Only a few years ago, a satnav was a luxury item reserved for the well-off. Despite the hefty price tag, more often than not, its functionality was highly restricted: smart traffic information was still a long way off, visuals were rudimentary, power usage was high, maps would quickly get out of date and on many occasions, the device would send you in the wrong direction or down streets which no longer existed. Today, obviously, that situation has changed. The price of a satnav has gone down considerably, making it affordable for the masses. The collaboration between technology companies and mapping services has resulted in more accurate satnavs and less mistakes. Better wifi reception across the world has meant that real-time traffic information has greatly improved and allowed for on-the-go updates of existing maps. And finally, the advent of cheap satnav apps for smart phones has opened up an entirely new playing field.

At the same time, with so many options to chose from, selecting the best satnav has become fiendishly difficult. About time to take a look at the criteria for finding the satnav that meets your needs.

Basic Considerations: satnav app or paid-for satnav?

One of the first decisions you will have to take is to decide whether to opt for a satnav app for your smart phone or a stand-alone satnav. On the face of it, this should be a no-brainer: Why waste valuable money on something that you can also get for free? As it turns out, the question really isn’t that simple:

  • Satnav apps: Good, but not great
    Yes, satnav apps have improved quite a bit over the last years. When google introduced their first mobile mapping service, it was as error-prone and slow as some of the very first satnavs. Today, after several rounds of improvements, it has turned into a serious challenge for the satnav industry. The same applies to apple’s mobile mapping service, a collaboration with satnav manufacturer tom tom.
    That said, free satnav apps still have some disadvantages. For one, they are not really entirely free. If you intend to use a satnav app in your car, you will require a mount for your smartphone – and unless you’re buying a cheap ans thus unreliable one, this will definitely set you back a few Pounds. What’s more, the fact that you’re running your satnav app on a device which also doubles as your telephone and calendar and can be used for gaming, surfing, taking pictures and checking emails can be an issue.
  • Satnav devices: Expensive, but worth it
    Satnavs are no longer the luxury items they use to be. You can get excellent quality for around 100 Pounds. Add a few quid to that and you’ll also receive up to date traffic information, hints at traffic controls, alternative route calculations and a lot more. The displays of stand-alone satnav devices also tend to be better equipped for driving in bright sunlight, their speakers are loud enough to cut through the traffic noise and they have dedicated memory space for saving all maps offline. These advantages explain why many drivers still stick with a dedicated satnav app even though there are now plenty of free satnav app to chose from.

If you do want to use a satnav app, you should definitely consider downloading relevant maps for your next journey to your smart phone. This presents a great improvement if you should enter into a wifi hole or if you’re in danger of exceeding your data limit.

Satnav Selection Criteria

The decision for the right satnav is never an easy one, especially since so many models today meet the most basic criteria and the general quality standard is pretty high. Nonetheless, there are definitely a few basic points you should take into consideration:

  • Free-standing satnav or inbuilt satnav
    The best satnav option is usually a free-standing model, since this allows you more flexibility. It also tends to be a lot cheaper.
  • Map updates
    A satnav is only as good as the maps included with it. No wonder, then, that consumer watchdog Which? refers to maps as the most important criteria for a satnav. At the same time, you will probably never get to use maps for the Andes, Greenland or Australia. Rather than buying a lot of maps for exotic locations, you should look for regular recurring updates for your existing maps.
  • Satnav Voice
    Since you’ll be stuck with your satnav for hours on long drives, you should at least be sympathetic to its voice. Check the existing voice settings for each satnav and inquire if it’s possible to download alternative ones off the site of the satnav manufacturer.
  • Traffic information
    Real-time traffic information is one of the main arguments for a satnav. It may therefore come as a surprise that not all devices actually offer this by default. If this feature is something you definitely want, you should therefore double-check whether or not it’s included.
  • Lane Guidance
    One of the most innovative tools ever invented for satnavs is the lane guidance functionality. This instrument makes sure you’re on the right lane at the right time and thus helps you avoid missing your junction. Some models even have the capacity to show you a near-realistic image of the right junction.

For more information on how to chose the best satnav for you, newspaper The Guardian have created a useful list.

Satnav Recommendations

Equipped with this information, you can now turn your attention towards selecting the satnav model that’s best for you. With plenty of satnav tests on the web, we have selected the three models that keep coming up amongst the winners:

  • TomTom Go 50
    Not the cheapest satnav on the market, but if you can manage to get it at a discount, the TomTom Go 50 is an excellent choice. It offers many of the most important satnav facilities and includes voice recognition as an additional extra. TomTom is renowned for the quality of its maps, so you can rest assured that you’ll have the best material to work with.
  • Garmin nuvi 2599LMT-D
    Swiss satnav manufacturer Garmin is known for its high-quality products and steep prices. Its GPS technologies are considered to be among the very best and allowed the brand to expand into watchmaking and off-the-road sports. The Nuvi 2599 is a great alternative if you can spend just a little more on your satnav. Despite its still reasonable price tag, it offers top of the range features. As Pcadvisor puts it: “We doubt that many people will need more from a navigation device.”
  • Snooper Pro SC5700 DVR
    TomTom and Garmin have pretty much established themselves as the two leading brands of the satnav market. Still, there are a few hungry young dogs challenging their duopoly. Snooper’s latest satnav has a few interesting features, claiming its satellite technology can spot safety cameras. The verdict by online magazine Auto Express wasn’t 100% positive, but if you’re looking for an alternative to all of these boring, middle of the road satnavs, this one might just be for you.