How to use an Android phone as a compass

How to use an Android phone as a compass
If you know your way around a smartphone, then you're surely aware of their versatility. There's a substantial number of every-day tools and devices a smartphone can replace, such as a camera, a radio, an alarm clock, a flashlight, a sound recorder... we can go on. The humble compass is also on that list, as you may or may not know. Inside your handset, there is a tiny magnet spinning around an axis and pointing at the planet's north pole.

Okay, we lied. Compass functionality in phones and tablets is enabled by something a bit more sophisticated – a sensor called a magnetometer, which is used to measure the strength and direction of magnetic fields. By analyzing Earth's magnetic field, the sensor allows a phone to determine its orientation pretty accurately.

Does your Android phone have a magnetometer? Yup, chances are that it does as most Android devices do. Even if you have an old or a cheap phone, there's likely a magnetometer inside of it. And, there are a lot of apps out there that make use of that magnetometer to display a digital compass on your phone's screen.

Samsung's Compass is hiding in an Edge Panel

Samsung's Compass is hiding in an Edge Panel

Now, some big name brands will include a compass app or function in their phones — for example, Samsung has a Quick Tools edge panel, with a compass widget embedded right on it, while Huawei's latest-and-greatest have their own a separate Compass app. If you are not sure whether you have this on your phone, perform a quick search — the easiest way to look for an app is by tapping on the Google search widget on the home screen and typing in "compass". Otherwise, see if your app drawer has a search bar, or just look for the app manually if you dare to do so.

In any case, stock Android doesn't have its own compass app, so chances are high you might be missing one. But hey, there's an app for everything!

Smart Compass for Android is an app we'd recommend. In fact, it is probably the only compass app you'll ever need. But before you can use the app effectively, you have to calibrate your phone's magnetic sensor, and the app will surely remind you to do so. To calibrate your Android phone's magnetometer after launching Smart Compass, hold it up and move it around in a figure 8 fashion. Several spins should do the trick. 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 that are close to your phone. 

Smart Compass

Smart Compass


So now Smart Compass should be pointing (fairly accurately) towards the north pole. It should have also turned on your camera, with the compass overlayed over the video feed. Why? Well, if you hold your phone vertically, a crosshair will appear pointing at the exact direction you need to go in order 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. And if you like the app, consider supporting its developer. The Pro version of Smart Compass ($0.99) adds a speedometer and the option to send GPS coordinates via SMS or email.

Alternatively, if you like a more modern-looking, white-on-black digital compass, check out Compass by R. Apps. It's not feature-packed, but it looks nice and is accurate.

Compass by R. Apps

Compass by R. Apps


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6 Comments

2. HildyJ

Posts: 327; Member since: Aug 11, 2012

I'd also check out Smart Tools by Smart Tools Co. (aka androidboy1 - there are a bunch with similar names). It has similar compass functionality and also displays the magnetometer readings for use as a metal detector. Plus it has a flash light, magnifying glass, mirror, ruler, level, protractor, sound meter, diatance measure, and unit convertor. Well worth the $2.99.https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=kr.aboy.tools

4. LikeMyself

Posts: 619; Member since: Sep 23, 2013

Holo Compass is perfect for me! About 700kb, no intrusive permissions, free, no ads, and a simple minimalist compass which gets the job done perfectly!

7. maxdroid

Posts: 9; Member since: Dec 29, 2018

nice app

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