We know that for the modern drivers a sat nav is an essential, but there are a few different options available for you to choose from. In this article we’ll look at the pros and cons for the three main types of sat nav that people use in their cars; built in, portable and app-based satnavs. 

Built-In Satnav

A built-in sat nav is essentially what it sounds like, a sat nav that is built into your car. As technology has advanced so have these satnavs, and many are now part of a more complex infotainment system that includes smartphone mirroring, in-car entertainment and even for some models, vehicle controls.

A built-in sat nav can be connected to a live system that provides you with up to date road closures, traffic information and the best route for you. Or it can be a more static system that is updated through regular software updates and simply provides you with a route to follow based on distance, preferred road type or similar criteria.

Benefits of Built-In Satnavs

One of the most obvious benefits of having a built in sat nav is that it’s always in the car and available for you to use when you’re in the car. As they generally use a GPS system rather than a phone signal based one they you’re more likely to get a signal in more remote or hillier places where a mobile device or app might not.

As it’s not a removable device it may also reduce the risk of your car being broken into as unlike portable satnavs it’s not a valuable thieves can easily take.

Drawbacks of Built-In Satnavs

Some require regular software updates and need to go into a dealership in order to get these updates. You may also find that there is a cost to software updates.

Another charge you may face is that some manufacturers offer a basic sat nav system free of charge and then a subscription service to access features like live traffic updates. So, if you want to make the most of the system then it could cost you more than you first expect.

Portable Satnav Devices

A portable satnav is a device that you can put in and take out of the car as needed. It might be a device that you can use for multiple purposes like cycling, walking or any other mode of transport or it might simply be an after market install in your vehicle that is removable.

Benefits of Portable Satnavs

The main benefit of a portable satnav is that you can use it across multiple vehicles, or alternative transport, so it is not fixed in one car. This is particularly useful for drivers who regularly update their cars or who often switch between family vehicles.

Additionally, portable satnavs can be positioned in a more appropriate place for your eyeline as they can be fixed to the windscreen or dashboard. Provided they do not block your view of the road this can be better than a built-in device as they will often be part of the console and require drivers to look down away from the road.

Drawbacks of Portable Satnavs

Portable satnavs may be a security concern if you keep them in the vehicle as they can attract thieves looking for an easy steal. Even if you remove the device from your car, you may still be a target because of the marks left on your windscreen from the device so you’ll have to also clean this regularly.  

These satnavs may be limited in terms of their live input and only be able to provide you with information stored on their system so unable to advise on current traffic that might add time to your journey. Alternatively, they may need to link to a mobile phone app or have a sim card with data you pay for added to the device in order to offer live information.

These portable devices may still need system updates like a built-in unit however this will usually be cheaper than going to a main dealership for a vehicle update. A lot of them may come with a set time period where you get updates or a subscription plan to keep you up to date.

Satnav Apps

Mobile phones are now an essential tool in everyday life and used for much more than calling these days. There’s a range of different apps available for navigation on your phone from the default Apple Maps and Google Maps through to newer ones like Waze or specialist ones like Zap Maps for electric vehicle charging.

Benefits of Mobile App Satnavs

One of the most obvious benefits of using an app on your mobile phone is that most of us carry it with us anyway, so it’s not an additional device you need to look after.

A lot of app-based maps will have real-time updates and allow drivers to flag things like congestion, accidents, and even mobile traffic cameras. This means you’ll be getting the most accurate timings on your routes to prevent you from being too late.

Drawbacks of Mobile App Satnavs

The most notable problem that drivers run into using their mobile phone for a satnav is that it’s reliant on having a good 3, 4 or 5G signal. Most will just need a signal when loading the route, which mitigates this slightly, but some need a consistent internet connection to be able to provide you with accurate navigation. Additionally, if you’re regularly using your phone as a satnav it can deplete your available data, leaving you unable to access other functions on your phone or have to pay more to do so.

Not only can using your phone as a satnav use up your mobile data but depending on the length of your trip it can also deplete your battery. If you plan on using your phone as a satnav then we’d recommend keeping a charging cable in the car, even if your car has wireless charging capabilities. Unless you are able to mirror your smartphone on your car’s infotainment system you will want to have the phone positioned in a cradle or holder that’s at an appropriate height (usually eye level or close to it).

Just like with a portable device phone cradles may leave a mark on the dashboard or windscreen that you’ll have to regularly clean to reduce the risk of thieves breaking into your car.

What is the Best Type of Satnav?

The best type of satnav really depends on you and your individual needs. There’s no one device that will be the best option for all drivers and so we recommend really thinking about your needs and how you use, or plan to use, a satnav.

Ask yourself five simple questions:

1. Where will I use the satnav?

1. Where will I use the satnav?
A. In the carB. In multiple vehicles / forms of transportC. In the car / on foot
2. How often will I use the satnav?
A. All the timeB. RegularlyC. Rarely
3. How long will I have this car for?
A. Several yearsB. A couple of yearsC. Undecided
4. How often will I need live traffic information?
A. RegularlyB. RarelyC. All the time
5. How much am I willing to spend on a satnav?
A. £200+B. £20-£200C. Less than £20

The answers to these questions should help guide you towards the best satnav for you.  Mostly As will point you towards a built-in device. Mostly Bs suggest a portable satnav is best for you. And mostly Cs mean it might be better for you to stick with an app for your phone.

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