back to article Ten... Satnavs to suit all budgets

The squeeze is on for satnav makers stuck between the rock of smartphone navigation apps and the hard place of the built-in systems that are finding their way into ever cheaper showroom models. Of course, there are still a heck of a lot of cars on the road that don’t have built-in navigation and while using your phone is fine …


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  1. jake Silver badge

    I use paper maps. Free, from AAA.

    Sorted :-)

    1. ElNumbre

      Re: I use paper maps. Free, from AAA.

      Yeah, I used to use them. But I didn't like the feature-set. No live traffic updates (have to purchase an optional radio) and no automatic route planning. There's no zoom feature (other than moving your head) and I'm not even going to go into detail about the roadtrip we undertook to visit all of the great Staple landmarks in the UK - suffice to say we didn't find any, just some stationary outlets which weren't even in the right place on the map. Plus the route guidance feature means having to maintain the optional 'partner' upgrade for the passenger seat, and these tend to be a bit rubbish, especially for the cost ("Where are we now", "Which way is up?","No, I meant left, no the other left, okay I meant right").

      1. jake Silver badge

        @ElNumbre (was:Re: I use paper maps. Free, from AAA.)

        What good does "live traffic updates" do for you on a day-to-day basis? The traffic is going to be there, regardless.

        The rest of yours seems somewhat confused ...

        1. stu 4

          Re: @ElNumbre (was:I use paper maps. Free, from AAA.)

          you use a map to commute on a day to day basis then ?

          1. jake Silver badge

            @stu 4 (was: Re: @ElNumbre (was:I use paper maps. Free, from AAA.))

            No, stu. I use a telephone. An 11 year old Nokia. It does what a phone should do (make & receive phone calls), without any histrionics. Even in Sonoma County's so-called "dead" zones.

        2. FanMan

          Re: @ElNumbre (was:I use paper maps. Free, from AAA.)

          The live updates on the 1005 allow you to avoid tailbacks. The Live 1005 can be set to do that automatically. But of course, you may enjoy being trapped on the motorway for hours on end, if so, knock yourself out!

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. FanMan

      Re: I use paper maps. Free, from AAA.

      GPS has been a godsend for me, ever since the Garmin Streetpilot which was only slightly less stressful than using maps and put me off the Garmin brand for life. The TomTom was a breath of fresh air and I've been happily loyal to them ever since. Even if you don't drive much, a GPS is a fantastic investment in time saving, fuel saving, and above all, stress busting.

      I always take my GPS with me when travelling to far-off lands. Even if the hire car already has it, it's just so... comforting to have your own (zero learning curve) and you can keep all your favourite locations.

    4. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: I use paper maps. Free, from AAA.

      So do I. Actually I buy the good ones from Delorme. As well as a GPS, and the printout of directions from Google Maps. Plus my Android phone if my GPS conks out and I happen to have a signal.

      Yes, I get lost easily. GPS is a fuckin' absolute godsend, you smug buckwheat. I remember all the times with a map going "and just WHERE on foobar ave am I, and why the hell can't they signpost cross streets?"

    5. Spudbynight

      Re: I use paper maps. Free, from AAA.

      Who or what is AAA?

    6. Ken 16 Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: I use paper maps. Free, from AAA.

      Who are AAA and how often do they update their Ireland maps?

  2. John Arthur
    Thumb Down

    TomTom Go Live 1005 Europe

    "The capacitive 5in 272 x 480 screen isn’t as crisp as that on the nüvi 3590LMT, but you are saving £140 on the cost of the Garmin". Well, with the Garmin at £310 and the Tomtom at £270 I make that a £40 difference. Not such a big saving.

    1. Al Taylor

      Re: TomTom Go Live 1005 Europe

      Well spotted, should be £40 not £140. Apologies for the typo.

  3. pcsupport

    I have a Navigon and a TomTom.

    The Navigon is beautiful BUT the text is simply too small to read from 2 feet away, especially in low light and the dark. If Navigon could address that issue then it would become my main device rather than being relegated to the glove box 'just in case'.

  4. Robert E A Harvey

    Info please

    So how do these compare with using a tablet?

    1. Al Taylor

      Re: Info please

      Most tablets make perfectly good satnavs but you need to buy a separate screen mount and many won't take a charge from a 12v socket.

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Info please

      First of all, why tablet? I have seen Tablets bolted in various configs on Eastern European taxis (a lot of taxi franchises there run some very cool Android software which does SatNav + request queue, dispatch, etc). It takes LOTS of real estate so unless you are driving a van you will find it a bit too big (or will have to mount it somewhere where you take your eyes off the road to see it).

