So you’ve decided that you want to buy a sat nav, but which one do you go for? There are so many out there and it’s not immediately obvious why some are £50 and some are £350.
Things you should be looking out for when buying your sat nav are:
1. Screen Size
Gone are the days of the small, square screens on the 3.5 inch sat navs, but there are still a few models around with a smallish 4.3 inch screen such as the Garmin Drive 40LM (all sat navs are considered ‘widescreen’ or ‘XL’ these days). The most popular mainstream size for in-car use is now the 5 inch models (such as the TomTom Go 5200 or Garmin DriveSmart 50LMT-D). However, a number of people prefer the slightly easier-on-the-eye 6 inch models, especially for use in larger family cars (6 inch models include the TomTom Go 6200 and Garmin DriveSmart 60LMT-D). Bigger still, there’s the option the 7 inch models (such as the Garmin DriveSmart 70LMT-D), which are probably most suited to motorhomes or trucks.
2. Maps & Navigation
Adding new maps to your sat nav is always possible, but can be more expensive than you might think, so it always makes sense to include the maps you’ll need into your initial purchase. So by all means stick with UK & ROI maps if you’re sure you’re not going to want to take the sat nav on your travels, but if you think it might come in useful on your next trip to France etc, then go for a model with EU maps. Also, a lot of models sold in the UK offer a ‘Western EU Maps’ version which includes France, Italy, Spain etc, but not Croatia, Bulgaria etc. Buying Western EU maps over Full EU maps can save a bit of money. Just to avoid confusion, all sat navs sold in the UK include maps for the full UK & Ireland!
Whilst extras such as ‘text-to-speech’ and ‘lane guidance’ used to be considered premium features, you’ll find these as standard in any sat nav that’s been released in the past couple of years.
There’s a few different ways of getting traffic updates on your sat nav these days. The most basic sat navs (such as the TomTom Start) don’t have traffic updates and have no way of adding them. The more intermediate sat navs (such as the Garmin Nuvi 2599LMT) offer lifetime traffic updates via a RDS/FM transmitter. This is special traffic information broadcast over the airways like radio. Whilst useful, it’s not as accurate or updated as frequently as ‘Digital’ traffic. The high-end sat navs (any Garmin with LMT-D after it, or the TomTom Go 5200/6200) offer a SIM card based service that uses data broadcasts to give the most accurate traffic info available. This service works abroad as well as at home, for no extra charges. Somewhere between intermediate & high-end models, (such as the TomTom Go 52), the ‘Digital’ traffic service is offered, but only by pairing the sat nav with your smartphone (and therefore using your mobile data plan and roaming charges accordingly).
Bluetooth allows you to connect your smartphone to your sat nav. If you want access to Digital Traffic (see above), want to make phonecalls using the sat nav as a microphone/speaker, or use smart features such as Siri integration, you’ll need Bluetooth.
5. Screen Type
There are two types of screen. A resistive screen is found on the entry-level sat navs. This means you have to slightly push the screen to register a touch. The higher-end models have a capacitive touch screen, which is what we’re more familiar with these days, (the type of glass found on smartphones), and allows multi-touch features such as ‘pinch-to-zoon’.
Not an immediately obvious choice to make, but whilst low resolution on the entry-level sat navs is perfectly fine for maps & directions, if you intend to use smart features such as Google search or TripAdvisor reviews, then a high resolution is much better for reading. In reality, you shouldn’t have to worry about this as the high-end models have a high resolution anyway.
Entry-level models have a pretty standard suction-cup type mount that you stick on your windscreen. The higher-end models have some neater magnetic solutions which allow the sat nav to be mounted and unmounted with ease, and even to be swivelled around for a dual orientation view.
8. Voice Control
Voice control is found on all high-end sat navs, but not necessarily on the more basic models. Voice control allows you to talk to the sat nav, e.g. “Take me home”, rather than have to type it in using the screen. Whilst not always perfect, it can be safer and quicker than touch screen entry.
9. Caravan, Truck, Car, Motorbike?
Whilst we’ve focussed on in-car sat navs, there’s no such thing as ‘one sat nav fits all’. If you’re towing a caravan, driving a motorhome, or navigating a truck/HGV, a specialist sat nav may well be your best choice. See our selection of the best caravan and camper at navs right now. The primarly advantage of a dedicated camping/trucking sat nav is the ability to add vehicle weight & dimensions to ensure only suitable routes are given. There’s also dedicated sat navs for motorcyclists such as the TomTom Rider and Garmin Zumo. And whilst not exactly a traditional sat nav, there are Garmin Forerunner GPS devices for runners and Garmin Edge GPS devices for cyclists!
10. Smart Features
A relatively new thing to consider on sat navs, but if you’re a fan of the latest technology then look out for features such as text messaging, Siri integration, Google integration, and integrated TripAdvisor reviews.