Graeme Kidd looks over the busy market for SatNav devices, offers some advice on making the best choice for your budget and circumstances, and puts up a couple of recommendations
In early 2007, not much more than 18 months ago, portable SatNav devices were considerably less capable than they are now, and started around the £200 mark. Today, if you look out for special offers, you can pick up a basic but perfectly competent new device for way under £100. Argos, for instance, was recently offering a Binatone A350 with UK and ROI (Republic of Ireland) maps, 3.3-inch touchscreen and camera alerts for £70. And that’s not a ‘soon to be discontinued’ model either.
At price points between £100 and £200 there’s no shortage of devices, among which you’ll find a few widescreen units, with 4.5- inch touchscreens, rather than the 3.5-inch. For example, you should be able to find the Garmin NUVI 250W which offers UK and all Europe maps as well as widescreen for around £160 or less. Larger screens are nicer to use, in general terms.
What you get is what you pay for with regards to facilities. The main questions you need to ask yourself include:
Do you want Bluetooth hands-free facilities via your SatNav?
Is MP3 important to you?
Will the UK and ROI maps suit your purposes or do you want to upgrade to Europe or even further afield?
Do you want Postcode input (most provide this, but check!)
What kind of Point of Interest information do you want?
How will you want to get upgrades to the maps onto your device and at what cost?
Do you want speed camera data?
Do you want traffic info data and if so, at what level of sophistication do you want the information. Will receiving general FM broadcasts do, or are you after the more detailed and comprehensive service offered by Trafficmaster?
What are the costs of traffic or camera data or other data subscriptions on offer? Do you want a digital camera as part of the SatNav unit?
Will you need an external GPS antenna because you have a heat-resistant windscreen?
Maybe you want an add-on reversing camera, or an all-singing, all-dancing multimedia control centre that offers large-screen SatNav? There’s kit out there to deliver your dreams, but do take care to shop around on price as well as on features. There are some bargains to be had, and this will continue to be the case. Then it’s down to the currency of the data on your device and the cost you are going to have to pay to have it upgraded, not just in terms of cash but in terms of fiddling around with mobile phones or your PC.
The roster of makers includes Navman, Sony, Panasonic, RAC, Binatone, Magellan, HP, Road Angel, Medion, TomTom, Garmin and others. The market is a little crowed at the moment, with the mapping software getting progressively more complex, smarter and much more user-friendly.
Binatone Carrera T430 SatNav and wireless reversing camera kit www.binatonecarrera.com
Binatone launched into the personal navigation device market at the end of 2007 with three devices and the slogan ‘Drive like a local”. Our tests with the mid-range Binatone Carrera X430 proved it to be a competent mid-range, mid price device, available for around £125 if you shopped around. Then, just as this issue went to press, the T430 was launched, claiming to be the fi rst UK SatNav featuring a reversing camera. A neat idea for sure – a wireless reversing cam should prove easy to fi t on the rear of your car. Wire it in to the rear numberplate light for power and to tell it when to activate as you engage reverse, and away you go, backing with new confi dence. Given that a messy, wired with its own screen addon reversing camera kit could set you back £100 or so, the extra £45 for the T430 over the X430’s street price could prove attractive.
GPRS ON YOUR MOBILE
It’s called ‘convergence’ and it’s a process by which technologies are able to come together as devices get more powerful and more capable. Mobile phones have already put cameras, FM radios and MP3 players into the pockets of millions of people, and SatNav is becoming a more common feature in the converged mobile world.
Check out the options when you’re next due to upgrade a handset, and you might be pleasantly surprised just how powerful a computer you can have in your pocket – unless, of course, you value ‘small and compact’ as the main attributes for your mobile telephone. One day, when mobile data downloads and bandwidth become much cheaper, SatNav solutions are likely to become online, real time downloads on an ‘as you need it’ basis. This approach, which is taken by the Wayfi nder Navigator 7 system, is ‘SatNav on demand’ and should mean that you’re using the very latest data on every journey. But at current prices, this route to mobile SatNav could quickly get expensive in the UK and be prohibitively so outside the UK, unless you have a good deal on mobile data. And what happens if you’re somewhere where there’s no mobile internet coverage?