      So instead of a tablet you can use let's say Sygic (they license Tom Tom maps them and build a UI of their own) on most Android handsets (there are some known problems with Galaxy series, but all the rest are usually pretty fine). I use Sygic on my Xperia Arc S and wife got it on the Xperia X10 Mini Pro.

      It work flawlessly around EU (walking mode too) and has most of the advanced features you find an embedded satnav (speed traps, visual lane change assistant, current/incoming speed limit, 3D view, landmarks, etc).

      My only complain is that it barely breaks even on "charge budget" on the Xperia Arc S and does so only if you tell it to be economical on the eye candy. At 4in the Xperia has a screen the size of most high end SatNavs the screen is brighter, the traffic updates cost you much less as they piggy back on your normal data contract and it just works. So you do not really need a tablet, a BIG droid will suffice.

      By the way, the charge budget is likely to be your big problem on a tablet too. Running at full brightness with GPS and Bluetooth enabled as well as using a lot of the CPU and GPU can eat more battery than the charger can supply.

  5. Jan 0 Silver badge


    ElReg normally tests these by driving around 'Greater' Manchester. Why not this time?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Testing?

      They couldn't find it.

  6. banjomike

    Please reformat...

    Well organized reviews EXCEPT for, as always, splitting ten items over five small pages. Can't El Reg at least offer the option to view more info on fewer pages? It would be a VERY popular feature.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Please reformat...

      Use the "print" button to get it all on one page.

    2. bluesxman

      Re: Please reformat...

    3. B Candler Silver badge

      Re: Please reformat...

      There is already a way to reformat. Go to the URL bar, and replace the initial 'www' with 'm', so you end up with

      Hey presto, you get all the pages in one, in a wonderfully clean and easy-to-read layout.

      Now all we need is links on the m and www versions of the site to link to the corresponding page in the other site. This would be useful on mobile devices too, as you have to switch to the desktop version to do a 'search'.

    4. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: Please reformat...

      Absolutely agree. 'Galleries' of pictures are particularly galling. Firefox + Autopager doesn't do everything but where it works (like here) it is a godsend.

  7. Fred Flintstone Gold badge


    Actually, I use maps too but because I do not want to lose those map skills. In my line of work, I have to take into account the possible unavailability of GPS through jamming..

    Now, SatNavs

    Mio: I will *never* buy one again. It took 3 years before map updates were available. Funnily, only the first 2 years of map updates were free - which weren't available. No thanks. A shame, it had the best user interface of the lot.

    TomTom: Iive traffic updates are IMHO a killer feature that I gladly pay for. However, it demands more attention during a trip than two small children high on sugar. A GPS should *assist* a driver, not draw his/her eyes from the road with useless confirmations or with menus that are now so long with totally unwanted guff that they require scrolling.

    Be careful with big screens and tablets - a larger screen takes too long to absorb, also because designers can never resist filling all that empty space. And when parked, you will find out that map browsing sucks on a GPS (at least it does on TomTom, I guess that's to hide the fact that it likes U-turns more than your average New Labour government). So small when on the road, please.

    Last but not least: when will the EU make a universal car interface for GPS compulsory so that both internal and external GPS can get roll data from the ABS sensors? It may make GPS actually *sensibly* priced due to much needed competition - and you can choose your own..

  8. Piro Silver badge

    Hm, odd

    There was me, thinking that standalone units were obsolete now, seeing as everyone Android device includes turn by turn for free.

    1. corrodedmonkee

      Re: Hm, odd

      Just as I was thinking of maybe investing in satnav, Google release Maps Navigation. Sure Miss Robot Woman is a bit... basic, but pair her with a stereo, and the only problems with it are removed, commonly quiet phone speakers.

      Seperate units don't have long left, the amount of companies will decrease, and pairing satnav with the phone is an obvious choice, removing the point of trying to nick satnavs from cars by looking for suction marks since people always take the phones with them. Ignoring the phone problem, satnav will start to become a standard new car feature.

      I'll never need to buy a seperate satnav.

    2. FanMan

      Re: Hm, odd

      It's a lot better having a dedicated GPS than using your phone.

      1. bluesxman

        Re: Hm, odd

        I'm with FanMan.

        I thought "why would I need a SatNav?", until I acquired my old man's cranky old TomTom One via handmedown. With stock software (who knows what delights the hacking community have come up with) it pisses all over Google Nav in most respects.

        Even if you just look at the "alternative route" navigation features, it's the clear winner - you can't tell Google Nav to avoid a particular road or navigate you around a traffic jam ahead (or that you are in) can you?

