Best sat nav 2014: which one is right for you?
1st Aug 2013 | 15:35
What sat nav should you buy in the UK?
Could the car sat nav boast the shortest lifespan of any technology yet? Surely our GPS-supporting phones are more than capable of handling our daily car sat nav needs?
Not so fast - there's still plenty of life left in dedicated devices. Apart from offering the kind of focus that is only available from a dedicated device, true sat navs offer proper mounting systems that aren't fiddly plastic nightmares and also pack voice options that entertain and inform.
That's not to say that you should leave your phone at home. Phone apps are catching up quickly, and they don't cost the earth either. In fact, some of the most interesting projects are only on phones right now.
Also, consider this: if you're set on using iOS devices for the foreseeable future, pay for the TomTom iPhone app today, and you'll never need to buy a sat nav ever again...
So settle down, buckle up and get ready for a whizz around the current state of the sat nav industry. Here are the top 13 options to help you get from A to B, arranged in order of their market prices.
Android phone / tablet
Are freebie apps really an alternative to premium navigation?
There's a variety of sat nav apps available for Android phones and tablets, and the great news is that on this platform there's absolutely no need to spend any money - the best ones are free.
Google Maps doesn't need much introduction, but surprisingly few have tried Navigation, its linked sat nav app. The driving guides offered by this tool are powerful and accurate, although we'll admit that some of the pronunciations can be clumsy.
You'll have to get used to constant updates, and the interplay between maps and navigation isn't always smooth, but it is free. And it does work. And those constant updates mean it performs well. Plus it takes into account live traffic data, so this app does better than many of the more expensive options at times.
But the real problem is that it requires a data connection. That's a major weakness for a turn-by-turn nav app. A premium alternative is the recently released TomTom app fro Android. It brings all the goodness of TomTom's market leading nav devices to ANdroid. But it's not yet compatible with HD handsets. Bummer.
With that in mind, the best current bet for Android is probably CoPilot Live Premium. It's competively priced at £19.99 for the UK & Ireland version and combines all the usual turn-by-turn niceties with ActiveTraffic and some social networking bells and whistles.
Apple iPhone / iPad
Sat navs for the iPhone don't have to cost you a fortune
The iPhone has had some incredible sat nav apps since day one, but unfortunately they've tended to attract the kind of price tags that could secure you a dedicated device. Thankfully developers are picking up on the fact that there's a place for advert-supported apps too.
NavFree is just such an app, that offers up voice and screen navigation with the option to buy safety camera locations, different voices and additional maps for a mere £1.99. This app is only possible thanks to the work of the OpenStreetMap project, which we'll discuss in a moment.
The alternative with a much bigger up front fee is TomTom for iPhone. At £39.99 for UK & Ireland maps, it ain't exactly cheap. But you know you're getting one of the best nav solutions on the market with perhaps the best routing along with HD Traffic data and more.
Navigation has become a proper big boy's toy. All the major players including Google and Apple are at it. But mapping ain't easy and the stakes are high as Apple found when it ditched Google Maps in favour of its own flawed map app with the iPhone 5.
While all that was going on, Nokia has been trying to reboot its relevance as a smartphone maker and part of that effort is Nokia Here. Intriguingly, it's not just available on Nokia's swanky new Windows Phone 8 handsets. You can also download it for iPhone and Android. And it's free.
We're still getting to grips with how Nokia Here compares on different platforms. But the good news is that you can download map data to the handset. It also comes packed with funky online features like real-time traffic, public transport schedules, points of interest and more.
Admittedly, Nokia Here is more optimised as a general mapping app in the Google Maps mould. But it does have turn-by-turn navigation. It will be interesting to see how it develops.
Skobbler ForeverMap - Android and iPhone - Free
The perfect answer if you're not happy with the route your phone suggests
If you don't get on with the previous apps for your particular smartphone, then it's worth checking out Skobbler's offering, which is available in both iOS and Android guises. This app may not boast all of the features you'll find on high-end sat nav devices, but it does pack a punch, thanks to the power of its underlying technology - OpenStreetMap.
Akin to Wikipedia, but for maps, OpenStreetMap enables you to correct any problems that you see in your journeys. It does mean that some areas are a little patchy, but you can add in information yourself to bring it up to date.
Binatone F350 UK and ROI - £49.99
This budget option is light on thrills, but delivers when getting from A to B
Binatone, as a brand, isn't as recognisable as some others. But even so, the company has put in plenty of years propping up the budget end of the sat nav market. There's nothing obviously missing from the F350 when it comes to the core functionality of planning a route and keeping you on it.
It's true that the interface is a little crude, and the suction mount isn't as flexible as some, but it's surprisingly well designed and the package is certainly complete. The 3.5-inch display is clear, boasts 2D and 3D views and even comes with safety camera alerts. It also doesn't require a subscription.
Navman EZY - £59.99
The most affordable Navman, but is it worth your cash?
