Sat Nav Buyers Guide

Sat Navs can be a core necessity for long journeys, or even on short journeys to places you haven't been to before. As we all know, long gone are the days of maps and compasses (unless of course, you're stranded in the woods or something.) But, sat navs are the go to technology for keeping your next journey on the right track.

Sat Navs can be a core necessity for long journeys, or even on short journeys to places you haven't been to before. As we all know, long gone are the days of maps and compasses (unless of course, you're stranded in the woods or something.) But, sat navs are the go to technology for keeping your next journey on the right track.

How do you know which sat nav will be the best option for you?

This guide will take you through the types of sat navs, the features, how to choose one and we even include some sat navs that are great value for money on price and function.

How does satnav work?

A satellite navigation device (also known as sat nav) uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite network to identify your exact location in the world.

Did you know: The US Government maintains the satellite system; it was originally used as a military tool, but gradually became available for civilian's to use for free via GPS.

How will a sat nav make my journeys smoother?

  • Choose your route: With a sat nav you are given a choice of which route you want to take. You don't have to go through a single route; you can choose the shortest route, avoid polls, take the motorway or go through local roads - there are a few options for you to choose from to personalise your journey.

    You could be saving money by avoiding tolls and congestion charges, but you may want to get somewhere quicker and not be fussed about the extra few pennies on petrol.

    The decision is yours.


    The sat nav usually also helps you locate the nearest petrol stations, say if you are running low on fuel. The sat nav will have a petrol station diagrams on the screen to let you know how close or far the next station is for you to fuel up.

    Some even show you where the nearest restaurants, toilets and tourist information points are.

  • Avoid speeding: It can be particularly tricky when driving through a new area to always know what the speed limit is, especially with the abundance of speed cameras ready to capture any mistakes.

    Sat navs can help you by letting you know when you are approaching fixed speed cameras, and what the speed limit is.

    Control your speed and avoid speeding to make your journey smoother and safer.

  • Clear commands: The best sat nav's have good commands that are timely and clear. They will let you know in advance when to change direction, turn left or right, etc. Some sat navs can be delayed in when they give you a command.

    If you get lost, don't worry, as the sat nav should re-direct you to put you back on track. Watch out for some devices that can take a while loading and re-routing. Find out how quickly the sat nav will be able to re-route you before you purchase it - if you don't, a simple missed turning can create more stress and frustration than necessary, not to mention getting you even more lost!

How do I choose the best sat nav for me?

Choices, choices, choices! The top sellers for sat nav units are TomTom and Garmin, or you could download a sat nav app on your smart phone.

What's the difference?

TomTom vs. Garmin

Both TomTom and Garmin have a good reputation respectfully, but Garmin has higher sales in comparison. The features spec, pricing and routing accuracy, are close, and it is only the small details that make a difference between the two.

Text-to-speech conversion to speak street names, 3D map views, comprehensive point of interest (POI) databases, and automatic rerouting are a few features in both Garmin and TomTom devices.

The Garmin device has clear, easy to read icons as they are large and can be clearly read when looking up from the wheel at a quick glance; it also has colourful map graphics whereas TomTom has been trying to improve its font readability.

TomTom devices offer more information on display, as it conveniently has a two-line status bar at the bottom of the screen. TomTom’s real-time HD traffic service is more accurate than Garmin’s, and they don’t display ads like some Garmin devices. The iOS GPS app of TomTom is far better that Garmin’s StreetPilot as it has more features and operates more smoothly.

When searching for point of interests, Garmin is more user-friendly as it categorises the interest down into segments, to easily choose a specific restaurant or attraction. The POI searches updates in real-time whilst you drive and accompanies it with compass directions. It also displays which interest is closer, which is the furthest and which directions they are in so you can avoid detours and choose the option that could just be straight ahead.

So, TomTom and Garmin are generally similar in terms of function; they mostly differ, albeit slightly, in display and traffic. TomTom is ahead with the traffic information, although Garmin have their new ‘Digital Traffic’ feature that they hope will put them back in competition. Garmin may have a better display currently, but TomTom may be releasing new models with similar or better display options.

The best thing to do is to test out the sat nav to see whether these features would hinder your journey navigation or experience.

Our top Garmin and TomTom picks:

Garmin Nuvi 1300 NOH Portable 4.3 Sat Nav with UK and ROI Maps

Garmin Nuvi 1300 NOH Portable 4.3 Sat Nav with UK and ROI Maps

The ultra-thin Garmin Nuvi 1300 NOH Portable Navigation System has a widescreen display, yet it's slim and light enough to take along on all your travels. It comes with preloaded Maps for the UK and Ireland, Lane Guidance for help at upcoming junctions and ecoRoute� to calculate a more fuel-efficient route.



TomTom VIA 130 4.3" Portable Sat Nav System European Mapping

JVC  KD-R741BT Bluetooth Car Stereo Front USB/AUX Input

The TomTom Via 130 sat nav features Speak & Go that allows you to control the device with the sound of your voice. This means that you can plan your journey without taking your hands off the wheel for safe, easy and stress-free driving. You can even answer phone calls with the hands-free calling feature with this smart and functional 4.3 inch touch screen sat nav.



What about smartphone apps, you may be thinking?

If you do not want to spend money on a sat nav, you could equally use your smartphone but there are a few disadvantages that you should know about.

The maps in smartphones already have a map application, either Google Maps or Apple Maps. Apple Maps did not have a good start with its poor reception and incorrect map directions, but there have however been improvements made since, to put it back up to equal performance as Google Maps.

Also depending on the model of your phone and your data package, navigating on your phone may be a hassle. Some smartphones like the iphone4 have a free maps navigation installed on the device, but the directions are not dictated by voice, you have to read the directions. You also need to have adequate data connection in order to stream the maps.

The overall navigation options on smart phones are basic, and a major issue is that they drain the phone battery very quickly.

The other options with phone navigation apps, is to buy a navigation app, which offers more features. The maps will also be usable without a phone signal as it will be relevant to your device. The apps can integrate with other phone features like Wikipedia and Foursquare and also navigate you to addresses saved in your contacts. The only downside to this is again, the battery – which will get drained, especially when you are using additional features. You will also have a screen size dependant on your device size.

Sat nav units have a larger screen than smartphones, they also come with a suction cup to mount the device to the car windscreen. For your smartphone, you will have to buy a car accessory to hold the phone while you follow navigation.

If you make regular journeys, a sat nav unit is your best option as it is built for the job, and you do not have to rely on a smaller screen and less effective speakers. But, if you make occasional journeys, a smartphone app can do the job just as good, and will be cheaper.

Whichever sat nav option you decide to choose; you need to know what you expect from the device. Do you just want a UK map sat nav, or do you want one with European maps? Do you want a large screen and more options? Do you want the sat nav to locate the point of interests? Make a list of what you expect and then find out which sat nav will be the best for you.

Features to look out for

When you are searching for a good, useful sat nav, there will be some handy features to look out for, below is a quick list of a few quick features to keep your eye out for:

  • Live traffic updates
  • Speed camera detection
  • Potential hazards ahead
  • Has a feature to access emergency assistance
  • Built-in Bluetooth technology to connect with mobile phones and other devices
  • Lane guidance to guide you into the right lane at junctions, before coming off to your exit
  • Tracking feature (especially great for unknown destinations - keep track of where you’ve parked your car and be navigated to it if lost)