        Oh and you're not reliant on a data connection to recalculate your route.

      2. John H Woods Silver badge

        Re: Hm, odd

        ... yes, a dedicated GPS can also record blackbox style through the camera and save video when a crash is detected. Oh, no, wait - that's my phone :-)

        Get a half decent Android, load SVOX voice of your choice, download one of the black-box apps, and if you wish, pay for traffic news.

        The major downside afaics is that capacitive screens don't work with gloves. Nice to see that some manufacturers of dedicated GPS are also going capacitive now to even things up!

      3. Some Beggar

        Re: Hm, odd

        "It's a lot better having a dedicated GPS than using your phone."

        Because ... ?

      4. James Micallef Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Hm, odd

        Better having a dedicated GPS - Probably true for car GPS, definitely true for bike GPS that requires capacitative screen that can detect presses by gloved fingers (+ specially large buttons to make sure you're pressing the right one), display that's readable in multiple light conditions, proper waterproofing (ie rain bucketing down directly on it not just a few drops), and piping the audio to a helmet headset via bluetooth (trying to hear a tinny voice from a couple of feet away telling you to turn left in 200 yards just won't work when you're sitting a few inches above a brute of en engine screaming at 7000 rpm and 80mph + wind noise).

  9. M. Night Shamalambalambalambalambbaaaaaa

    Motorbike Satnavs?

    Not all of us like to be boxed up in a cage - at the moment I use old fashioned road signs and pre-planning to get to where I want but it would be nice to have the use of a satnav for those more unusual journeys.

    Any recommendations for a waterproof motorbike mountable satnav that does turn by turn to a bluetooth headset? I would use my phone but the satnav on windows phones is terrible.

    Less than £200 would be good too!

    1. John Arthur
      Thumb Up

      Re: Motorbike Satnavs?

      I have been using a Garmin Zumo 550 for the last 5 years and cannot rate it highly enough. Although I do not use it with a Bluetooth headset it can be done and Garmin market some of the Zumo range with Scala Bluetooth headsets as part of the package. I tend to use a lot of out-of-the-way roads, many abroad, and the normal choice of fastest or quickest routing on the GPS is not enough. The Zumo 550 (and some if not all the other Zumos) comes with a route planning program for the PC (Windows only at present I believe) which allows you to create a route on a much larger screen than that of the GPS itself. The route can then be saved and downloaded to the GPS and off you go. All the Zumo range are designed for motorcyclists so are waterproof and pretty rugged. I think they all come with a car windscreen mount too. Your problem is the price, at least double your target £200.

      1. M. Night Shamalambalambalambalambbaaaaaa

        Re: Motorbike Satnavs?

        Thanks for the recommendation John. I have been looking at what's available and as you say most of them are around double the £200 sweet spot. I do like the sound of creating routes on a pc for later use though, would be very nice for blats through the Lakes etc.

        I guess I'm being a bit too much of a cheapskate but I can't justify that much money one something I don't *really* need... especially when I could buy a fairly nice new SSD for that price and arguably get more use from it....

        Maybe I'll look on the 'bay for 2nd hand goodness.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Motorbike Satnavs?

      Just get a car one with bluetooth and put it in waterproof bag/box. Eg, do a search for aquabox and mount it to your bars with a ram mount. Or there's loads of other cheaper options, here's some on Amazon..

      1. James Micallef Silver badge

        Re: Motorbike Satnavs?

        "Just get a car one with bluetooth and put it in waterproof bag/box"

        Not a bad idea, except maybe you would have to preset everything before starting out and not be able to alter it en route if you can't use the touchscreen through the bag/box. Visibility might also be an issue. I find in most cases car GPS is now good enough to call out the correct instructions without needing to see the screen but I've still had the odd issue with ambiguous voice directions that I needed a quick look at the screen to understand

    3. cav71
      Thumb Up

      Re: Motorbike Satnavs?

      just put under the windscreen (if the bike has full fairing) or in a transparent plastic bag. I've just done 2k+ miles without a problem (garmin nuvi 3790) under a miserable weather (three day under heavy rain!).

    4. JohnG

      Re: Motorbike Satnavs?

      Medion have some sat navs for car use (i.e. not waterproofed) under £200 with Bluetooth - but I think the Bluetooth may be to use the sat nav as a handsfree kit, rather than to output to a Bluetooth headset. However, Medions and some other brands can output on VHF FM, if that is of any help.

    5. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: Motorbike Satnavs?

      Motorbike satnavs are pretty specific, requiring waterproofing, touch-screen that works with gloves, also bluetooth audio to teh helmet if you want to hear anything, so £200 won't cut it.

