Sat navs have revolutionised our driving habits: in the past, if we needed help getting from A to B, we could either invest in a map, or ask for directions. Depending on your abilities to understand the complex guides in that well-thumbed road atlas, or to find a pedestrian with an in-depth knowledge of their area, you may have struggled to actually get to your destination without a few wrong turns. Now, with a handy little device on our dashboard, we can receive explicit instructions one road at a time – even drivers with the worst navigational skills can shave time off their journeys.

Satellite navigation uses the Navstar Global Positioning System (a network of 24 satellites orbiting Earth) to find a connected device’s location data, before relaying this back to the on-screen map. This same process provides a calculated route, giving drivers the directions they need to reach their destination.

How do the satellites actually communicate with your device? Each satellite in the network beams a radio-wave signal down to Earth, and the GPS receiver in your sat nav device detects this; if signals from three or four satellites are received, the system can accurately pinpoint your exact location.

The first car to include a GPS navigation system was the Mazda Eunos Cosmo, manufactured in 1990. Shortly after this, Toyota added one in the 1991 Toyota Soarer, and upgraded it to a voice-assisted version the following year. Based on the success of these additions, various brands installed GPS systems in their vehicles, and now drivers either have them built into their cars, or own freestanding devices.

There’s a huge range of sat navs available today, and this website is dedicated to helping you find the best one for your specific needs: we’ll take a look at the various models on the market, and explore the benefits they offer. 

 

What do I need to know before I buy?

Before you invest in a sat nav, you need to consider which model will be best for your personal driving habits: buying the first one you see could leave you without the features you really want.

So, ask yourself:

  • Are you likely to drive abroad often?
  • Do you need basic features, or extras like live traffic updates?
  • What is your maximum price?
  • Do you regularly follow the same routes, or do you prefer to explore?
  • Would you prefer to invest in lifetime maps, or would you be happy to pay for updates?

Taking your personal needs and budgetary limits into consideration before you buy can help you find the sat nav that’s genuinely best for you.

 

Which types of sat navs are available?

Key differences between sat navs tend to be the following:

Screen size: 

This can vary between 4 and 6 inches – this is measured diagonally from one corner to another. The bigger the screen, the easier you’ll find reading directions and using touch-controls.

Widescreen:

Sat navs with a widescreen display have a 16:9 aspect ratio; the standard on non-widescreen devices is 4:3. Generally, widescreen models feature a sharper display, and text may be easier to read than on standard screens.

Screen quality:

The better the quality of your screen, the more user-friendly your sat nav will be – a good level of brightness, high resolution, and anti-glare protection can all affect the screen’s quality.

Views / perspective:  

Some sat navs offer a top-down view, or a 3D perspective – the two look quite different, and you may find one easier to follow than the other. Models with 3D maps will cost a little bit more.

Extras:

The most cutting-edge models tend to carry more extras than cheaper ones: internet-search, games, access to Google Play and/or Apple’s iOS store, information on fuel prices, speed camera alerts, hands-free phone calls via Bluetooth, Street View, and more may all be included.

 

How much can you expect to pay?

Prices vary significantly between different sat navs. The two major brands on the market are TomTom and Garmin: both have basic models available for as low as £59 – 70, which still provide real value for money. For example, the Garmin nuvi 55 LM 5” with UK & ROI maps can be found for well under £80, and offers in-depth route-planning, points of interest, speed camera alerts, school zone warnings, and microSD compatibility.

More premium sat navs can cost as much as £300 – these typically come supplied with lifetime maps, multi-region maps, live traffic updates, as well as a range of apps, high-resolution displays, and much more. Even if your budget will allow for one of these, you may find a more basic model provides all the assistance you need.

 

Dedicated sat navs vs phone apps

Most smartphones feature a navigation app of some kind as standard, and various others are available for download. Can you get by with one of these, or do you need to invest in a dedicated unit?

Well, this depends on your own personal driving habits and needs – only you will know which is right. Phone apps are best for drivers who may only need help finding an address a couple of miles away, or for an instant alternative to a road undergoing work: in these cases, whipping your phone out can be a handy, free solution. If you plan to use your phone only, you’ll need to buy a mount for hands-free use, and maybe a charger if expecting a long journey.

On the downside, some phone apps may feature adverts, which can be distracting and take up valuable space on the screen. Also, using mobile data can be expensive, depending on your tariff.

Dedicated sat navs are best for drivers who often explore new routes, tend to drive long-distances, and dislike the idea of having to use their phone for directions. Phone apps also may not feature voice-assistance, speed camera alerts, traffic updates, and school zone warnings – the range of features dedicated units offer can prove to be a huge help on unfamiliar routes.

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