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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How do I use an external GPS receiver with my phone?

Contributed by John J. Herzog

One of the Android apps that blind and visually impaired users especially enjoy is WalkyTalky by the Eyes-Free Project. When the app is on, users hear street addresses as they walk past buildings and houses. If the phone has a good internal GPS receiver, this app makes independent travel much easier, but if the device has a buggy internal receiver, as is the case with the Samsung Epic, feedback is nonexistent or obviously inaccurate.

For users who are not hearing spoken feedback or reliable information from WalkyTalky and other navigation apps, I highly recommend the use of an external Bluetooth receiver with an app called Bluetooth GPS Provider by mobile-j.de. This combination of hardware and software greatly increases the accuracy of the GPS and even, as in my case, the amount of auditory feedback delivered.

Bluetooth GPS receivers are available through eBay and electronics stores like Radio Shack and Best Buy. I have the Holux m 1000. Other members of the Eyes-Free users list recommend the i-Blue 737 and the Qstarz 818, which have a newer chip set and reportedly get you within 10 feet of a location. Whichever device you choose, be sure to read the manufacturer's documentation for instructions on operation and maintenance.

To use the external receiver with your phone, do the following:

1. Install Bluetooth GPS Provider by mobile-j.de from the Android Market. Note that the first time you run the app, you may not hear any speech. I had to press the back button to open the main screen.
2. Pair your Bluetooth receiver with your phone through Settings/Wireless and Network.
3. Start the Bluetooth GPS Provider application. The main screen presents three options: Start, Stop, and Choose Receiver.
4. Click on Choose Receiver In Provider, then scroll to and click on the Bluetooth device you paired with your phone.
5. Click the Start button in Provider. If you get a message about allowing mock locations, do that. The app opened the appropriate option in my phone's settings so I was able to check the item. If you have to allow mock locations manually, go into Settings/Applications/Development.
6. Hit Home on the phone. Don't hit Back, or you quit Provider and turn off any feedback.
7. Launch WalkyTalky from the home screen. I heard the address of the house I was near almost as soon as I turned it on.
8. Enable internal GPS if prompted. WalkyTalky may nag you to turn on internal GPS. If you leave the Destination field blank, this does not happen, so you can just use WalkyTalky with your Bluetooth GPS and Provider; however, if you enter a destination, WalkyTalky prompts you to turn on your internal GPS for route information. Don't worry, the external receiver is the one that actually provides the data to your phone. The prompt for turning on internal GPS is a glitch in WalkyTalky.
9. Quit WalkyTalky when you're done.
10. Turn off Bluetooth GPS Provider.
11. Go into the Bluetooth GPS application and hit the Stop button. This prevents Talkback from repeating that there is a bluetooth gps problem when you turn off your receiver.

That's all there is to it. If you're having trouble using WalkyTalky and other GPS apps, it may be that the GPS receiver in your phone is the problem. That is the case for me, and though keeping and charging an external device is yet another thing to remember, using a Bluetooth receiver with a simple Market app is easy and preferable to inaccurate or missing voice guidance.

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