  10. Christian Berger

    How does one update the maps?

    That is the big issue on some of those devices which force you to _install a browser plugin_(!!!!!) just so you can update the maps.

  11. Lars Silver badge

    I suppose

    they are all running linux.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I suppose

      They could be running z/OS for all I care, as long as they do the job properly. They are an appliance, the OS shouldn't ever come into it. If you know what OS an appliance is running from day-to-day use, it's a failure.

    2. Morrie Wyatt

      Re: I suppose

      The TomTom does indeed run linux.

      Unfortunately, that doesn't extend to the management utility "TomTom Home" which is available for Windows and Mac only. Hows that for a kick in the teeth?

      Take the benefits of the linux code, then exclude that very community from being able to update their maps etc. if they happen to be using Linux as their preferred desktop environment.

      Try and raise the issue with them and you get a response along the lines:

      "At TomTom we take all customer comments, feedback and suggestions seriously and therefore we have passed your comments on to our 2nd Line team, Product Management and Marketing Team."

      End quote. And later when I replied: "Ouch! Not the mythical 2nd Line team, Product Management and Marketing Team. That part of the phrase has been offered up verbatim on several prior requests, and in each case, nothing further ever eventuated." they came back with:

      "I am glad to see your concern into this issue. Please be assured that I have really spoken to the Senior Department regarding the feedback you had given in the previous email. I have explained them as to what really the query is. Hopefully in the future updates w get see some development on this subject."

      Needless to say, TomTom has provided no further feedback, and there is still no news of any linux client.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I suppose

      Mine is WinCE6 - it's one of those anonymous Chinese eBay jobbies. Large display, good screen mount, everything works well, and only £40 delivered. :-)

  12. beardypete

    What's the point of a SatNav review that doesn't comment on the accuracy of the maps?!!!

    I've used TomToms for over a decade now and the thing that bugs me is that the same mapping errors are still there, despite the company's touting quarterly updates (for a hefty fee) - it really is a weakness and means that in towns and cities you'll often find yourself being directed the wrong way down one-way systems and into pedestrianised areas, whilst In rural areas you definitely need a map with you as well, because you're likely to be taken down impassable farm tracks.

    I also use Nokia's FREE SatNav apps which come with downloadable maps of any country you care to choose and which are far more accurate than TomTom's - they're frequently updated and include safety camera and speed limit warnings, plus live traffic info (for sussing out what's out there) and traffic optimised routing - and as I said, they're FREE.

    1. Nuno

      Nokia satnav is great, beeing free, and allowing you to pre-download the maps. But, for route planning, it will need a gsm connection and, while abroad, that can be very expensive

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Nokia's will route plan fine in offline (airplane) mode as long as you are searching for town names or postcodes etc that are incorporated into the downloaded maps. If your search turns up no results and you don't want to go online then you can always pick a location from the map.

        1. EddieD

          Aye, I've found the latest iteration of Nokia Drive to be pretty darn good in offline mode, it's found places I'd never have thought would be included in a map, and given that most of scotland is outside O2's data network, it /has/ to work offline.

  13. jason 7

    I still prefer... TomTom One mk1.

    Simple and to the point as such devices go.

    I got a new TomTom Via Live and I really dont like it. Sure the Traffic updates are handy but there are so many annoying features and the UI is pretty poor (you'd think they would have that fixed by now). Plus it bugs you to update the maps if its a few months old etc.

    The TomTom one was pure simplicity.

  14. PaulW

    What about the indash systems?

    Admittedly this is (and should be) a UK centric roundup - but I live and drive by my in-dash Pioneer AVIC Z130 + NDM110T combo (well its a Z110 with software updates as the Z110 has a slightly larger screen than the stock 130). Realtime RDS Traffic in the SF/SJ/Oak Bay Area is excellent, reroutes on traffic, learns routes etc. Plus of couse since its in-dash it has all the hook ups (iDevice, USB, BlueTooth) and the like. Etc. etc. (DVDs on rear screen, rear camera, PandoraLink, Netflix, AhaRadio, AvicFeeds for upload/download of routes and driving info).

    So it would be interesting to see how one of these all-in-one units matches against a dedicated GPS Nav device (other than you cant take it out and take it with you).

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: What about the indash systems?

      Cool. It tells you 101, 80, 280, 380, 880, 580, 680, 237, 37, 4, 17 and etc. are parking-lots on Friday afternoons.

      If you're a local, you know the shortcuts already. Are you absolutely certain you want non-locals to pour off the freeways and take the surface-streets that are a faster route? Beware of what you wish for ...

