There are only a handful of Fitbits with built-in GPS. However, most of the San Francisco manufacturers 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. Most of the time you can fix the problem yourself – so no need to read through detailed instructions. We also touch on things you can do to improve GPS accuracy.
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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 and smartwatches with this type of functionality, fitness bands with built-in GPS are few and far between. Fitbit is one of a handful of manufacturers that has a couple of fitness trackers in this category.
Granted not everyone has a need for built-in GPS. Particularly as it makes the device a more expensive purchase, plus it greatly reduces battery life.
The next best thing is Connected GPS and you’ll probably find your tracker has this function. Examples of this are older Fitbit Versa or Fitbit Charge devices.
Connected GPS is a fancy term meaning the device on your wrist can piggy-back on your iOS or Android devices 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.
Charge 4, 5
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 as this can impede with the signals. Presumably, as you are outside you won’t find a need to WiFi.
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 iPhone or Android phone.
This is not where the requirements end. Your phone needs to be within 30 feet (around 9 meters) 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 and secure a connection to 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 Versa 1 and 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
Something to keep in mind – not all Fitbit workouts have the ability or need to tap into a GPS signal. Those where you travel a physical distance typically do. Examples of this are walking, hiking, running, cycling, etc. But stationary workouts don’t need a GPS signal – so the option to connect will not be available. It would be pointless and a unnecessary drain on the battery.
But what if you are having problems securing connection on a Fitbit device with built-in GPS? There are things you can do to help resolve this.
Charge 4 and 5 are Fitbit’s only fitness bands built-in GPS. They are part of a small club. As mentioned, you won’t find many fitness bands with built-in GPS.
And while no other Fitbit fitness bands have built-in GPS, a couple of smartwatches do – Versa 3 and Sense. Or you could opt for the ageing Ionic. It also has the function but the device is a number of years old now. You are much better off with something more current.
Using built-in GPS feature on a Fitbit
Using the built-in GPS is very simple. Open the Exercise app on your Fitbit tracker 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 finds, communicates and connects to the satellite. Once the signal is there tap on the play icon to commence your workout. It might take a while for this to happen so be patient.
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, ie. the Connected GPS (by tapping into the GPS sensors on your smartphone). The final option is called Dynamic GPS. This one 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 4,5 or Versa 3 and Sense 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. Not many people like to run with their phone.
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, to work out a map of the route and other stats. If the connection is non-existent or drops, your tracker will refer to counting your steps to estimate these metrics. Needless to say, accuracy will suffer greatly.
Essential reading: Best fitness trackers and health gadgets
There are a few things you can do to make sure Charge 4 or 5, Versa 3, Sense or Ionic establishes a sattelite 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 apart from using it as an excuse not to exercise!
- It is also a good idea to double check that GPS on your Fitbit wearable is switched on. This is done by opening the Exercise app, choosing the workout that 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. 10 minutes is a long time to wait. Something I often do is – I let the tracker establish a sattelite connection a few minutes before I plan to start the workout. It makes waiting for a sinal much less annoying. You might want to try that strategy.
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. You might be happily running or cycling, only to notice that the signal keeps dropping. The GPS connection might even get lost midway through your workout. 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. You want to get credit for every single bit of your effort, of course.
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 said the following at the time. Subsequently they issued a firmware update which squashed the bug.
“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 experiencing 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.
In tests the GPS chip that Fitbit uses has been shown to be fairly accurate. Not top of the range but perfectly adequate for most purposes. If you want top of the range, go for a Garmin, Polar or other dedicated sports watch company.
But what if your Fitbit is connecting to GPS but it is dishing out massively inaccurate data? Not good as you may be awarded too much or too little for your efforts. This is probably due to a weak GPS signal. So while your heart rate and heart rate zones data might be correct, the accuracy of the route, pace and other activity data will be off.
- In some cases there is nothing you can do. It might be because of the terrain, or perhaps you are running in the middle of a city with tall buildings. GPS sensors require a direct path to GPS satellites to calculate location. Choose a different track – preferably one with as clear a view of the sky as possible.
- A while back many Fitbit users were experiencing issues with Connected GPS. That was to do with a software glitch. So make sure the smartphone app is up-to-date. Also check that the firmware on your Fitbit tracker is current. You can do this by performing a sync with the app – a notification will appear if there’s a firmware update that is available.
- Another thing to try for those with Connected GPS is to log out and close the Fitbit app. Then log back in. Toggle the Bluetooth on your phone from on to off and then back to on. Log back into the Fitbit app.
- A more radical way of doing step number 3 is to remove the device from the Fitbit app and your smartphone’s Bluetooth settings. Delete the Fitbit app, and do a factory reset of your Fitbit tracker (this will erase all its data – and it will revert to the state when you bought it). Then you’ll need to reinstall the app, log in with your details. Your data will be there as it has not been erased – it sits in the cloud. Then reconnect your Fitbit tracker as a new device.
- Make sure the battery of your Fitbit has enough juice. If it is running on empty it can weaken the GPS connection. Ideally, it should be above 80% charged before you commence your workout.
- Avoid starting a workout with GPS a number of times in a row. It can mess with the connection and your Fitbit might find it difficult to secure a good sattelite signal.
* This article has been updated in May 2021
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