Sat Nav, Nav, Maps, GPS, Magic, Divine Intervention… whatever you choose to call it, Satellite Navigation has revolutionised transportation, journeying and voyaging. Gone are the days of using the stars, gone are the days of using a compass, gone are the days of using moss on trees, the rising sun or an out-of-date Roadmap to plot your course.
(Do learn these skills though, because… you know, stars last longer than 4x AAA pound-shop batteries, which were wrapped separately and then taped to the side of the box as an “extra present”.)
Newer drivers are highly unlikely to ever use road signs alone to get to their destination.
The systems use a GPS (Global Positioning System) satellite to track the unit and relay mapping information back to the unit; feeding back your location, travel direction and speed. Recent years have seen a lot of additions – speed camera locations, varying speed limits, traffic information and alternative routes to your destination, nearest points of interests (fuel stations, restaurants, hotels etc.), video cameras and many more.
The originally military technology (no surprise there) has since become an integral element to the driving experience; so much so that following a sat nav has become an element of the driving test.
From standalone dedicated units to on-board systems and mobile phones, there are many ways that we can access satellite navigation.
Ah, you thought this was going to be sat nav reviews, of the ‘Best Sat Nav 2017’ or a ‘TomTom vs Garmin’ debate, didn’t you? I’m sorry to excrete on your cartographic fantasies.
We’re not going to look specifically at Garmin Connect, Garmin Watch, TomTom mydrive or the best priced Halfords sat nav… maybe we might. But mostly we will be independently and objectively comparing different methods of navigation.
Let’s get started…
Portable Sat Nav Units
They’re not quite as handheld as your phone perhaps, but they are portable. Sometimes. Most of the time. Sometimes you need to plug them in to work, especially older ones or “well-loved” second-hand ones… but most of the time they are portable.
The average size is around 5 inches (still talking about sat navs, you haven’t switched to a different website), which is smaller than some phones on the market today.
The 2 forerunners in the industry are Garmin and TomTom. Both can boast huge sales figures worldwide and both can provide you with a highly-functional unit, which you can stick onto your windscreen and let it guide you through life’s journey - or to just pick up some milk.
Possibly the best Garmin sat nav to be found on the market, in terms of value-for-money, is the Garmin DriveSmart™ 61 LMT-S. This variation has a 6.95” Edge-to-edge screen – making maximum use of the unit’s space without hugely increasing the size. It also boasts the ability to show POIs (Points Of Interest) that pull through data from Foursquare and TripAdvisor; this means that finding somewhere decent to eat in an unfamiliar area will be much more successful. No more dodgy budget-brand fuel stations for a warm and dry “freshly made” sandwich.
Garmin market a wide range of GPS tech (including services for outdoor adventures, hiking and fitness with Garmin Connect) and have multiple differing units for the motorist.
Speaking with Garmin’s UK & Ireland Sales Director, Paul Harrison, he had this to say:
Product Manager, Greg Vulinovic, added:
TomTom’s equivalent is the TomTom GO 5200. This edition boasts similar capabilities to the Garmin, but with a smaller, lower resolution screen and heftier price tag. One party trick it does have is that the unit is compatible with Siri and Google Now (depending on your device, of course), so that you can use familiar voice control software whilst utilising detailed mapping software of the TomTom sat nav. This does, however, feel to be a bit of an attempt at chasing the audience, who are just using their phone instead, rather than an innovative feature.
Here’s how they match up on paper:
The TomTom does have one brilliant gimmick in its arsenal… you can have Brian Blessed, Yosemite Sam or KITT from Knight Rider give you directions. I personally prefer being told what to do by the voice of an Australian female, but that’s just me.
The full spec for the Garmin DriveSmart™ 61 LMT-S can be found here:
Whilst the full spec for the TomTom GO 5200 can be found over here:
Once upon a time, there was Google and they had a map section of their website, where you could “Google” addresses and it be shown. You could also plan a journey and then print off the step-by-step directions; which your road trip co-pilot would have to decipher and translate to you, whilst being lost in an unfamiliar area of natural beauty.
Then, when smartphones arrived in full force, with all their permanently online glory, Google Maps evolved to something more. With various sensors built into the phones to help the phone realise where it is, what directions it’s facing and how fast it’s travelling in a said direction, the Maps function became your new co-pilot. I remember it being a little while before text-to-speech technology caught up to rival what the dedicated sat navs could provide, but it certainly has since.
