Sat Nav or Mobile Phone App: Do I need to invest in a Sat Nav?

In an age when our smartphones accompany us everywhere, acting like an auxiliary nerve centre, its tempting to believe that we no longer need to outlay on specific devices. So sat nav or mobile phone when it comes to navigating the roads?

The Smart phone is ubiquitous and omnipresent, and it increasingly does everything for us. Everything increasingly includes navigation, either via the smart phones built in maps application, the use of a third party map app (e.g. Google Maps on an iOS device) or by purchasing an downloading a specific sat nav app, such as TomTom. This ready accessibility is attractive, but in a generalist tech world, there can still be value in purchasing a device which does one thing exceptionally well. When it comes to sat navs, there are no shortage of options that can do that for you.

Satellite navigation units begin at around £90, which would get you a Garmin Nuvi 50. The Nuvi 50 covers Western Europe, features a 5 inch widescreen display and includes driving specific features, like lane guidance. The TomTom Go Live 1005 is an example of a high end sat nav, which comes in at a fairly hefty £275. This gets you additional features, like hands free phone calls, traffic updates, voice commands ad integration into services like trip Advisor and Expedia.

Either outlay sounds quite high when you consider the power of the device in your pocket though. Smart Phone powered maps have gotten a lot better over the past 3 years, largely because of a lot of updates to their GPS systems. A service like Google Maps, which comes installed on most smartphones and is easily downloadable for free on others, deliver a slick and sophisticated maps based service. Not only do they compete with the offering of the cheaper sat navs, but they also have the additional services that you come to expect from the higher end, such as integration of local services and easy locating of cafes and service stations.

The free offerings are hard to complain about but do have their downsides:


1)      Your phones maps will use your phones 3G data: This data, especially overseas can rack up quickly, leaving you with a big bill. Therefore, overseas driving could become horrendously expensive, with a driving holiday in France setting you back much more than a £90 entry model sat nav.

2)      Lack of signal kills it: A phone based app will require 3G in order to sync and operate. Therefore, if you’re driving in areas with poor reception, you may find yourself with navigation black spots

3)      Small screen: Although, with the growth of the so called phablet – combining tablet like size into a smartphone – this is changing, by in large a phone screen will be smaller than a dedicated sat nav. This could be dangerous if you’re struggling to follow it whilst driving, where full concentration is important.

4)      Linked to the above point, is the potentially fiddly navigation of the maps on your smart phone. Unlike a dedicated sat nav, your smart phone was not built to navigate you whilst driving. Therefore, operating the device and inputting new data could be hazardous.

5)      Not without cost: There are potential hidden costs, such as window mounts to consider with your phone. Not a biggie, but at £10-20 a go, it does narrow the cost gap.