GPS, Tech

The comparison: Smartphones vs. GPS trackers – which device is more accurate?

GPS technology has become an integral part of our daily lives. She guides us through the city streets, helps us pursue our fitness goals and even helps us in emergency situations. While many of us rely on our smartphones for GPS, the question still remains: Why do GPS positions calculated by smartphones sometimes differ from those determined by GPS tracking devices?

In this article, we’ll take a look at aspects that impact GPS accuracy and also examine why there is a difference in perception in this area when it comes to smartphones and GPS trackers.

Understanding the accuracy of GPS

We explain a detailed description of how the GPS position is determined in our article: How GPS Works: How Your Device Knows Where You Are

The accuracy of GPS refers to how closely a device’s calculated position matches its actual location. GPS tracking devices are characterized by their special design, antennas and algorithms. There is a wide spectrum in the area of GPS tracking devices. On the one hand, there are GPS tracking devices, which rely exclusively on GPS signals to determine their location. On the other side of the spectrum are smartphones, which, thanks to their technology, have the ability to supplement GPS data from other sources such as WiFi or mobile network data. GPS trackers are usually in the middle of this spectrum, with a tendency towards smartphones.

Essentially, the accuracy of GPS depends on the device’s ability to determine its location relative to GPS satellites, making best use of available technology.

The differences

Find out more about how to determine the GPS signal faster and more accurately in our article AGPS – A technology to improve GPS performance

The following points show general differences between GPS tracking devices and smartphones that can influence position determination.

Antenna quality and placement

Dedicated GPS tracking devices often have high-quality antennas that are strategically positioned for optimal signal reception.
Smartphones, on the other hand, may have smaller or less efficient antennas and are often carried in pockets, which can hinder signal reception.

GPS chip set

Dedicated GPS tracking devices typically have specialized chipsets optimized for accuracy and power efficiency.
Smartphones typically use more general-purpose chipsets that may prioritize power efficiency over accuracy.

Software algorithms

The algorithms used to calculate GPS positions vary depending on the device. Dedicated GPS tracking devices often use sophisticated data filtering and processing algorithms to increase accuracy. Smartphones may use simpler algorithms, sacrificing precision in favor of battery life and processing power.

Data sources

Smartphones can supplement GPS data with additional information from Wi-Fi or cellular networks to improve accuracy, while dedicated GPS tracking devices rely solely on GPS signals.


Urban environments with tall buildings and dense infrastructure can obstruct GPS signals, reducing accuracy.
Dedicated GPS tracking devices may experience less interference than smartphones, especially in open environments.


GPS tracking devices often collect GPS data at longer intervals. The frequent updates can result in a more stable GPS signal and therefore contribute to more accurate position tracking. Smartphones use lower sampling rates to extend battery life. This can lead to less accurate position calculations, which must be compensated for by additional software processes.

Perception vs. Reality

Despite possible differences in accuracy, many users consider smartphones to be highly accurate GPS devices. This perception is influenced by various factors. This is usually sufficient for everyday use. However, if it is important in a certain situation to have the most accurate GPS position possible, GPS specialists should be considered.

As developers of GPS tracking solutions, we know the case when customers come to us and tell us “The position on my smartphone is different than that determined by the GPS tracker”. Understandably, not everyone is always aware of the technical details that influence position determination. However, the omnipresence of the smartphone means that these factors are often not taken into account when evaluating the current position.

In the following points we would like to briefly explain how it happens that the GPS position of a GPS-enabled device is always compared to that of the smartphone.

User experience

Smartphone users interact with GPS features every day; be it planning the next weekend trip in a map app, or determining your location on a website to find the nearest store. In these cases, additional data is always included to determine the position in order to determine it as accurately as possible. Users then form a sense of accuracy based on these experiences.

Visual feedback

Visual cues from smartphone apps such as maps and navigation interfaces can increase the perception of accuracy. If the smartphone’s GPS is used, for example, when navigating with a map app, the software always ensures that the GPS position is on the road; even if the GPS position actually determined is away from it.

Occasionally high accuracy

Smartphones can achieve high levels of accuracy under optimal conditions, leading users to extend this performance to all situations.

Confirmation bias

Users can selectively remember instances of accurate GPS positioning while ignoring inaccuracies.

Comparative comfort

The convenience of smartphones combining multiple features into a single device often outweighs concerns about absolute accuracy.

Marketing influence

Smartphone manufacturers emphasize GPS capabilities in their marketing, shaping public perceptions of accuracy.


While smartphones have undoubtedly democratized access to GPS technology and enable accurate positioning in many situations, dedicated GPS tracking devices can still provide superior accuracy in certain scenarios. Understanding the factors that affect GPS accuracy can help users make informed decisions about which devices they use for navigation, fitness tracking, and location-based services.

Find out more about how the GPS signal is affected in our article The exact position: What factors influence the GPS signal?

The next time you navigate unfamiliar roads or embark on a wilderness adventure, consider the intricacies of GPS accuracy and how your choice of device may impact your journey. Whether it’s a smartphone or a dedicated GPS tracking device, the key is finding the right balance of convenience and precision for your needs.

Title image: Vanessa Loring / pexels

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