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Mobile Data Collection toolbox

4.2.2 Managing your mobile device


General configuration

The following image provides a general overview of the main configuration elements in a “typical” Smartphone. Note that the exact location of the different elements can change from a model to another.

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Date and Time

Make sure the date and time are correctly set. Set up the time zone first, and then the date/hour.

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If not done yet, unselect “Automatic” and enter the current date/hour.

Functional GPS

Make sure that your GPS is functional and use the GPS test+ application if necessary (it is generally good to do this the morning before a deployment):

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  • Initialize your GPS with the GPS Test application. Once you have reached an accuracy of 15m or less, you are good to go and can close the application. If you don’t seem to be getting anywhere close to 15m, check in the settings of the application if it has been set up to meters. (Menu: Settings/Altitude units/Metric). It might also make sense to check if the option “Keep Screen on” has been set.

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Remember: you only need to do this when travelling to the next survey site!

Other applications, as GPS Status and GPS Fix, work similarly to the one shown here.

  • Switch off the GPS button if you don’t need it and switch it back on once you move to the next household. It will help you to conserve battery power.

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  • Recording the GPS takes a few seconds; observe the accuracy rate stated on the right side of the box. Once it is 15m or below, press “Record location”. Remember to switch on the GPS. The little GPS symbol needs to be flashing in the status bar. If you can’t get an acceptable accuracy, mark it on the household sheet. If you encounter a problem at the level of the GPS, think of “tuning” it for the first time in the area by connecting the phone to a local wifi (or even better, with a SIM card) – you will then no longer need wifi or 3G the following times.

It is recommended to always define and use metrics and decimal units in the GPS.

Troubleshooting tips & optimization

Is your smartphone or tablet not operating smoothly during mobile data collection events (i.e. with apps such as ODK or KoBo collect)? Here are some tips and suggestions by CartONG to optimize GPS data collection.

Effortless collection of GPS coordinates is what researchers in the field are looking for but barely encounter: either it is taking a very long time to get the GPS coordinates, the displayed accuracy is very low, or sometimes coordinate collection fails altogether!

Proper GPS data collection takes time, and it is often advisable to wait a few minutes to obtain accurate coordinates. However, no official threshold exists for GPS data collection times. This leaves field researchers wondering where the line is between an “appropriate” time interval to collect the points and an interval which would be considered “too long”.

Youtube channel Humanitarian Data Solutions made a series of video tutorials (playlist) on How to Collect GPS Data in KoBoToolbox, ODK Collect and XLSForm.

You can also see ODK tips and best practices for Improving Location Performance.

This support document is built around 2 main sections: 1-Basic tips for GPS data collection (such as disabling the battery saver, a list of apps that can assist one’s device in coordinate collection, etc.), and 2-Advanced tips (such as constraining the wanted GPS accuracy, etc.). It also accompanies the reader on the subject of hardware issues while providing the steps required to test one’s own GPS, and gives advice on a list of further options to consider.

Battery management

Battery management checklist (each morning before going on the field): To keep the battery…

  • wifi OFF
  • Airplane Mode ON
  • GPS OFF when not used
  • The phone brightness must be as low as possible
  • Adjust screen saver time
  • Make sure that no application is running in the background

Other options in difficult contexts…

  • Plan a second battery
  • Plan a battery pack to recharge it
  • Plan car chargers etc. if relevant

Barcode application (optional)

Additional (free) application can be installed on each phone/tablet that will have to read barcodes IF the version of ODK Collect is prior to 1.7.0. On Google Play, search for Barcode Scanner from ZXing Team:

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Barcode scanner can also be installed by USB stick.


The maintenance of your mobile devices (Smartphones/Tablets) is important in order to preserve them and the data collected with them. Here are some best practices to help you do so.

Pin code on your mobile device

In order to limit access to the data on your mobile devices, it is recommended that you put a PIN code on each one of them. Also, a regular change in the PIN code is recommended. SEE WITH DATA PROT Refer to “tutorial 1: how to choose, store and organize your passwords” from the “Data protection quick wins” pack for guidance.

Keep in mind Should you have an upcoming mobile data collection containing any sensitive data, we recommend modifying the mobile devices’ PIN code specifically for this data collection and then switch it back to the old one once the data collection is finalised and the data (completed forms) is removed from your phone (if the setting automatically delete after sending is not activated).

Update the Android system and apps on a regular basis

Make sure to regularly update the apps on your mobile devices. It can happen that you encounter some bugs or issues on your ODK Collect app as the app is not updated and thus not at its most recent version.