      1. Some Beggar

        Re: What about the indash systems?

        The nearest freeway is about five thousand kilometres away. I doubt there are any viable short cuts that will pass through my surface-street(sic).

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: What about the indash systems?

          You are five thousand kilometers from a freeway, Mr/s. Beggar?

          And you need an in-dash system to get about?

          The mind boggles ...

  15. tfewster

    Anyone tried Waze yet?

    I've just installed it on a iPhone, hoping it will live up to its promises:

    - A basic satnav with traffic updates;

    - pre-caching your chosen route (on a WIFI connection) so you can minimise data usage during the trip;

    - Real traffic updates from monitoring other Waze users rather than* flawed/delayed notifs from the Highways Agency or radio (or my built-in satnav/TMC).

    * Don't know yet if it includes TMC - if it only uses other Waze users, a critical mass would be needed to make this useful.

    1. Ken 16 Silver badge

      I've got Waze installed

      but I find NavFree to be good - it needs a data connection for an address search here in Ireland but in the UK it can take a postcode database download alongside the maps and is self-contained. I find it at least as good as the old c210 Mio I used to use. I've got an unlocked Orange Monte Carlo so it's not the quickest phone but still the route calculation is adequate and the 4.3" screen helps.

      I don't think Waze has sufficient user base outside Israel to get benefit from its crowd sourced mapping.

  16. circusmole


    I'm confused about Mio/Navman. I intended to buy a Navman a couple or years ago and I got steered to a Mio web site that purported to have taken over Navman. I ended up buying a Mio but I've never been particularly happy with it and it seem sub-standard compared to my old Navman. Now I see that Navman are still available - what gives?

  17. Leona A

    Map update costs

    I feel the review needed to include the cost of map updates.

    TomTom charges £40 for a year, some are even higher, a friend has a Germin and they want £75 to update the maps on hers!

    I also question Sat Nav mapping abilities, for example, we wanted to visit a Zoo near Exmoor, from Exeter, the sat nav look us on Narrow, winding, awful country roads, which was very stressful and took much longer than TomTom suggested, it was so bad that we used a map on the way home and went via A roads and the Motorway, yes it might have been 10 miles longer, but much easier to drive, and overall quicker, if I have to plan the routes myself and use google maps, why did I bother to spend £100 on an TomTom XL? FAIL! (and yes I did check try TomTom's alternative routes).

    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: Map update costs

      Are you sure you didn't accidentally tick 'avoid main roads?'

    2. Some Beggar

      Re: Map update costs

      That's a commonly reported error. Try Googling for "Problem Exists Between SatNav and Steering Wheel."

    3. Geoff May

      "Germin and they want £75 to update"

      That £75 is a one-off charge, all subsequent updates will be free for that device. I've got the same deal on my Garmin.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The mounting problems

    Having progressed from the early Tomtom hard disk 4.3" unit which proved virtually impossible to keep window mounted, particularly in bright sunlight, to it's replacement, a Tomtom 930 unit which mounted and unmounted easily, but which still fell off the window on a regular basis, I made the mistake of buying the new(2011) 5" model, only to find that some idiot had semi permanently fixed the mounting to the sat nav, making it too thick to go into a pocket easily and requiring remounting whenever removal was required. In my experience, Tomtom have totally failed to solve their unit's mounting problems and a third party mount is essential. I find that the Tomtoms displays do not cope with sunlight very well.

    In between times, I used someone's 3.5" Garmin Nuvi, and immediately bought one for personal use. The Nuvi is a dream to mount and unmount and having maps on an sd card, can be used in the UK and USA by simply changing the card. It also goes into a pocket easily. It is also easier to see in sunlight. She took it over.

    Both manufacturers maps are out of date when the unit is sold in my experience, are pretty poor at covering regions less than 3(10?) years old and have POIs which are also similarly out of date. I find both makers units OK for major journeys, but frequently useless for local trips. Tomtom in particular, loves using side roads, just because they are shorter. The programming options do not include "stick to the main roads"!

    I cannot understand the desire to have wide screen sat navs. I'm interested in where I'm going, not whats happening on either side. How about a square screen?

    1. jason 7

      TomTom have lost the plot.

      I'm still told to drive down roads and turnings that haven't existed for nearly 10 years on a 2011 map.

      Just not good enough really.

      Another bizarre UI fail is that on the old TomTom One with its small screen when you went to put in a postcode you had the letters and numbers on the same screen so input was quick and easy in one step. Perfect.

      On the new Via Live with the much larger screen the numbers are on a separate selection like on a mobile phone so you have to switch back and forth which just takes longer and is a true backwards step. Mad.

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