How to buy the best sat navby Hannah Walsh
Dedicated sat nav or an app for your phone? Free app or a paid-for one? Our guide to buying a sat nav will help you choose the perfect model for you.
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The best sat nav or app will get you to your destination with a minimum of fuss, and smoothly cope with any disruptions or delays en route. Not all sat navs are built equally, and some will lead you up the garden path, which is why our on-road tests prove invaluable when you're deciding which model to opt for.
Standalone sat navs can range from anywhere between £50 to over £300. Sat nav apps range from a tempting free to about £50. We've tested sat navs and apps from all the main brands, including Garmin and TomTom, and have found Best Buy sat navs for under £100 and excellent apps for considerably less.
To get started, select sat nav or sat nav app in the tool below, and explore the features on offer by clicking on the information spots attached to parts of the devices. If you're on a mobile device you'll need to scroll down to the 'features' tab at the bottom of your screen to explore.
Just want to discover which sat navs and sat nav apps Which? recommends? Head over to our Best Buy sat navs.
Dedicated sat navs
Dedicated sat navs are the traditional sat nav - standalone devices that work out of the box. The sat nav market has contracted considerably in recent years, with Garmin and TomTom accounting for the vast majority of models sold in the UK.
Pros: Built with navigation in mind, dedicated devices usually have excellent speakers and shine-free screens, and most come with free updates for the most recent maps.
Cons: A separate device to carry around. If you require additional maps further down the line, purchasing them can be expensive.
Paid-for sat nav apps
Available for your smartphone, paid-for apps are an alternative to the dedicated sat nav. They are often considerably cheaper, and have many of the features of their standalone counterparts.
Pros: Apps are a cheaper option and are easily updateable. They're also extremely convenient, as you'll always have your phone with you.
Cons: Their performance can depend on the smartphone you have. Some require a constant data connection, which can be costly if you're on a limited data plan. You'll need to buy a cradle and charger to replicate the sat nav experience fully.
Free sat nav apps
We all like the sound of 'free', and no matter what your smartphone platform, there are a plethora of free apps available. However, they are something of a mixed bag in our experience, and it's best to choose wisely.
Pros: The price tag is undeniably tempting. Easy to download and try - if you don't like it, simple delete and try another. Useful for occasional users.
Cons: As anyone can make them and put them on the store, quality is highly varied. Some are advert-supported, meaning there might be an advert banner or pop-up ad on the app, which can be annoying.
Key features to look for
To make sure you get the most out of your sat nav, here are a few tips when you're looking to buy:
Mapping and updates
Pick a model with free updates and mapping. These days, most models from the big-name brands will come with free updates out of the box, but slightly older models may not. These may appear cheap initially, but can represent a false economy as you'll need to pay to update the mapping at a later date. We recommend picking up a new model that offers free updates out of the box.
If you're a regular driver, you may find traffic information useful. Most sat navs will come with some form of this, with the most basic relying on connecting to your smartphone to download traffic data as you drive. The more expensive models will have their own built-in traffic services, so decide if you think paying a little extra for this convenience is worth it.
Sat nav screens are anywhere from four to seven inches when measured diagonally across. While some people may enjoy the clarity of a larger screen, others may find it obstructive and opt for something slightly smaller. Before buying your sat nav, it's worth cutting a rectangular piece of card to the size you're thinking of buying, and placing it in your car to get a feel for the size.
It's important to be brand-aware when buying a sat nav. While there are only a couple of big name brands on the market, there are plenty of cheap, rebadged models available on sites such as eBay. While these are inexpensive, the few we've tested in the past have been poor, and the lack of after-sales service from an unknown company means that it's unlikely you'll be able to keep the sat nav up to date.
Now find the perfect sat nav for you by checking out our sat nav reviews.