Navman is a much more recognisable name in the world of sat navs, and the EZY rolls in at only £10 more than the Binatone offering. The extra cash doesn't get you much more in the headline-grabbing specifications - both have 3.5-inch screens, 2D and 3D displays and simple mounting systems - but it's the subtleties that matter.
The lane guidance of the EZY is a welcome addition for this much money, as is the speed warning feature. This alerts you with a couple of beeps if you go over the current speed limit, and while the voice is a little fuzzy, this a great value package.
Garmin Nuvi 1200 UK & ROI - £69.99
Find the route that is easiest on your petrol tank
On the surface, this entry for Garmin doesn't seem too different from what has gone before, but there are a number of extras on offer here that lift it above previous Garmin Nuvi sat navs such as the Garmin Nuvi 3790T.
The big sell of the Garmin Nuvi 1200 is the inclusion of the ecoRoute software, which attempts to help you find the most fuel-efficient route for your journey and for your driving style. The ability to pinpoint your location and find all the local services around you make it an ideal companion for holidays. The inclusion of safety camera locations and speed limits warnings are also welcome.
RAC 5000 UK & ROI - £69.99
Why not try something a little more dramatic, like a widescreen
At a penny under £70, the big excitement of the RAC 5000 is the fact that it boasts a 5-inch widescreen display at an incredibly low price. In fact, you'd have to look very hard to find a widescreen sat nav even vaguely in the same ballpark as this.
The obvious benefit of having more screen space is that you can see more of the roads around you, and get more information about your journey on that screen. The great value of the RAC 5000 extends to the free safety camera updates for life, as well.
TomTom Start 20 - £85.30
Quality costs that little bit more
TomTom overhauled its Start range last year, and this, the Start 20, received a good amount of love in the process. While this is a little more expensive than some of the budget offerings out there, the general feeling of quality is incredible. While it lacks some of the features you can find higher up the food chain, such as bluetooth connectivity and traffic jam updates, it does boast a solid interface and a clear, bright screen.
You also get detailed junction views and road names on your maps, and an impressive number of points of interest to peruse in your idle moments. Overall, this is the budget sat nav that defines the market.
Navman Panoramic - £149.99
Tired of squinting at tiny sat navs? Try this whopper
The Navman Panoramic has one clear advantage over its peers - its size. While cheaper sat navs wander around in 3.5-inch guise, and even mainstream widescreen models are a mere 5-inches, the Navman Panoramic is a huge 7-inches of GPS-powered joy. The touchscreen is bright and clear, and boasts large buttons for easy access.
You also get four different routing options for your journeys - ranging from the most economical to the fastest possible. The included car-mounting kit is incredibly versatile too, which means that despite the Panoramic's size, it won't obscure your view.
Read: Navman Panoramic review
TomTom GO Live 820 Top Gear Edition UK & ROI - £179.99
Need a little light entertainment while out on the road?
What better way to ease along a boring journey than by having the dulcet tones of Top Gear's opinionated front man tell you which way to go. Despite the name, this compact 4.3-inch model only features Jeremy Clarkson and The Stig (who is silent), but there are some entertaining lines to keep it rolling along nicely.
There's a little problem in the value for money stakes, particularly for such a small screen, but the core functionality is there. There's the option to change the voices if you get bored with the xenophobic Top Gear presenter, as well.
TomTom GO Live 825 Europe - £199.99
Stay connected while travelling around Europe
TomTom splits its sat nav lines into connected and non-connected models, with the Live 825 falling firmly into the first category. These Live devices are for those that drive a lot, and need the latest road and traffic information wherever they go. Beyond this difference, which incurs an annual subscription after the first year, the delta in features is actually quite slight.
Even so, for the target audience, where time wasted on out-of-date maps is money, knowing where there are traffic jams and speed cameras is worth paying for. Factor in the 5-inch widescreen display and the maps for the whole of Europe, and this isn't bad value at all.
Garmin nuLink! 1695 LMU UK, ROI & Europe - £199.99
Keep your maps up to date without digging too deep
When you reach the upper echelons of the sat nav market, there are a number of givens about the devices and their capabilities. Displays tend to be of the 5-inch widescreen variety and live updates are an integral part of the package.
Garmin's nuLink ensures that you have the latest traffic information for your journey, although as with TomTom's Live service, this requires a yearly subscription. The good news is that the 1695 LMU comes with a lifetime of map updates (that's the LMU bit), which helps ensure that even if you don't sign up to the nuLink service, you at least know your maps are current.
Garmin nuvi 3490LMT - £249
A slick smartphone exeperience in a satnav
Any standalone nav device has a tough time justifying itself in this age of apps. But near-£300 satnav? That's a very tall order.
The Garmin nuvi 3590LMT has a pretty good stab at it, however. It starts with ultra-slim smartphone aping propotions. The phone analogy extends further, too. Garmin has gone for a capacitive touchscreen where most nav devices use a resistive screen.
The result is one of the slickest and most responsive satnavs on the market. Elsewhere, the steep sticker price buys you UK and Euro maps with updates for life, Bluetooth and voice control. You'll have to pay extra for Live services, of course. But it was ever thus.