Sat navs - intro
UPDATED: We've updated our list with the best sat navs and our new top five sat nav app.
The car sat nav is an essential form of technology that we all take for granted. These days, with GPS-supporting smartphones and apps from the likes of TomTom, Garmin and the rest, you don't necessarily need a hardware sat nav, but they are still coming out from a few stalwart brands. Specifically: TomTom and Garmin.
Long story short: hardware sat navs have better GPS receivers, which is particularly important in urban areas, and only really do one thing (although Garmin is always keen to bolt on fancy extras).
Smartphone sat nav apps have better interfaces and screens, and are cheap (if you ignore the cost of your phone). Some are even free.
Another peculiarity of sat navs is that because the core functionality has barely changed in a decade, they tend to remain on sale for years, at ever-reducing prices.
Anyway, if you want a sat nav that won't let you down, you've come to the right place. The top five hardware devices are on page 2, the top five apps on page 3, a couple of oddities – a HUD and a motorbike specialist – on page 4. You have now reached your destination, says "English Jane".
Sat navs - hardware
1. TomTom Go 5000
The 5-inch member of TomTom's latest range is pure sat nav at its best
Unless you desperately need a screen an inch bigger, in which case try the Go 6000, we'd say this 5-incher is the sweet spot in TomTom's sat nav range. The essential difference between TomTom's devices and Garmins is that TomTom's are a little more stripped back, with fewer smartphone-style features. In our opinion, that's a better route to go down, excellent though Garmin's sat navs are.
You get traffic updates for life here, but you will have to pay an extra £20 per year for updates to keep you safe from safety cameras.
Read: TomTom Go 5000 review
2. Garmin Nuvi 3598LMT-D
Slickness and features abound on this winner from Garmin
Another top-of-the-range GPS box, this has a five-inch screen and offers smartphone-like smoothness, excellent mapping and can be relied on to get you from A to B with plenty of points of interest and smart traffic-evading services that don't require a SIM or data connection – your car's DAB connectivity is used instead.
As you'd expect at the price, luxe features abound, including Real Directions, which dispenses with abstract lefts or rights after hard-to-estimate distances, instead using landmarks: "turn left at Starbucks."
The quality does cost, and you'll need to pay an extra £17 per year for UK camera info. However, it's an excellent device and whether you prefer this or the TomTom 6000 or TomTom 5000 largely comes down to whether you want lots of features (Garmin) or more of a concentration on core sat nav abilities (TomTom).
3. TomTom Go 6000
The big brother of the Go 5000 offers more screen but less value
The TomTom Go 6000 is an impressive piece of kit. The interface is intuitive, with TomTom's excellent routing benefiting from being able to draw on live traffic data to make for incredibly accurate journey times as well. The fact that it includes lifetime map and journey updates for 45 countries in Europe make it all the sat nav you should ever need.
The 6-inch screen is bright and clear and easy to see whatever the lighting outside, and the voices are clear and precise too. The new mounting system is solid, yet it's easy to remove the sat nav from its cradle if you need to. You can charge the sat nav from a standard micro-USB connector, if you're away from your car too, which adds to its flexibility.
You have to pay extra for camera data, but the £20 a year cost is not prohibitive. However for us, the six-inch screen is overkill, so we recommend the cheaper, 5-inch Go 5000 over this. If you're all about screen real estate, feel free to ignore us on that one.
Read: TomTom Go 6000 review
4. Garmin nuvi 3490LMT
Another smartphone-like sat nav offering from Garmin
This was among the first sat navs to take design cues from smartphones. To that end it's got a capacitive touchscreen, increased slimness and decreased thickness, live services via a connected smartphone app, and looks and feels great.
Elsewhere, the admittedly steep sticker price buys you UK and Euro maps with updates for life, Bluetooth and voice control. You have to pay £17 for camera updates.
This has been largely superseded by the Nuvi 3598LMT but remains available and a viable option. Its price hasn't come down as much as you might think, though.
5. TomTom Go 60
Very strong budget sat nav option
The best alternative to these high-end sat navs, other than using your phone, is to ignore the mid-range entirely and go for a cheap and cheerful device like this one or the Garmin Nuvi 2699.
Giving you 6 inches of screen for around £120, this will get you from A to B safely. So long as you can get over the rather olde worlde resistive touchscreen and don't expect much beyond the navigation essentials, it's a solid effort.
