Sat navs buying guide
A sat nav is a small smart device that uses GPS tracking to give you clear and detailed travel directions - they’re most often used in cars. Sat navs have small screens which display accurate maps, and track you in real-time as you follow the directions. Sat navs often explain the directions via audio, meaning that you can keep your eyes on the road instead of on the map. Some savvy sat navs will even keep you informed of traffic jams and road accidents.
As with many high-tech gadgets, choosing a sat nav involves deciphering a lot of computer jargon - but our handy buying guide has done the hard work for you.
Getting started - features
Sat navs can boast a range of intelligent features, from basic audio-directions to MP3 functionality and mobile-phone compatibility. Use this list to help find the right features for you.
A standard sat nav feature, audio voice directions help you to follow a route without having to constantly check the map. Many sat navs even let you choose a variety of different voice styles.
Route memory is another basic sat nav feature. Route memory allows you to store several routes and addresses in the device, meaning that you don’t have to keep plugging-in the same addresses again and again.
Things begin to get a little more complex when it comes to map levels. Many sat navs bought in the UK will offer standard UK mapping - this means that the device will come with the UK’s motorways, major roads, and minor roads mapped-out. But if you want to take your sat nav out of the country - maybe you’re planning a European or American road trip - you’ll want a device with full European or global mapping. Typically, these devices will be more expensive.
But all is not lost if you buy a sat nav with UK mapping and later want to take it out of the country. Most sat navs allow you to download extra maps and map levels at an extra cost. Other sat navs come with microSD cards - a small memory chip that can be removed and filled with many different maps via a computer.
More expensive sat nav models, like the upper-end Garmin and TomTom devices, offer live traffic updates. These devices collate information from a variety of sources to give you a clear picture of upcoming traffic, as well as estimates on how long a jam will take to clear. They even suggest alternative routes, making this feature perfect for busy peak-time commutes.
There are two important sat nav screen features to consider: size, and touch-screen capability. While sat navs come in a range of screen sizes, it’s becoming more and more common to find devices with spacious colour screens. Typically, these larger-screened sat navs - like the kind produced by TomTom - double-up with touch screen capability, as the large interface allows for uncomplicated touch-control. Otherwise, a sat nav is operated by push-buttons.
Some sat navs come with Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to connect the device to your Bluetooth-capable mobile phone. This way, you can make and take hands-free phone calls through the sat nav speaker - ideal for commuters looking to clear some calls on their way into work.
The snazzy MP3 feature lets you upload music tracks directly to your sat nav device, so that it doubles as a music player. The music is either played through the sat nav’s small speakers, or plugged into the car’s sound system.
What about battery life?
Sat navs are powered by electrical batteries, which need to be charged. Depending on the model, a sat nav’s battery life will last anywhere from 2 - 5 hours. Smarter devices with bright and colourful display screens typically have shorter battery life. But the sat nav can be charged via your car’s cigarette lighter socket, so you don’t need to worry about the device dying on the road. If possible, get a model with a replaceable batery.
How much to spend?
With all those features out of the way, it’s time to start thinking about prices. Brands like Binatone and ViaMichelin boast simple sat nav models that come complete with medium-size screens, touch-screen or button-operation, and basic map display. These lower-tier devices fall at around the £60 mark.
For a reliable, high-performing, and long-life sat nav that boasts crystal clear screen display and seamlessly smooth navigation, go with an entry level device from a top brand like TomTom or Garmin - this will put you in the £80 - £150 price bracket.
If you spend much more than that, you’ll be looking at a ritzy device packed full of fancy features, from highly accurate traffic updates to crisp Bluetooth connectivity.
If you don't want to get a dedicated GPS unit that will age and possibly even break down some day, you can get proper GPS offline maps for your smartphone, such as Sygic for Android, for example. They regularly run special offers with great discounts on world maps with a lifetime license. Simply download the maps for the countries you will be visiting and you can easily remove them once you are back home to save space on your phone.