Those who travel a lot and love adventure in the mountains or remote places know when a map can be useless without a good compass to indicate the North or one of the other cardinal points. Even modern technological navigators or navigation apps can do very little in remote places where there is no Internet signal: in these cases a good offline map is not enough, we must necessarily work alongside a good digital compass that can work. without network connection, using the powerful sensors present on all modern smartphones (both Android and iPhone).
The following guide is dedicated to all explorers who travel a lot and never want to lose their orientation in the most narrow and unexplored places on the planet: we will show you all the best compass apps to navigate anywhere using the phone's built-in sensors, so you always know where the North is, even where there is no Internet signal and no telephone coverage.
Compass app on your smartphone
Compass apps are very simple to use and calibrate, as well as consuming very little from the battery point of view: in fact, they only consume the screen, which often stays on when using this type of app. These apps are preferable to use in extreme situations with a "battle" phone, such as those recommended in our guide Best Rugged Phones, indestructible phones: which ones to choose.
The compass on modern phones is obviously virtual, as there is no real hand that moves based on the earth's magnetism. Apps designed to function as digital compasses take advantage of the phone's sensors (in particular magnetometer, accelerometer and GPS) to obtain the residual terrestrial magnetism and "find" the North, so as to be able to replicate the functioning of the hand on the app screen.
This explains why the compass apps work even without any Internet connection: the phone's sensors always work as long as it is switched on and it takes very little to replicate the operation of a real compass, with a very high level of precision. Your phone's sensors often need to be calibrated the first time you start the compass app, in order to work correctly: this calibration is often achieved by moving the phone and drawing a shape of 8 in the air several times, until the calibration is completed. It is advisable to calibrate the sensors for the compass before setting off or setting off on an adventure, so as to have a working compass immediately and avoid incorrect readings when it is really necessary to recover the precise direction.
Compasses integrated into operating systems
Almost all Android smartphones and latest generation iPhones have a compass app among the default system ones, so we don't even have to worry about downloading anything, just remember the integrated app and use it at the appropriate time, perhaps calibrating it from time to time (at least once a month).
Android smartphones come with various predefined compass apps, with different functions and different graphics; for example on Xiaomi there is a nice app Compass callable among the system tools or bootable from the app launcher.
This app is very simple and shows the position of the North in a clear and precise way. In addition to the simple compass we can also find the estimated coordinates (in the lower part of the app) and also a useful level (in the screen on the right), so that you can use the phone to measure the level of inclination of a floor or a table.
There is a nice system compass app on iPhones, identical on all phones supporting iOS 14 or later and usually hidden in the folder EXTRAS.
This app shows the direction of the North on a very detailed scale, as well as using the GPS coordinates to show the altitude and the estimated coordinates (and with them they also display the location or city where we are at that precise moment) .
These apps are free and ad-free, but are often too simple for professional explorers or those looking for a truly detailed compass; for this reason we have also made two chapters in which we can find the best free compass apps for professional or military use.
Best free compass app for Android
The first compass app that we recommend you try on Android is Compass: Digital Compass, available for download from the Google Play Store.
This app is one of the most accurate compasses we can try on our phone, thanks to the use of the gyroscope, accelerator, magnetometer and gravity meter sensors on the device. In addition to the direction of the North the app also shows the altitude, the strength of the magnetic field, the angle of the slope and can be programmed to always point in a precise direction (to reach the South or one of the other cardinal points).
If we are looking for a nice and beautiful compass to look at, we can focus on the app Compass Steel, available for download from the Google Play Store.
This app offers various color themes for the compass shown on the screen, which is very reminiscent of classic metal compasses. In addition to the information related to the compass, we can also find information about pitch and roll, the intensity of the magnetic field and the approximate coordinates of the point where we are.
Another compass app that we can freely download is Just a compass, available from the Google Play Store.
On this app we can apply various themes for the compass, so as to choose the one that best suits our needs or the one that is easier to read. Among the additional information provided (via Internet connection) we also find the coordinates of the place where we are, the altitude, the time of sunrise and the time of sunset, very useful if we are in a foreign country or lost in the Forest.
Best free compass apps for iPhone
The first compass app that we can download on the iPhone is Commander Compass Go, available for download from the Apple App Store.
This app is extremely precise and is designed for purely military use, thanks to the very detailed graphics and the presence of advanced functions such as: 3D compass using the rear camera (AR compass), GPS signal accuracy, coordinates, visibility, density of the air, wind, temperature, sunrise time and sunset time.
On this compass app we find a hi-tech compass with integrated maps, gyro compass, GPS receiver, tracking for direction points, speedometer, altimeter, position detection tool for the sun, moon and stars, horizon gyroscope and coordinate converter.
Another compass app that we can download on the iPhone is Compass∞, available for download from the Apple App Store.
The app is presented as an enhanced version of the compass app integrated in the iPhone, with the addition of a Temperature and Weather indicator (to use it we must enable location services), altitude calculation, flash for night or in case of emergency and pursuit by direction points.
The compass apps are very simple to use on a smartphone even when we are lost in the middle of a forest or on a mountain and they often provide more information than a traditional compass with a suspended magnetic needle. If we do not need a military-type compass we can be satisfied with the compass integrated in the phone, otherwise we proceed to download one of those indicated in the guide to have maximum accuracy anywhere in the globe.
To discover other apps or useful information when we travel, we recommend reading the guides Best apps for traveling and going on vacation (Android and iPhone) e Draw routes and create itineraries on Google maps.
The best compass apps to orient yourself and never get lost