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Does TomTom’s sat nav app spell the end for windscreen sat navs?

TomTom is a major player in the satnav market, but do you need to buy one of its dedicated devices for your windscreen or will a TomTom app do the job?

Our latest sat nav tests have revealed whether it’s worth splashing out on a dedicated sat nav or simply downloading an app to your phone.  We’ve tested TomTom’s newest traditional standalone devices, the Go Essential 5 and GO Essential 6, plus its latest Go Mobile apps for Android and iPhone.

Sat nav manufacturers aren’t introducing as many new windscreen-mounted models as they used to. The biggest players in the market, TomTom and Garmin, have diversified their respective ranges with smartphone sat nav apps.

But our tests have found that for the clearest maps, accurate vocal guidance and helpful lane-assistant diagrams, you’re likely to be better off with a traditional device instead of an app.

Sat navs vs sat nav apps

Another 11% of the apps we tested were so bad we’ve rated them as Don’t Buys. But that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a great sat nav by going for a windscreen-mounted one. As our tests have also uncovered a Don’t Buy standalone model.

Below are the latest sat navs to have undergone our stringent lab tests.

Best Buy sat navs – discover the best sat navs we’ve tested.

Why you can trust our sat nav tests

All of our smartphone apps and dedicated sat navs undergo the same rigorous tests.  We also regularly retest sat nav apps, as they’re constantly being updated. This ensures that our results take into account of all the latest improvements – or occasionally bugs – caused by the most recent software changes.

We test everything from how easy they are to download (for apps) or mount on the windscreen (for devices), to how straightforward it is to input your destination, as well as whether vocal instructions are given in good time to avoid making any dangerous last-minute manoeuvres.

A Best Buy will make sure you get to your destination on time and without any stress, while some of the worst models we’ve tested could leave you frustrated and delayed.

TomTom Go Essential 5 and Go Essential 6

The TomTom Go Essential sat nav screen is sensitive and responds more like a smartphone. This is because it’s a capacitive touchscreen rather than a resistive screen, which tends to be found on older or cheaper models.

You get a choice of a five- or six-inch screen:

  • The 5-inch Essential 5 costs £179.99
  • The 6-inch Essential 6 will set you back £219.99.

Both models come with free lifetime map updates. These can be downloaded over wi-fi, so you won’t need to go through the hassle of connecting it to your laptop every few months.

You’ll get a free six-month trial for speed camera information (which you can extend at an extra cost of £19.99 for a year, or £29.99 for 18 months).

Traffic information is free, but you’ll need to link the device to your phone to get live data. Once you’re connected, you’ll also be able to receive text messages and take hands-free calls through the sat nav.

We’ve been impressed with TomTom sat navs in the past, but with so many free apps on the market now, are these two good enough to justify their price tags?

Find out by reading our full TomTom Go Essential 5 and Go Essential 6 reviews.

TomTom Go Mobile App (iOS) and GPS Navigation Traffic (Android)

The TomTom Go Mobile app for iOS and the Android version – GPS Navigation Traffic – are free to download and will give you 50 miles’ worth of navigation a month free of charge.

But you’ll need to pay a subscription fee of £14.99 a year (or £34.99 for three years), plus a further £20 a year if you want to include useful services such as live traffic data and speed camera locations.

There are some nice features on the app – such being able to navigate to one of your contacts or even to a geotagged photo. But is it as easy and reliable to use as TomTom’s standalone sat navs?

Check our TomTom Go Mobile review for iOS and GPS Navigation Traffic review for Android before you buy.

Karta GPS Offline Navigation (Android) and Sat Nav Maps (iOS)

The Karta Offline Navigation (for Android) and Sat Nav Maps (for iOS) apps are free and easy to download, and can be used offline to plan your route without eating into your data allowance.

Worldwide maps come free, but you’ll need to pay £10 each for live traffic or speed camera information, plus another £4 if you want to clear the screen of those ever-present adverts.

It’s fairly basic, so will only calculate the fastest route with no option to select the shortest or most economical journey. This may not be too much of a problem, but you’ll still want to get from A to B without going round the houses.

Read our full Karta review for Android and Karta Sat Nav Maps for iOS to discover how well the Karta app does this.

Sat navs for caravans

If you’re a caravan owner, you may benefit from a dedicated sat nav device aimed at camper and motor-home drivers.

It’s important to buy one specific for your needs. The best will let you enter the exact dimensions of your rig, to ensure you don’t get stuck on unsuitable roads or under low bridges.

However, some we’ve tested purport to be aimed at caravan owners, but are actually designed for lorry drivers. This means they have little or no specific functionality that benefit caravan owners – such as pre-loaded campsite locations.

Discover the best in our caravan and motorhome sat nav reviews.

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