There a now quite a few apps on the market that offer the services of satellite navigation. Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze, Maps.Me, CoPilot, TomTom GO and HERE WeGo are some of the market leaders, but there are many more. Mostly, they all offer the same basic functionality – getting you from A to B. However, the layouts and information provided, to assist you in your journey, differs.
Like the lump of metal used to use to weigh the true kilogram, Google Maps is the benchmark. Apple Maps, in my opinion, has and will likely always fall just short of this, but how Apple integrates its software and hardware is, at least, inspired. Waze is owned by Google, so uses the capability of Google Maps and concentrates it down to really focus on aiding the driver. TomTom GO is very good but will eventually cost you to use, as will some of the others.
Ultimately, if you stick with the free apps – that you know, trust and recognise – then you’re onto a winner.
Integrated Sat Navs
Almost all the current manufacturers (and particularly the ones that will want to set themselves as premium brands) will have developed their own user interface system for their onboard infotainment units – generally, this is the big screen that has appeared on the dashboard of cars in the past few years.
Housed within this system will be the vehicle settings, radio and the all-important sat nav (if your vehicle spec level includes this option – not all do, despite your expectations). Not all the big brands have invested in creating their own sat nav technology, and some will reserve it as an option on their higher spec range. Almost all will, however, utilise some form of smartphone integration, allowing you to use the familiarity of your phone’s functions, displayed in a safe manner in your car. Some of the best examples of integrated sat navs and user interfaces are:
Audi MMI (with Virtual Cockpit)
One of the highlights of Audi’s famously wonderful interiors is its purpose-built infotainment system, known as Audi MMI. If you stretch out to get the Virtual Cockpit too, then your driving space is transformed into something that Luke Skywalker might have seen in his X-Wing. The driver information dials are removed and replaced with a fully interactive screen - generally considered to be the best in the industry. The sat nav layout is particularly wonderful:
SEAT Full Link
SEAT has adopted a piece of software that uses smartphone integration, which they have called Full Link. This is an optional extra on most trim levels of SEATs but is a very useful piece of kit. It allows your SEAT to link to your phone, using either MirrorLink, Android Auto or Apple CarPlay – depending on your phone’s capabilities. Here’s how to setup SEAT Full Link:
Mercedes-Benz has developed COMAND, which is explained to be a companion rather than an interface. There is a smartphone connection system called Mercedes ME, but this can be tricky to set up. COMAND has its own sat nav software, so we’ll look at this one:
Nissan has also developed their own system which integrates your smartphone with Nissan’s own system. Everything that you would expect is there to keep you connected, plus you get a complimentary 2 years of connectivity. Here’s a brief tutorial to get you started:
BMW has created what many deem to be the superior in-car technology in the iDrive. Unlike just mere smartphone integration overlay, BMW has created something which is, unsurprisingly, comparable to Mercedes and Audi’s efforts; in an all-encompassing system. Here’s a comprehensive comparison from our friend’s at carwow.co.uk:
Jaguar Land Rover InControl
Jaguar and Land Rover share many things – their in-car system being one. Not famed for their technological advancements, the 2 stylishly iconic brands have produced a system that is fitting with the aesthetics of the interior; although not as intuitive as the German offerings, the InControl system still gets the job done.
Ford SYNC 2
The second generation of Ford’s SYNC system comes with improved voice control and more intuitive navigation options. Considering Ford is more of an economical brand than most of the others listed above, it has a nice layout and some quite interesting features. Check out the beginner’s guide to Ford Sync 2 below:
VW Discover Pro
Whilst it’s not as appetising and gourmet as the system used by its subsidiary, Audi; Volkswagen has plated up a hearty meal that will get you through the day. The Volkswagen Discover Pro system uses a lot of gesture control and a large, bright screen to help get you from A to B effortlessly. Check out a rundown of the upgraded system’s features in the following video:
Well… there you go. We’ve travelled across the beaten path of sat navs in their many forms. I think it all boils down to a few key factors: your personal preference, your car’s functional capabilities and your budget. If you’ve got a decent phone, which has a tried and tested good app, and your car supports it, then stick with the smartphone integration method. If you’re looking at leasing a more premium model of car then you may find, like myself, that the onboard integrated system is more than sufficient and adequately displays all the information you need. If you like the added features and benefits of a dedicated unit and drive multiple cars, then a portable piece might be the way to go.
Whichever way you decide to navigate the nation’s highways; sat nav, starlight, intuition, moss on trees or innate electromagnetism – don’t stop and ask for directions. There’s just no need.