REVIEWS / Sat Nav Reviews

Erick Fontaine
Following the disappearance of Sony, Navman and ViaMichelin, only a handful of brands are currently left competing in the sat nav market—but that doesn't mean you're no longer spoilt for choice!

All sat navs are tested on points such as route calculation time and recalculation time if the itinerary is changed. Here are a few of our main test criteria:
- Speed: menus' responsiveness, route calculation time, route recalculation time, smoothness of images displayed.
- Search Tool: we enter several addresses and points of interest to evaluate both performance and ease of use.
- Route Guidance: quality of the visual instructions, voice instructions, how useful they are, whether they can be easily understood, text-to-speech functions, etc.
- Traffic Info: does the system offer access to real-time traffic info and adapt the proposed route accordingly?
- Speed Alerts: does it warn drivers when they're approaching a fixed speed camera and automatically warn them when they break the speed limit?
- Other Functions: we'll also test any additional features (audio playback, Bluetooth hands-free mode, voice recognition etc.)

All sorts of factors separate entry-level Personal Navigation Devices (PND) from the very best models: screen size, voice recognition, or the inclusion of a remote control and a media player.

Don't ignore the cheapest models

The most basic GPS untis make do with a 3.5'' (8.9 cm) screen and maps limited to a single country.

If they do offer live traffic information, then it's restricted to only the most important highways with little coverage of minor roads or town centres.

In any case, such systems aren't as helpful as the marketing would have you believe! Too many areas remain outside of the coverage area, and a lot of work remains to be done.

Despite lacking these systems, the cheapest sat navs are perfectly able to fulfil their primary function of getting you from A to B, as they're essentially based on the same software found in more advance models.

When it comes to the voice instructions your sat nav gives you, one feature to look out for is Text-to-Speech voice synthesis. While almost all GPS systems can give voice instructions like 'Turn right in 100 yards', they usually can't handle the names of streets and towns. Text-to-Speech allows them to give clear directions like 'Turn left onto Banbury Road', a much more natural way of getting round town.

On the subject of making these systems a little more realistic, that's partly the aim of TomTom's iQ Routes system. This suggests different routes depending on the time of day based on journey times measured in real life, not just the theoretical average speed on the roads you travel.

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