I bought a Nexus S off eBay and found that the compass direction wanders even with the device laying still. Likewise, the display in Google Sky shakes around even with the resting on a stable surface, and it often doesn't align correctly with the stars. SkEye reports "Warning: Strange Magnetic field!". Calibrating using Advanced tools doesn't fix the problem.

I'm running ICS 4.0.3.

Doing some searching, I've found mention of other problems of the sort with the Nexus S. It's not clear whether these are just anecdotes suggesting that I have unit with a defect. Or perhaps there is a hardware or software design flaw and nothing wrong with this particular unit. Where does one look to determine if there is a pervasive problem with a given model and OS version? Anyone know specifically for Nexus S and ICS 4.0.3?

  • Happens to my brand-new store-bought Nexus S too. I'd always assumed that's simply the state of the art in smartphone compasses. (Google Sky, I assume, is genuinely buggy, since it shakes far more than seems reasonable, even given the flaky compass.)
    – offby1
    Mar 22 '12 at 20:07
  • Good point about Google Sky being buggy. Playing with the sensor speed and damping didn't help the shaking. SkEye doesn't hold still either, but it is better. Perhaps I got spoiled using Planets on an iPhone 4, where I've never experienced any problems. Do you get a "Strange Magnetic Field" warning in SkEye? Mar 23 '12 at 1:35
  • Just to verify, you don't have anything magnetic nearby, and you've tried waving the phone in a figure 8 pattern (at least that's the method on my HTC)?
    – BMitch
    Mar 23 '12 at 2:10
  • I've tried several locations to minimize chance of magnetic interference and verified that the iPhone doesn't seem to have any difficulty (but I avoid putting the two phones near each other when testing). I've tried calibrating with both the figure-eight motion and rotating on all three axes. Mar 23 '12 at 14:24

Had a Nexus S and experienced the same issue, which wasn't present in the Nexus One.

Though my online research, the unofficial stance was that this is a hardware defect in the product line that Samsung and Google either didn't notice or noticed too late to do anything about. The most appropriate place to complain about this would be the Google Product Forums. Here's a thread where this issue is being discussed.


...an alternative would be the call Samsung up and see if they will acknowledge that its a hardware flaw.

Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any fixes for the issue, and have found that although the work around (calibration) helps, the problem either doesn't completely go away or recurs soon after. Just to confirm, the behavior I noticed was:

  • In programs that display compass data (like Marine Compass) rotating the phone results in a partial rotation in the sensor data, followed by an unexpected 90 degree phantom rotation, according to the phone. This puts the displayed barring out of step with the true direction the phone is pointing.

  • In programs that try to display the full orientation of the phone including the direction it's pointing (like Sky Map) the display is shakey, and seldom provides a true indication of where the phone's actually pointing. Smoothing options result in slightly less shake, but the difference is marginal.

  • In spite.of this, games that depended on changes in orientation alone (like those games with the metal ball-bearings you need to guide through a maze--Labyrinth, if I'm not mistaken) worked flawlessly.

I decided to upgrade to a Galaxy Nexus, and noticed that the compass works like it should, and Labyrinth games continue to work. Sky Map, however is still jumpy.

  • 1
    I posted. We'll see if anything comes of it. At least I know it's not just my phone, which is what I wanted to know for now. Apr 4 '12 at 10:00

It's not the hardware gang, it's a programming flaw in Ice Cream Sandwich. My Galaxy Blaze's compass worked flawlessly until I upgraded from Gingerbread to ICS. It seems like they misconnected or merged two of the axies or improperly handled the data.

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