Just now, staying with maps and software on your device and a GPS receiver will be the best way forward for mobile-phone SatNav for most people. A mobile phone with a built-in GPS receiver may or may not have SatNav software pre-installed. If your phone doesn’t have a GPS receiver, then a Bluetooth external device is what you’re going to need – expect to pay around £50. Then it depends on the operating system software that your phone runs on. Wayfi nder’s Navigator 8 covers most of the bases. Copilot Live runs on Windows Mobile phones, while Navicore’s strengths lie with phones, like Nokia’s, that run the Symbian operating system.
And with a mobile phone SatNav you have to accept you trade portability and ‘in your pocket’ functionality with screen size. The Orange SPV M3100 for instance, an HTC phone by another name, has a 2.8” screen that provides under half the display area of a 4.3” standalone SatNav.
BEST BUY SMARTPHONE UPGRADE
Copilot Live 7 www.copilotlive.co.uk Software only £80, software and Bluetooth GPS receiver bundle £150.
Fair enough, it’s a Windows Mobile only product in the mobile phone arena, so you don’t have the widest choice of handsets, but this is a very competent product that doesn’t require a stylus to operate, even on the comparatively small screen of our test SPV M3100, Orange’s customised incarnation of the original HTC TyTN. Our test required the Bluetooth GPS receiver, which was a bit awkward to link in to the phone every time we wanted to use SatNav, and from time to time decided to disconnect for no apparent reason. That said, the HTC TyTN II has an integral GPS receiver, which ought to solve those niggles.
In use, the software was friendly to set up with full postcode input, loads of options, and ‘wrong turning errors’ were pretty much removed by detailed help in terms of distance prompts, voice prompts and zoomed junction maps. Okay, you can’t have it if you haven’t got a Windows Mobile phone, but we reckon it’s worth getting a Windows Mobile phone if you are upgrading and looking to put SatNav on your mobile, you might like to check out the O2 Xda Orbit 2, which has integral GPS and pre-loaded Copilot Live 7. And we’re not alone in reckoning this is the best of the ‘smartphone’ SatNav options… Also consider
Navigator 7 Wayfarer www.wayfarer.com
UK and Ireland software only £48, GPS receiver £40, ongoing data costs when used, depending on your mobile phone contract.co.uk
TrafficTV MXdata www.traffictv.co.uk Download the latest Traffi cmaster UK congestion data to almost any java-equipped mobile phone. £1 a week or £40 a year, plus your mobile operator’s data download charges – one-off installation download around 270K, then under 50K each traffic jam data refresh. See also www.trafficmaster.co.uk
Navicore Personal 2007 Navicore (owned by Wayfarer) www.navicoretech.com UK and Ireland software only, £120 on memory card, £108 on CD/DVD, £99 as a download.
MONEY NO OBJECT SATNAV
If you have an unlimited budget, then plumping for your car manufacturer’s factory fi tted SatNav option is the one that is likely to cost the most.
This is for a combination of reasons: partly because such systems are a bit more complicated and bespoke in that they are usually integrated with other in-car entertainment systems and with the physical design of the vehicle, so don’t benefi t from economies of scale in manufacture; partly because some of them are more powerful or competent than add-on systems (for instance, installed systems may include gyroscopic location facilities and or speed pulse systems that keep accurate track of where you are in relation to the last know GPS-plotted position when GPS signals are not available); and partly because, well, they just can be. Car manufacturers’ lead times don’t help either, if they go for a bespoke system then it’s likely to involve older, more expensive components.
