There are only a handful of Fitbits with built-in GPS. However, most of its other devices have the ability to connect to a GPS signal via your smartphone. Here’s what to do if you’re having trouble establishing a connection.
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Those that run or cycle often appreciate the usefulness of built-in GPS. And while there are quite a few sports watches with this functionality, fitness bands with built-in GPS are few and far between.
The next best thing is Connected GPS. This is a fancy term meaning the device on your wrist can piggy-back on your smartphone’s GPS signal. The benefit of this is that your outdoor exercise stats will be more accurate, plus you get a map of the workout in the Fitbit smartphone app.
What to do if the Fitbit is unable to get a satellite signal
Those of us that have a watch with built-in GPS know that it can be very difficult at times to secure a connection. The same applies to Connected GPS – yes, the dreaded ‘Connecting…’ message!
Fitbit suggests you switch off Wi-Fi on the phone when using Connected GPS. Of course, the Bluetooth on your smartphone needs to be switched on in order for it to communicate with the device on your wrist. You can check whether this is the case by going into the Bluetooth settings on your phone.
Your phone needs to be within 30 feet of your device, and the Fitbit app should be open while you are tracking your workout. The wearable will vibrate to indicate that it found a GPS signal. How quickly this occurs depends on your surroundings. Tall buildings, dense forests or steep hills might all impede with your phone’s ability to find a GPS satellite.
Ideally, you want to wait until the signal is established before you start your exercise. Otherwise the step count will be used to estimate distance instead of GPS, and your workout data will be less accurate.
If you’re not getting a signal the first thing to do is to check that Connected GPS is switched on. On the Versa 1 or 2, this is done by tapping the gear icon on any exercise and making sure that GPS is listed and switched on. Similarly, on Charge 3 check that Use Phone GPS is listed and on for the particular exercise. On Charge 2 and Inspire range you will need to do this via the Fitbit app. Choose the Today tab/your profile/your device images/Exercise Shortcuts. Find the exercise and make sure Connected GPS is on.
Additional things you can try
Here are a few more things you can try if you’re still having problems obtaining a GPS signal:
- close and re-open the Fitbit app
- restart your smartphone
- go to the Location section in your smartphone’s settings and make sure Fitbit has permission to access these
- for Android smartphones, in your phones settings go to location, location method, and choose phone only
- other smart devices (such as headphones) may interfere with the Bluetooth signal, so you may want to try switching these off
But what if you are having problems securing connection on a device with built-in GPS? There are things you can do to help resolve this.
Charge 4 is the latest fitness band from the San Francisco wearables manufacturer. It’s main upgrade is the inclusion of built-in GPS. You won’t find many fitness bands with built-in GPS.
The previous editions only had Connected GPS. This means they require your smartphone in order to obtain a satellite signal.
No other Fitbit fitness bands have built-in GPS. But a couple of smartwatches do – Versa 3 and Sense. Or you could opt for the agening Ionic.
Using built-in GPS on a Fitbit
Using the built-in GPS is very simple. Open the Exercise app on your Fitbit and choose an activity such as walk, run, bike, golf or hike. These are the ones that support GPS tracking. The others don’t so there’s no point in trying.
Wait until the tracker establishes and connects to the satellite. Once the signal is there tap on the play icon to commence your workout.
There are three GPS settings you should be aware of. One is the built-in GPS which works as explained above. There’s also a Phone GPS setting which works as described above – via Connected GPS (by tapping into the GPS sensors on your smartphone). The final option is called Dynamic GPS. This uses the built-in GPS at the beginning of the workout, but if you have your phone with you it will revert to its sensors to map the route.
You might want to choose the second or third option to preserve battery life. This is done by going into the settings on Charge 4 and tapping on “GPS Settings”.
Of the three options, built-in GPS is much more convenient as it allows for true phone-free exercising outdoors.
What to do if built-in GPS on Fitbit doesn’t connect
As long as you are using built-in GPS and the connection is stable, your activity tracker will utilise that data to calculate distance, step count and other stats. If the connection is non-existent or drops, your tracker will refer to counting your steps to estimate these metrics.
There are a few things you can do to make sure Charge 4, Versa 3, Sense or Ionic establishes a connection quickly.
For starters, make sure you have a clear view of the sky. This will help with obtaining the signal. Avoid tall buildings, dense forests, steep hills. Even thick cloud cover can make obtaining a connection more difficult, but there’s nothing you can do about that.
Essential reading: Best fitness trackers and health gadgets
It’s also a good idea to make sure that GPS is switched on. This is done by opening the Exercise app, choosing the exercise you want to track and swiping up. Make sure the setting is switched to “On”.
Other things you can do include making sure your Fitbit is topped up to at least 80% battery capacity. This is because using built-in GPS is battery draining.
The company says you should also avoid trying to start an exercise with GPS several times in a row. Apparently, that can cause issues.
There’s a 10 minute window to establish a GPS connection. If your device fails to do so, you’ll be presented with options to end the exercise, change the GPS mode or start the exercise again.
What to do if the built-in GPS connection of a Fitbit keeps dropping
Let’s say you managed to establish the connection and commence your workout. But the signal keeps dropping. For example, the GPS connection gets lost midway through your run. A number of users have reported this issue on Fitbit Community forums. This can be very frustrating as it will mess with the exercise data.
Those who have spoken to Fitbit Support report they’ve been told to restart the device. The other suggestions are along the lines the ones we have listed above such as making sure you have a clear view of the sky.
A Fitbit Moderator on the forum says the following.
“We are aware that some customers are reporting that during a GPS activity, the GPS connection may be lost.” and adds
“If normal troubleshooting steps are unsuccessful, we are working on a resolution and are sorry for any trouble. We appreciate your patience and look forward to getting you back on track.”
None of this works? Revert to Connected GPS.
Hopefully one of the above solutions will have resolved any problem you might be experincing with built-in GPS. No? A not-so-ideal workaround can be to revert to using the Phone GPS settings options. It won’t resolve the built-in GPS issue, but at least you’ll be able to put in that workout! And then hope for the best next time around.
Essential reading: Experiencing problems with your Fitbit? Where to get help.
If, on the other hand, you suspect your device is faulty, the other option is to contact Fitbit Support. They will create a case and further assist you. Or you could exchange the fitness band or smartwatch for another one in the store where you bought it.
* This article has been updated in May 2021
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