Getting lost while driving is a thing of the past thanks to the miracle of satellite navigation. Many cars have built-in satnavs, but millions still don't. These days you can pick up a very basic satnav for under £100, but with free or cheap smartphone apps to guide you, why bother with a dedicated GPS device? Here we explain which are the best satnavs you can buy in the UK in 2015/2016.
See also: How to choose the best satnav
We tested out four of the latest satnavs with 5in screens. This is roughly the size of a smartphone screen, but if you don’t fancy carrying a huge phone in your pocket, dedicated units with 6in or 7in screens are available. What’s more, unless you go for one of the few low-cost 'phablets, large-screen sat navs will almost always be cheaper, especially if you’re mid-contract.
Another advantage of smartphones concerns map data. With a smartphone app, either the maps are stored locally at the expense of a chunk of your phone’s storage, or they’re downloaded on the fly which means using up your monthly data. With a dedicated unit, all your maps are stored locally in memory that you don't need to free up for other purposes. Plus, if you're driving in an area with poor mobile coverage, you might find yourself stranded with no map at all, while a dedicated satnav always has its map data.
In the case against dedicated in-car units, most have resistive touch screens that are less responsive than the capacitive screen you'll find on every smartphone. However, some of the latest satnavs adopt this technology. Given that you probably spend a lot of your time driving in familiar areas, you won’t always need navigational facilities. Being able to lend out your satnav is, therefore, another benefit.
A lot of the new dedicated satnavs actually require a smartphone for its data connection. They use this for live traffic data and searching the internet for points of interest. To us, though, this makes no sense: your smartphone already has a GPS receiver so you may as well buy an inexpensive car mount and use that instead.
Of course, dedicated satnavs can have more features than some navigation apps. They include lane assistance which guides you to drive in the correct lane prior to joining or leaving a motorway, and advanced routing features which can, for example, give you the most economical route rather than just the fastest.
Best satnavs 2015/2016: Satnav apps
The choice of apps is huge, although it depends on which smartphone you have as to which apps are available to you.
Free on iOS, Android, Windows Phone
The best satnav app is Waze. It's unusual to be able to be this clear cut about an app, but Waze is head and shoulders above the competition. It scores full marks in virtually every area. It's free, it has a clear and easy-to-use interface and (aside from the odd hiccup) routing is top notch. Because it uses data from thousands of other 'Wazers', you get free real-time information on traffic jams, automatic rerouting around jams, notifications of temporary and fixed speed cameras and more.
All it will cost you is some of your data plan, which is used to download the required maps, traffic information and other data. It's available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone, which means virtually everyone can use it.
Google and Apple maps
Google: Free on Android, iOS
Apple: Free on iOS
The built-in mapping apps in iOS and Android aren't dedicated to in-car use, but they do offer turn-by-turn directions. They're basic when compared to Waze and the best standalone satnavs, but they have the benefit of up-to-date maps and traffic info. (Google simply takes this from Waze users, since Google now owns Waze. Apple currently gets data from TomTom.)
Both apps also benefit from being able to search the internet for destinations, rather than being limited to an offline database, such as FourSquare which most of the latest units use.
Neither app offers lane assistance in the UK - Google added this feature earlier in the year in its US and Canadian versions only. It isn't possible to download maps for offline use either.
Free on Windows Phone, Android
Included on Windows Phones but also available for Android, Here Drive allows you to download entire country maps to use offline. The latest version offers real-time traffic information, with arrival times estimated based on traffic conditions.
Voice instructions are clear, and road names are read out, just as with every other app and device mentioned here. The fact you can use it offline like a dedicated satnav makes Here Drive a fantastic free option.
- Reviewed on: 27 November 14
- RRP: £119 inc VAT
While more expensive than some entry-level satnavs, you do get coverage of the whole of Europe and free updates for life. The resistive touch screen is a disappointment, though, and this isn’t really compensated for by voice control since this can only be activated from the screen.
Read our TomTom Start 50 review.
- Reviewed on: 26 November 14
- RRP: £99 inc VAT
While lacking the advanced features of more expensive satnavs, the Nuvi 52LM is good value at the online price of £75, especially with a decent-sized 5in screen. The main drawback, for which you’d have to pay a fait bit more, is live traffic information.
Read our Garmin nüvi 52LM review.
2. TomTom Go 50
- Reviewed on: 2 December 14
- RRP: £160 inc VAT
The TomTom Go 50 is a great satnav with lots of useful features, including voice recognition that doesn't require you to touch the screen. You'll need a compatible smartphone and data tariff to make the most of it and benefit from timely information on traffic jams and the fastest route. It's generally easy to use, and it's reassuring to have free map updates. If you don't need full maps of Europe and can live with a slightly smaller screen, the Go 40 is cheaper.
Read our TomTom Go 50 review.
- Reviewed on: 1 December 14
- RRP: £180 inc VAT
This is a feature-laden satnav with a responsive 5in capacitive touch screen. You also get voice recognition and voice activation, plus a built-in receiver for live traffic information. We doubt that many people will need more from a navigation device. If you can afford it, you won't be disappointed.
Read our Garmin nüvi 2599 LMT-D review.