There may be some downsides other than the expense of manufacturer-installed system – you probably have to faff about with a CD/DVD for data and navigation software updates, and may not fi nd the updates easy to download from the net and install (as is the case with most portable SatNav devices). You’re also kind of stuck with what’s there for the life of the car, and can’t take it out on the street with you in your pocket for use outside the car. On the upside an installed system may help the residual value when you sell the car, and is not much of a target for thieves. And integration with the high-quality sound system in your car can make it easier to hear instructions…
If you have deep pockets or do a lot of travelling in the UK, the SmartNav system, which is installed as original equipment in a growing number of new UK vehicles, could be attractive. You’re meant to be talking “Intelligent Driving Systems” rather than SatNav according to its makers.
There are two options. You either front up £550 for professional installation of the Touchscreen and then an annual subscription of either £109 for the UK and Ireland journey and jam data, or £189 to include speed camera info. Alternatively you pay £399 for a system install without screen, and are limited to 360 journeys a year for your subscription – you press a button and make a call to a human operator to set up a journey. In both configurations, you don’t pay data costs or phone costs, although SmartNav effectively has its own dedicated mobile phone.
The system automatically updates the map data every three months for you, and with this Touchscreen version you can have as many routes as you want during the life of your subscription. Even with the Touchscreen, you don’t get map displays – the whole system works on voice prompts.
BEST BUY ‘MONEY NO OBJECT’ UPGRADE
Kenwood DNX5220BT Kenwood
Okay, so Halfords lists it in-store and online at a touch under £1,000, but Kenwood’s top-of-the-range multimedia player with 6.1-inch fl ip up touch screen, SatNav supplied by Garmin, and basically all the audio and video connectivity and control you could dream of can be bought online for around £750. The system takes advantage of the increasingly common Double DIN console slot to provide what can be confi gured to offer all the convenience of a production-line installed system that offers SatNav and a raft of multimedia connectivity. Kenwood reckon it’s unique at the moment, although we understand that Pioneer may be close behind with a competing product.
If you’re the kind of person who likes the latest and the coolest, this will be diffi cult to resist – and you might want to go further, adding steering wheel control, reversing camera and even repeater screens for delivering DVD movies to the rear seats. Nip online, read the specs and drool or pop into Halfords and have a play with the cool, slidey-out screen system and touchscreen controls for an integrated, in-car multimedia experience.
BEST VALUE OVERALL
Well here’s a bit of a cop-out…changes in the portable SatNav market are happening at such a pace that’s it not really possible to make a generalised, overall ‘best value, best buy’ recommendation with any real authority. TomTom, for instance, has just released a brand new range in the UK, which add new software and hardware facilities and are set to move the goalposts a little further forward. Prices are changing fast and special offers are rolling out as vendors make more effort to compete in increasingly awkward trading times.
Today’s best buy could so easily be tomorrow’s old news – in terms of price at least. The current generation of SatNav devices are pretty much all driven by one of two datasets, and whichever device you plump for, upgrading the data it holds needs to be easy to do, and you must upgrade data regularly if you are to have the full benefi t of your kit.
The map data providers offer upgrades every three months to their customers, but given the shelf-life of the products and the fact that SatNav makers don’t necessarily upgrade their datasets every time the data supplier offers an upgrade, there could be a lag of a year or more, potentially, between the dataset driving your device, and the current release. In reality, manufacturers have two datasets to choose from – as supplied by Navteq or TeleAtlas – so it’s the relative capabilities of the hardware and the SatNav software that really makes the difference, assuming that all devices are kept up-tothe- minute with mapping data. And it’s diffi cult not to like TomTom’s interface, software and general approach. I’d spend my own money on the new TomTom GO 530 – just released, it adds more features and facilties to what was a fairly solid ‘best buy’ product last year. I might even treat myself to the slightly more expensive version, the GO 530 Traffic.
UK Suggested Retail Prices inc VAT:
TomTom ONE UK/Ireland – £149.99
TomTom ONE Europe 22 – £169.99
TomTom ONE UK/Ireland Traffic – £179.99
TomTom ONE Europe 22 Traffic – £199.99
TomTom XL UK/Ireland – £179.99
TomTom XL Europe 22 – £199.99
TomTom XL UK/Ireland Traffic – £209.99
TomTom XL Europe 22 Traffic – £229.99