How To Use A GPS Enabled Smartphone As A Tracking Device

gpstrackingthumb   How To Use A GPS Enabled Smartphone As A Tracking DeviceGPS is one of the more frequently overlooked enhancements in consumer technology.  It’s at least as useful and interesting as Wi-Fi, but often taken for granted. That’s a shame, because it can be incredibly useful, even in older smartphones.

One potential covert use is GPS tracking. A GPS connection from a mobile phone can be used to pinpoint its location, and by extension, the person or vehicle carrying it. Let’s have a look at how you can do this, and the problems you might encounter.

Tracking Apps

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Surprisingly, actually installing a tracker onto a smartphone is the easy part. There are a lot of options available and they’re easy to install straight from the market.

For families, Android has a great solution in the form of the imaginatively named GPS Tracking app. Once installed on a mobile device with GPS, its location can be checked from another phone. It is marketed as a way to keep track of family members, particularly children, and works well for that purpose. Just be warned that it will only run on phones that support Android 2.1 and up, and although the app is free, continued use will require a $4.99/month subscription.

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Another option is to use an anti-theft app like Where’s My Droid? It can track your phone when you send a specific text phrase, so if you’re interested in using your own device for tracking or afraid of losing your phone, it’s a better option.

Apple fans also have access to their fair share of apps, but I don’t own an iPhone. Fortunately, MakeUseOf already has an article covering the 9 best iPhone GPS apps, including GPS Tracker for iPhone.

Learning The Limitations

Now that you have the right app, you’re ready for some gumshoeing – or you can keep track of your kid, at least.

Not so fast! Before you start going GPS crazy you should take a moment to consider the limitations, which can make use of a phone as a tracking device less compelling.

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All GPS devices need to be able to connect with GPS satellites. Depending on the quality of a phone’s GPS radio, this can be rather difficult if a phone is not kept out in the open. Penetrating the cloth of a backpack or pocket could work, but a phone in a car glove box will have real difficulty. It may be able to report a location, but not accurately enough to be of use.

Battery life can also be a problem, as GPS radios suck a lot of power. Using GPS in bursts now and then won’t have much impact, but constant GPS use can take a big slice out of battery life. On newer big-screen smartphones, which already struggle to last a day, frequent use of GPS tracking can reduce endurance to a few hours.

These problems aren’t always an issue with all phones, but I think they’re enough to call GPS tracking with a phone unreliable. That’s not to say you should not use it, but remember that it may not work consistently.

Alternatives To GPS On A Smartphone

If you really need GPS to work reliably, I suggest that you don’t rely on a smartphone. Standalone radios tend to have a stronger signal and better battery life, often lasting for several weeks rather than hours. Some of these devices can even communicate with a computer or phone through an authorized app.

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The cost is a higher price. Inexpensive units start at around $80, but a more serious standalone GPS tracking device can be over $200. Still, if accurate and reliable tracking is required, I would rely on a product designed specifically for that purpose.

Do you agree? Or do you think smartphone tracking is reliable enough to make more specific devices obsolete? Let us know in the comments.

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4 Comments -

0 votes

Plasbot

I have been using Mologogo for cheap gps tracking. It runs on boost phones. The only cost is the boost ‘data’ plan, which is .35 cents per day.  If the phone gets lost or damaged it’s not expensive to replace, and it doubles as an emergency phone.

0 votes

thecolor

mobile devices (aka phones) are decent.  If you can at least figure a way to mount the device near a window in a car or the like and provide a constant power source, they can use GPS and wifi and cellular for the best location… even more accurate sometimes with the combined efforts of all three.

Then, with the pre-paid service (as @Plasbot noted above), you’ve got a winner.  :D

0 votes

M.S. Smith

That’s a lot of work!