use an Android phone as a compass
Nowadays we have GPS tracking, which lets us use navigation apps like Google Maps and Waze. However, these apps won't work if you find yourself in a place that doesn't exist on the map. So, in such dire circumstances, you will need a compass. And the best thing is that you don't need to go hunting for a compass to bring on every vacation. Your trusty Android smartphone can act as one.

But now you are probably wondering how to use your phone as a compass. Well, let us explain.

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Does my phone have a compass?

Do you have a compass on your phone? The answer is Yes, sort of. Android smartphones come with a nifty sensor called a magnetometer, which is used to measure the strength and direction of magnetic fields. By analyzing the Earth's magnetic field, the sensor allows a phone to determine its orientation pretty accurately. Most likely, your smartphone features such a sensor.

However, you will need to install a special compass app on your Android phone to take advantage of that magnetometer. The good news is that there are a few nice free compass apps out there that you can install to turn your Android smartphone into a compass. Of course, there are also paid compass apps that unlock additional features. And since there are a ton of such applications on the Google Play Store, we've rounded up a list of the best compass apps for Android.

Best Android Compass Apps (free and paid)

Compass & Altimeter

(free app / $2.50 for the Pro version)

An awesome compass app for Android smartphones is Compass & Altimeter. It has a very clean and straightforward interface and on top of that, comes with some additional features. Using data from your phone's location services (if you allow it to) the app will show you your altitude, exact latitude and longitude, and the sunrise and sunset times. All of these can be pretty handy during a hike in the mountains. Oh, and, the app is free.

Smart Compass

(free app)

Smart Compass for Android is another free compass app we recommend. Beyond the usual compass functions, it also allows you to overlay the compass on Google Maps or even have it over the video feed from the rear-facing camera of your smartphone. Why? Well, if you hold your phone vertically, a crosshair will appear pointing in the exact direction you need to go to follow the degree shown. Clever, huh? You may turn off the camera feature from the settings menu if you prefer to save your battery.

Smart Compass also has a paid version, dubbed Smart Compass Pro, which costs $2.50. The paid version removes the ads and comes with features like a Car locator, and a Full metal detector.

Compass by R. Apps

(free app)
Another great free compass app for Android is Compass by R. Apps. It has a more modern-looking, white-on-black digital compass, and has a feature that let you check if your shelves are leveled or if your tabletop is perfectly flat. In addition to that, the app has a Wear OS version, which means you can install it on your Wear OS smartwatch as well.

Download Compass by R. Apps for Android

Digital Compass by KTW Apps

(free app/ $1.99 for the no-ads version)

KTW Apps' Digital Compass is another great Android compass app. In addition to, well, a compass, the app also displays sensor status, magnetic field strength, and your current location, including stuff like latitude, longitude, and true north declination. It also lets you switch between true north and magnetic north.

Do I need an internet connection to use my phone as a compass?

No, you don't need an internet connection to use your phone as a compass. Your phone uses a special sensor called a magnetometer, which allows it to measure the strength and direction of magnetic fields and determine its orientation.

Can a phone compass work without GPS?

Yes, your phone's compass can work without GPS. The phone utilizes its built-in magnetometer and doesn't need a GPS signal to determine your position. However, some compass apps have additional features that might require GPS.

How accurate is a smartphone compass compared to a traditional compass?

The compass on your Android phone can be pretty accurate, but you should also know that things like metal objects and electronic devices can affect your phone's magnetometer. Even the metal inside your phone can cause interference. Furthermore, you need to manually calibrate your Android compass in order to keep it accurate.

How to calibrate a compass on Android

To calibrate your Android phone's compass:

  1. launch your compass app of choice
  2. hold your phone up and move it around in a figure 8 fashion several times.

While calibrating, make sure you're far from computers, electric fans, Wi-Fi routers, or other electronics as these may interfere with the magnetic sensor and its readings. Metal isn't welcome either, so remove any rings or jewelry close to your phone. So now the digital compass should be pointing (fairly accurately) toward the North Pole.

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