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Location services: Which option is right for you?

Android phones come with a few options for location services, and these are useful for map apps, locating nearby shops, restaurants, and the like, but which one is the right one for you to use? Let's clarify the differences and help you out.

How to choose location services options

To find and select your location services if your phone uses Android 7 (Nougat):

  1. Tap the Settings button in your App Drawer.
  2. Tap Location under the Personal menu.
  3. Tap Mode.
  4. Tap the option you want to use for your location service.

To find and select your location services if your phone uses Android 8 (Oreo):

  1. Launch Settings from the notification shade.
  2. Tap Security & Location in the main menu.
  3. Tap Location under the Privacy heading.
  4. Tap Mode.
  5. Tap the option you want to use for your location service.

Now let's have a look at each of the three options and see what they mean.

High accuracy

When you select the High accuracy location service mode, you are allowing multiple networks to pinpoint your precise location (hence the name High accuracy). It calls upon every service available: GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and/or cellular networks in whatever combination available, and uses Google's location services to provide the most accurate location.

Your phone's location will be fairly accurate, and down to the street corner you're standing on or the home address you're living at or visiting. You'll probably want this mode turned on if you're looking for turn-by-turn directions.

Battery saving

Eliminating GPS will save your battery life a fair amount. Battery saving mode uses less battery-intensive location sources (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and/or nearby cell towers) to figure out where you are using Google's location services. This will not be as accurate as using GPS, but you will still get a close approximate location and your maps or apps might still point you in the right direction, depending on how many cellular towers, registered Wi-Fi hotspots and Bluetooth beacons are in range.

If you need to know where you are but want to save as much battery as you can, give this a try.

Device only

Device only mode relies solely on the GPS radio signal built into your Android phone. It works in much the same way that a GPS device for cars does, using the GPS-designated network of satellites to find your phone's location. This means it will work in places where you won't find enough Wi-Fi, cellular towers, and Bluetooth beacons to get a proper location. The GPS radio uses more battery power and doesn't work reliably unless you are outside.

Which one's right for you?

That depends on what you need location services for. If you want turn-by-turn directions or need a precise location for an app like Pokemon Go or Ingress, you'll need to use High accuracy mode. If you only need an approximate location and being within a general area is good enough, Battery saving mode will work fine. If you're somewhere with poor phone service or a place with a lot of tall buildings Device only mode will provide the same location as High accuracy mode will because you're really only using the GPS service to see where you are.

Our recommendation is to use High accuracy mode when you need location services unless you see a significant loss in battery life.

And remember, you can always turn location services Off if you would rather not let apps know where you are, but the apps may not work correctly. See why an app wants to know where you are and decide if it's worth sharing with the app developers.

Updated January 2018: Updated screenshots for the current OS.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

10 Comments
  • I rarely ever see it mentioned, but what's everyone's opinion on Qualcomm's iZat location services? Other than High Accuracy when I'm using Google Maps, Battery Saving Mode does pretty much everything I need. https://www.qualcomm.com/products/izat Opinions seem mixed on IZat but I'm curious to know if anyone has it one and what you think.
  • I have mine set on Battery Saving all the time, but then I live in an urban setting. When i checked on Find My Device after getting my new Pixel, I was amazed at how fast it honed in on my exact location. My previous iPhone took 5x as long to find my semi accurate location.
  • If you're frequently using apps that request location, your TTFF (time to first fix) will be low. If you have a background app requesting location, your phone will probably already have a fix, even inside a house (if where you're standing in the house isn't too shielded).
  • Thanks for this article, btw. Helpful for newbies.
  • High Accuracy 24/7
  • Battery Saving requires data connectivity (to transmit signal power/ID from various received signals and receive triangulation information from Google's servers). If you don't have mobile data enabled and you're not connected to the Internet via Wifi (or perhaps Bluetooth), Battery Saving won't update much. When the new Broadcom chipsets that receive dual frequency GNSS signals are incorporated into phones (BCM47755) and watches (BCM47758) later this year, Device Only won't use so much power and will be very close to High Accuracy; it might even beat High Accuracy outside Urban Canyons (particularly if Google's database is inaccurate).
  • High accuracy always
  • High accuracy on but I only turn on location when I need it. Which to be honest is maybe once every couple of days e.g. transit lyft, Uber and whenever I need maps.
  • What I'd like to know is how to have high accuracy location on, but only when an app is actively needing it. I'm sure that even with location history switched off my phone always knows where it is which means is frequently polling location services and using up battery when I don't need it to
  • Unless an app has a legitimate need for ANY location info, I turn off that permission. If the app has problems functioning, well, bye, bye ! Most of the time, location is asked for to serve nothing more than advertisers, wanting to scoop up ALL the personal info they can. That's why I have only one app with ads, out of well over one hundred apps. If developers don't offer a pro version, or in app purchase to remove ads, I usually just ignore those. The main issue Jerry skipped, is settings inside Google app, to reduce their spying, like nearby craptastic service. Just look at ALL the location services Google Play Services is running at all times!