Satellite navigation is so handy that many of us wonder how we ever got from A to B without it. Not only can it banish the need to read a map but, with clear instructions and, in some cases, live traffic updates, it makes the journey so much less stressful.
Of course, not every car is equipped with a sat nav as standard. So, whether you want to get around more easily, or need the perfect gift for your most directionally challenged friend, here are the best aftermarket options on the market across a range of budgets. Other brands are available but, considering they’ve the most mapping experience and a virtual monopoly on the market, we’re only comparing TomTom and Garmin devices here.
There’s plenty of new cars on the market which come with satellite navigation built-in, or at least the ability to pair a smartphone to behave like one. Head over to our guides to Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirrorlink to find out more. To get a great car to go with your sat nav, check out our car deals page.
Less than £100
1. Garmin DriveSmart 50LM – £94.05 – Tesco
The Garmin DriveSmart lineup is available in three versions – the four-inch 40LM, the five-inch 50LM and the higher-res, six-inch 60LM. The 50LM represents the best value for money, dipping below the £100 budget.
Its most interesting feature is the ‘Real Directions’ function. It collects information from search-and-discovery app FourSquare to describe directions in relation to local landmarks for more natural instructions – for example “turn left at the Post Office”.
The graphics aren’t spectacular and, while there are more expensive devices with sharper screens on the market, the 50LM is very hard to knock for the price.
2. TomTom Via 52 – £89.99 – Halfords
The Via 52 is TomTom’s closest alternative for the Garmin in terms of functionality and price. It’s dead easy to use, particularly when it comes to entering a new destination. The graphics are clear and simple on the five-inch screen, though some alternatives have brighter displays.
The TomTom also offers a lifetime subscription to UK and Ireland map updates along with a lifetime subscription to the brand’s traffic avoidance service. European mapping costs extra, however.
Less than £200
1. TomTom GO 520 – £179.99 – Halfords
Upping the budget a little helps you to stretch for the TomTom 520. The flush screen means that it looks a little more slick than rivals, and its four-hour battery life is twice as long as cheaper versions making it easier to use once out of the car.
The 520 also has the spooky knack of learning your driving routes so, if you’re on a regular commute, it’ll point you in the most free-flowing direction. Thanks to Bluetooth connectivity, it’ll read out your text messages on the move and provide call alerts, too.
2. Garmin nüvi 2699LMT-D – £199.99 – Garmin
The Garmin nüvi gains a larger six-inch screen than the TomTom, and it’s a little sharper, too. European mapping is standard, too, while a voice command system means instructions can be spoken to the device on the move – without a need to faff about through the menus.
The one big disadvantage is battery life – it’ll only last an hour when not plugged in so your hiking trips might have to be cut short.
Top of the range
1. Garmin DriveLuxe 50LMT-D – £224 – Halfords
The DriveLuxe 50LMT-D is the top-of-the-line model in Garmin’s current range and, as you’d expect, it’s bursting with features. Map storage is via an internal solid state drive that can be expanded via a microSD card slot and, for a little extra cash, it’s possible to wirelessly pair with a reversing camera.
A Direct Access feature allows you to find a specific location within a larger area – for example, when arriving at an airport, it can direct you to a specific terminal or car park.
As with cheaper Garmins, the route display – available to be placed in portrait or landscape – is clear, with assorted places of interest appearing on the screen as you approach. The spoken instructions are very clear and simple too, meaning it’s always obvious which lane you need to be in.
2. TomTom Go 6200 – £289 – Halfords
The fanciest model in the TomTom lineup is the Go 6200. Many of the subscription services that cost extra on its cheaper units – world mapping, live traffic and speed camera locations – are included as standard for the lifetime of ownership and the latest updates are downloaded via a WiFi connection.
It keeps all the same ease of use and clever traffic-avoidance software of the cheaper models, so it’s able to negotiate its way through a busy route with ease. It can’t quite match the number of features of the Garmin, though.
Motorbike sat navs
1. Garmin zumo 345LM – £269.67 – Amazon
Motorcycle specific sat navs are a little more sturdy than the car equivalent units because they have to face the elements. The Garmin zumo 345LM has a weather and UV-resistant shell, and it’s more able to withstand the types of shocks and vibrations that come with two-wheeled transport.
One noteworthy feature for those looking to enjoy themselves is the ‘Adventurous Routing’ function. A database of fun riding routes – including those highly rated by other riders – allows the Garmin to plan an enjoyable route away from other traffic to make the most of your motorbike jaunt.
2. TomTom Rider 40 £231.41 – Amazon
The TomTom Ride’s screen has a similar size and resolution to the Garmin – 4.3 inches on a 480-by-272-pixel display, and it works in both portrait and landscape modes, too. Real-time traffic updates help you avoid the worst tailbacks and, to make a precise route easier to plan, the prep can all be done on a PC before downloading the data onto the unit.
Similar to the Garmin’s Adventurous Routing function, the TomTom allows users to plan a round trip of more entertaining roads. Simply highlight places of interest and how long you’d like to ride for. It may be slightly cheaper than the Garmin, but its inferior graphics mean it isn’t quite as nice to use or look at.
Any others worth considering?
All of these devices will help to make any trip that little more bearable but, if the budgets are a little too steep, there are one or two other smartphone apps well worth thinking about. Android users should turn to Google Maps – it’s fast, easy to operate and uses Google’s vast network of users to produce real-time traffic data. Similar to Google Maps, Waze is another app that uses up-to-the-minute data to calculate the smoothest possible route.
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