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Sat nav devices for vehicle navigation killed the humble map but now smartphones are becoming a compelling alternative. Is there still a place for the in-vehicle sat nav?
Smartphones now offer maps and turn-by-turn navigation, often for free. A sat nav is a dedicated device that costs money. But as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.
Recently sat navs have advanced to a level that makes them a compelling offer once again, one that could keep your smartphone firmly in your pocket for your next journey.
Here's everything you need to know about smartphones compared to dedicated sat nav devices.
Charge phones faster by leaving GPS off as the sat nav navigates.
Smartphone notification interruptions that stop navigation aren’t an issue with a sat nav.
Smartphone roaming charges can hurt, the sat nav will get rid of that nastiness.
Pre-installed offline maps mean peace of mind for navigation, anywhere in the world.
A dedicated mount is easier to use and phones stay safe in the pocket.
Dedicated large speakers in sat navs mean no more missing turns.
Traffic warnings with TomTom data are smarter than ever for smoother journeys.
One of the most compelling arguments for using a sat nav is battery life. Smartphones already struggle to last a day on a charge and when you turn on GPS for navigation that lifetime gets cut even shorter.
Some would argue that smartphones can be plugged into a car to charge just like a sat nav. However, GPS drain the phone battery as fast as a standard car charger can fill it. The result is roughly the same battery level when you arrive at your destination as when you left.
If you were using a dedicated PND sat nav then you would be able to step out of the car with a charged phone battery, leaving you ready to use your smartphone without battery worries.
Smartphones have been growing year by year and some have even managed to outgrow pockets. Sat navs have also been enhanced in size and now come in crystal clear 6-inch display options. Lots of smartphones top out around the 5-inch mark.
Smartphones do feature high-resolution screens and excellent touch controls. Dedicated sat navs now also offer quick pinch-to-zoom style controls, a bright colourful and high-resolution display that handle sunlight glare better than smartphones – plus they're rugged.
Loading a smartphone into and out of a mount every journey is just tempting fate – it's eventually going to fall and likely break. As for putting it on the dash or a lap – let’s not even go there for dangers. Dedicated sat navs are tough with a rigid build that should mean they can withstand plenty of use. PND mounts are also so efficient now that loading the sat nav in and out is less likely to result in a drop.
Smartphones are always connected, meaning the maps can be the very latest and include live traffic information, road closures and more. The only problem with that is these maps are often not downloaded to the device when you need them since most apps use data to load the map on the go.
When abroad smartphone navigation can mean high data bills and even when at home a loss of signal will mean an interrupted journey could lose the maps, leaving you stranded. Some services do allow for offline map downloads but that means taking up precious space on your smartphone.
Plus it's all stored on the device where there's plenty of room and memory expansion options. That means all the device needs is GPS to locate the unit – which is free worldwide. So you can travel anywhere in the world and have the maps downloaded ready.
Ultimately this means ease of mind, which is what a sat nav is all about, right?
Since it is illegal to operate a phone while driving, hands-free kits have grown more useful than ever. Now the advent of voice controls in cars and on smartphones has taken that connectivity to the next level.
While navigating using a smartphone it's not so simple to use voice controls and they’re not so clear in a noisy car environment. Newer dedicated sat navs are now able to intelligently connect to the smartphone, utilise its voice assistant controls and deliver alerts for things like messages and WhatsApp – all while the phone remains locked away saving battery. On top of this sat navs are built for the car meaning background noise won’t be an issue for clear calls and voice controls.
This not only means safer drivers but also ones who can remain more connected while on the roads. From answering and making calls to having messages read out by the sat nav, a smart connected PND is invaluable on the road.
One of the smartest features in new sat navs is destination prediction. The PND can actually learn the driver's habits meaning when they get in the car for the morning commute the route is already set to go. That means all the latest traffic and speed camera data is up to date so there's no need to worry about being late. Or on a new journey a route can be planned on a smartphone at home then be ready to go on the sat nav when the driver gets in the car – seamless.
Sat nav devices are made for the purpose of offering directions to make journeys easier. Smartphones have so many uses that the process of planning and taking a journey can become convoluted. Music being played from a phone gets interrupted by navigation, menus must be navigated to get directions and if you receive a call it can all be lost.
Sat navs don't have any of these issues – it's all simple, clear and just works. On top of that the level of accuracy is far greater in a dedicated device. The only downside was that updates required a PC connection but now even that has become a thing of the past. Newer WiFi enabled sat navs are able to connect wirelessly, download and install updates all without the user having to do anything.
Smartphones offer a surprisingly impressive navigation screen for the display size which include next turn information. However for further ease of mind a sat nav takes this to a deeper level.
Sat navs can offer advanced lane guidance, which many smartphone apps don’t offer, meaning getting in lane isn’t a worry. Another sat nav positive is the use of 3D buildings for a clearer view of one’s surroundings, ultimately making navigating easier - especially when near destination.
Also crammed into sat navs are jam tail warnings and average speed camera warnings which smartphones can’t attest to offering. Both of these can help to avoid a crash or speeding fine - helping the sat nav pay for itself right away.
It is possible to buy smartphones for very little these days, however this is generally to the detriment of screen size, quality, battery life and speed. That said, most people already own a smartphone and can access navigation apps for free.
Dedicated sat navs are now higher quality, more accurate, larger and clearer, smarter and more simple to use and crammed with more features than ever before, without pushing the price up.
For a quick, easy and navigation tool a smartphone is capable. However, a smartphone as a sat nav has myriad shortcomings like battery drain, offline mapping loss, data costs, damage risk, communication and music interruption, plus weak hands-free abilities.
By spending a little one-off on a sat nav a driver is investing in peace of mind when travelling locally or abroad, a hands-free system with voice controls, smart speed camera alerts and super accurate traffic warnings.
The ease of mind goes on thanks to a rugged build, easy to use mounting system, huge and clear screen, excellent GPS connectivity and accuracy, plus constant power.
Bearing in mind a dedicated sat nav PND will likely long outlast your phone, and cost half as much, it seems almost silly to not have one.