OS Locate App review

Published 19 November 2014

OS Locate app

If you are a walker then chances are that at some point you have found yourself stood at an unknown place, staring a map with a puzzled look on your face trying to work out exactly where you are, and how to get to where you should be.

And sometimes it’s not always easy to work out especially if you are stood somewhere with no distinguishing features.

Of course if you have a GPS unit, you could fire it up and find out. But they are expensive things to buy.

Ah, you think, I have a smartphone and it has GPS built in. But that isn’t much user either as the best you will get is a road map of the area. And besides, there is no signal.

What you need is some sort of app that you can fire up and it will tell you a grid reference, all without needing a mobile signal.

What you need is OS Locate, a free app from the Ordnance Survey which is available for iPhone and Android. And on a recent trip to Edale, I got the chance to try out the Android version.

The app doubles up as a compass as your direction is the first thing you see, whilst your phone gets a GPS lock. Within minutes you’re given a full OS eight digit grid reference, allowing you to locate your position on your OS map. It will also tell you your altitude, although I was unable to confirm how reliable that feature was. Should you wish to, you can even share your location with people by SMS, or social media. The whole thing works with out any mobile signal, and just needs GPS.

There is also a compass mode which overlays a compass onto the output of your camera, just as you would with a traditional compass. Place the compass above the map and line it up in the right direction. To be fair, a proper compass is much cheaper, more reliable and won’t drain your battery, however if you find yourself in a “argh, I have forgotten my compass!” related emergency, then it is handy to have.

All on all though, this is a great app to have installed, especially as the whole thing works with out any mobile signal, and just needs GPS. Thanks to me not getting lost on my walk, it didn’t get any emergency tests, however the adhoc tests conducted all seemed reliable. Hopefully you will never need to use it in anger, but if you do, just make sure your phone is charged!

More can be found out about OS Locate, at the Ordnance Survey website. Since this review was written, the OS Locate app has been redesigned, but still offers the same functionality.


Alan Spedding

14 July 2015 at 9:48 am

Grid references are very accurate but altitude is totally unreliable.

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

15 July 2015 at 10:51 pm

I’ve only recently put the altitude feature to a serious test. Regularly 70-100m out. Not good!

Tony Kelly

20 March 2016 at 11:03 pm

The needle on the compass does not move in the right direction it is exactly 180 degrees out but the compass is showing correctly on my Samsung S6

Derek Simkins

21 August 2016 at 6:17 pm

Moto E, 2nd generation – No compass, or height but grid ref is OK , except on Kinder Scout where it takes a very long time to appear.
Sony Xperia works fine!


17 October 2016 at 1:50 pm

I have a Vodaphone Smart Prime 6 phone and the map location come up very quickly but the compass is hopeless. It does not point north and the needle does not swing if the phone is rotated. Would be of no use even in an emergency.

alison alison scott

20 January 2018 at 7:59 pm

The grid reference is obscured by the icons at the bottom of my screen. I’m on a Samsung Galaxy 6. Anything I can do?


25 May 2018 at 1:12 pm

Great for finding where I am, but I hopefully know that most of the time! Most phones have features to text a location to me, but do that in latitude and longitude, or whatever. This app can convert, but only for my location. Would be nice if it let me input someone else’s location in lat/long, and get a grid reference, as it’s quicker that way to locate someone who is lost. Even nicer if I could paste it from the text message :-)

No need to show the location on a map or anything. I can read a map… Keep it simple!

john fothergill

25 August 2019 at 9:23 am

Grid reference works fine, but compass seems out by 20 degrees (I assume it’s meant to be magnetic North!) and altitude gives incorrect reading

Nick Carton

7 January 2020 at 11:16 pm

I have a Samsung Galaxy S5. The grid reference will not display on the screen the actual figures on the screen. If use the share function I can sent the correct grid reference to others or myself and the grid sent is correct. Of course this is of no use unless I have good phone wireless signal and this is unlikely in many locations walk and need to check a position reference. The height is displayed and the compass function appears to work but as I already have a real compass this is not needed. This would be a really useful app if the grid reference actual displayed on the phone, as it is its not worth having. I really hope you fix OS Locate


4 September 2020 at 9:39 am

Does the OS mapping app not give location? Hence OS locate redundant?

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

4 September 2020 at 10:23 am

Dave – yes, you can get location from the OS Mapping App. But personally I still prefer to use a paper map, and in those situations OS Locate is still extremely useful.

E B Little

1 June 2021 at 12:26 pm

With regards to the compass – if you have a cover which puts the phone to sleep magnetically, remove the cover to get an accurate compass reading.
The magnet in the cover seduces the compass.

Billy Strand

18 April 2022 at 10:52 am

My northings and eastings readout are obscured by the menu bar at the bottom

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