The car sat nav (or satnav or sat-nav – guys, make your minds up) is one of the most useful forms of technology ever invented. These days, with GPS-supporting smartphones and apps from the likes of TomTom, Garmin and the rest, you don't necessarily need a hardware sat nav, but they are still coming out from a few stalwart brands.
There are pros and cons to both hardware and app-based navigation. Hardware devices perform better at the core navigation duties on the whole. It's generally easier to mount a dedicated device, and it keeps your phone free to act as, well, a phone.
On the other hand, phones generally have better interfaces and nicer screens, and plenty of users prefer to do everything through them, seeing dedicated devices as old fashioned. Phone apps from the big sat nav players tend to work well, and be cheaper than their hardware cousins. Some are even free.
Also, if you're set on using iOS or Android devices for the foreseeable future, once you've bought a sat nav app, you'll never need to buy a sat nav ever again...
We'll be adding more sat nav reviews in the very near future (these things take an age to test properly). In the mean time here are our top three hardware choices, followed by other favourites and their phone-based app rivals.
1. TomTom Go 6000
A real star, and narrowly the finest sat nav in the world
The TomTom Go 6000 is an impressive piece of kit. The interface is intuitive, with TomTom's excellent routing benefiting from being able to draw on live traffic data to make for incredibly accurate journey times as well. The fact that it includes lifetime map and journey updates for 45 countries in Europe make it all the sat nav you should ever need.
We would have preferred to have the camera data included for free as well, but if mobile camera positions really are that important to you, then the £20 a year cost is probably good value. The screen is bright and clear and easy to see whatever the lighting outside, and the voices are clear and precise too. The new mounting system is solid, yet it's easy to remove the sat nav from its cradle if you need to. You can charge the sat nav from a standard micro-USB connector, if you're away from your car too, which adds to its flexibility.
Read: TomTom Go 6000 review
2. Garmin nuvi 3598LMT-D
Slickness and features abound on this winner from Garmin
Another top-of-the-range GPS box, this offers smartphone-like smoothness, excellent mapping and can be relied on to get you from A to B with plenty of points of interest and smart traffic-evading services that don't require a SIM or data connection – your car's DAB connectivity is used instead.
As you'd expect at the price, luxe features abound, including Real Directions, which dispenses with abstract lefts or rights after hard-to-estimate distances, instead using landmarks: "turn left at Starbucks."
Yes, quality costs, but we feel this kind of high-end GPS unit is the only real alternative to using your smartphone and app nowadays.
3. Garmin nuvi 3490LMT
Another smartphone-like sat nav offering from Garmin
Any standalone nav device has a tough time justifying itself in this age of apps. But a £250 satnav? That's a very tall order but, like its sibling the Garmin nuvi 3590LMT, the Garmin nuvi 3490LMT has a pretty good stab at it.
The device starts with ultra-slim smartphone aping proportions. The phone analogy extends further, with Garmin serving up a capacitive touchscreen where lesser/older nav devices use a resistive screen. The result is one of the slickest and most responsive satnavs on the market.