Eric Stewart: Running Off At The Mouth

BlackBerry 9630 Tour’s GPS: Less Than Impressed

by Eric Stewart on Jul.25, 2009, under Cell Phones & Providers, Technology

Please note: I use Sprint as my mobile provider, so your experiences may differ if you use the Tour on another provider.

One of the applications I like to play with a bit on my BlackBerry is Google Maps.  On the 8830, this was a fun application to use.  I never use any of the maps applications on the BlackBerry for serious navigation, but it was always a neat thing to be able to get the satellite maps for where you were at the time.

UberTwitter (one of the Twitter apps for the BlackBerry I’ve tried) also has the capability to tag your tweets and photos with GPS data (this does not use any GPS information embedded in the picture, as far as I know, but uses information pulled from the cell phone’s GPS).  While I don’t necessarily need every single one of my tweets having my location data, I don’t mind adding it to most of my pictures.

Thing is, the BlackBerry Tour’s GPS functionality has been less than stellar (indeed, I consider it “fail”) on any application outside of (BlackBerry’s own application) Maps.  In Maps, you get a fairly quick lock on multiple satellites, giving you a fairly accurate positional fix.  Everything else though (including the camera) sucks so far.

Of all the apps I’ve played with the GPS with, let’s use one of the others you’d expect it to be as quick on: the Camera.  Yes, if your GPS is on, the camera can add GPS data to your photos.  When you start the camera application, you’ll note that the GPS indicator will be colored red with an x as the GPS starts up (I’ll gripe about this later).  After it gets a sufficient location lock (not sure what this entails exactly), the indicator turns white and you get the “signal indicator” you’ll also note on your “home” screen when your GPS is on.  My main complaint here is that it seems to take a very long time before the GPS gets a lock – longer than Maps does.  I have yet to be able to pull the data in a manner that I’m sure is pulling it from the picture itself to determine if that data is in any way accurate.

Next, Google Maps.   A quick Google shows several postings on various forums regarding the fail that is Google Maps on the BlackBerry Tour for multiple cell providers, including Sprint (though I have seen claims of it working on other providers).  While Google Maps will fall back to pulling the location information available from the cell tower you’re near if it doesn’t have GPS information, the most accuracy I’ve seen so far is 1200 meters … and it’s been as high as 3900 meters.  A good GPS fix should get you within 10 meters.

But it’s not just Google Maps.  UberTwitter gives you various options for including (or not including) GPS data when you tweet or submit pictures.  While visiting Disney World today, I posted several pictures that included GPS information, and even added GPS information to a tweet.  While the tweet seems to have been fairly accurate (10 meters!), it would appear that the pictures had to rely on cell tower information for their location data.

So first off, it looks like RIM may have changed the GPS stuff enough to throw off the code in common GPS capable apps (including possibly their own camera app).  I would like to see a quick update to the Tour’s OS to resolve these issues, unless the fault actually does lie with the applications.  I have some faith that Google will fix Google Maps eventually, as the little research I’ve done indicates that they’re rather good at dealing with different versions of the same application for different handsets – even when those handsets are from the same vendor.

But all that aside, there’s something that bothers me with how the GPS works when it’s “on”.  I understand some of what’s going on here, and I’m of two minds:

  1. When I tell the GPS to turn on, it should be on.  When I pop open an application, it shouldn’t have to turn on the “on” GPS and wait for satellite locks.  That should already have been done.  The app should just be able to query the current location from the “on” GPS.
  2. Here’s the rub: my guess is that some of what’s happening here is happening because RIM wants to save battery life.  Thing is, I haven’t seen the best battery life out of my Tour yet.  I’ve been fairly hard on it lately, mind you, using it for listening to podcasts and mucking with it to do Twitter and GPS testing; but I’m not really impressed.  I’ve had a few cases where the Tour has barely lasted until the mid-afternoon after an overnight charge.

So!  It’s been a little more than a week for me, and the honeymoon may just be over with this new BlackBerry.  The device is feeling a little less than polished – almost as if it wasn’t fully tested before it was released upon the masses.  I may not have tormented my 8830’s GPS nearly as much as I’ve tried to torment the Tour’s, but then the 8830 didn’t have all of the features the Tour purports to have, and what features it did have, worked well (on the other hand, it didn’t have the memory for all the applications I wanted to throw at it either).  I’ll have to keep an eye on a few things … hopefully we’ll soon see updates from either BlackBerry or the app writers … or both!


2 Comments for this entry

  • cparte01

    An OS upgrade has been released for Sprint RIM Blackberry Tour
    On your Sprint RIM Blackberry Tour phone on the main screen go to
    Advanced Options
    Wireless updates
    Check for updates
    It will find v4.7.1.57
    download (20 meg)
    It takes about 2 hours start to finish
    The GPS functions on Google maps v3.0.2 will now work

  • Eric

    Thanks for posting an update! As I note in a later blog posting, I gave my BlackBerry up – but I do so like to have additional information, if available.

    Thanks again!

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