Read: TomTom Go 60 review
Sat nav - apps for your smartphone
1. TomTom Go Mobile (Android)
New freemium model has some odd pricing but is generally both cheap and excellent
Like its iPhone cousin, below, this is an excellent option, particularly once you're out of the middle of town – smartphone sat navs can struggle in built-up areas. It gives consistently decent navigation and has all the excellent key features of TomTom's standalone sat navs, including smart Traffic and speed camera alerts included in its price – and pricing is the most interesting element here, in some respects.
You get the first 50 miles per month for free, then you can choose to pay nothing – and lose turn-by-turn navigation, but keep the ability to browse maps, for what that's worth – or £14.99 for a one-year sub, or £34.99 for a three-year sub. For that, you get the speed cam and traffic data thrown in.
The only way that's a bad deal, compared to what TomTom was previously charging on Android – and is still charging on iOS – is if you don't want speed camera and traffic data.
2. TomTom (iOS)
Reasonably priced, at least compared to a hardware sat nav
This is an excellent option, particularly once you're out of the middle of town – smartphone sat navs can struggle in built-up areas, presumably due to weaker GPS reception and the fact they're always doing numerous other things at the same time as navigation. It's versatile, with a lovely UI, and gives consistently decent navigation.
The price? Well, it's a lot cheaper than a standalone GPS unit, but a lot more expensive than your average app. On iOS the basic app is £26 but you'll need to add £18 per year for traffic updates and £16 per year for camera info. The app does offer enough to make it worth the outlay, in our humble opinion.
Read: TomTom iOS app review
3. CoPilot Premium (iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8)
A cheaper option than TomTom's sat nav app
CoPilot Live Premium is a less effective navigator than TomTom's app but it does have several things going for it. It's cheaper at £20 for the basic app, but that price also includes camera and traffic info, so it's significantly cheaper if you want the full package.
It's also very customisable and you can search addresses via geotagged photos and Google Search, as well as the more traditional methods. And while it's choice of routes can be eccentric, but generally speaking, it won't get you lost.
4. Telenav Scout (iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8)
An even cheaper sat nav app option. In fact, it's free…
This one costs nothing (for one country – additional ones are a few quid or you can get all available countries for £7.49) and performs adequately. Traffic info is a further £7.49 for a lifetime's worth of updates.
Thanks to Foursquare and TripAdvisor integration, Scout is especially good for tourists.
For some reason, in order to find the Scout app, you'll need to search for "Scout GPS Maps, Meetup & Chat" on Play and "GPS Navigation, Maps & Traffic - Scout (Sat Nav)" at the App Store. No, we have no idea why they've done that.
Read: Telenav Scout review
5. Nokia Here (iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8)
Once the preserve of Windows Phone users only, this is now a real rival to Google and Apple Maps
We're awaiting a full review of Nokia's sat nav app, which has just returned to the Android and iOS app stores. It's always been a very solid performer and it's at a compelling price point: nothing.
Sat nav - a motorbike sat nav, a HUD and
the all-time classic
An easy-riding motorbike sat nav unit for leather and helmet enthusiasts
The TomTom Rider is an excellent sat nav unit for a motorcyclist, works terrifically well and should be one of only a couple of options you consider if you're in the market for one. With no car charger or mount included, in contrast with its biggest rival, Garmin's Zumo350, this is strictly for bike only.
We'll have a review of the 2015 update to this device with you shortly.
Read: TomTom Rider review
Keep your eyes on the road with Garmin's heads-up display
One day, car technology might put an end to just about all road accidents. But right now we're in a tricky phase where drivers are being bombarded with more and more features and functions. That's a major problem when it comes to driver distraction. It's never a good idea for to take your eyes off the road ahead, even to glance momentarily at your navigation screen.
That's exactly where the new Garmin HUD comes in. It's a head-up display that's compatible with literally any car, no matter how new nor how old. The idea is that is delivers heads-up navigation cues along with other information including your current speed and time to destination so that you can keep your eyes forward and on the road.
Read: Garmin Hud review
You've already got it, and it can be a life-saver…
Google keeps on honing its long-standing GPS favourite. While it's still primarily for pedestrian navigation, it does do turn-by-turn car navigation adequately, and now offers traffic warnings and an ever-improving bicycle mode.
For a lot of users, this (or Apple's steadily improving Maps) may be all you need. Clearly the need for a data connection limits its usefulness for longer journeys, but you can preview and store smaller map areas for offline navigation.