Navigation systems were originally made for expensive luxury cars. Today, however, they are typically availalable as an option on even the least expensive economy cars. And, there are lots of alternatives to choose from too – from portable sat navs to smartphones to aftermarket stereo systems with navigation.
What are the advantages of each GPS system? Which is easier to use? How expensive are they? Listed below you’ll see the differences of each sat nav system so you’ll be able to make a creditable, for you, decision.
Factory navigation systems
- Integration: These navigation systems appeal to the buyer who likes a clean, high-tech, factory look. They're well thought out, work seamlessly in the car and feature larger screens. Factory features such as voice activation are typically part of the system.
- Warranty: It’s the same as the bumper-to-bumper car warranty. If anything goes wrong with the system, you can take it to any factory dealership for free repair within the warranty period.
- Theft-resistant: A factory installation is harder to steal, whereas a portable unit is a lot easier to steal as it’s fixed to the windscreen with a suction cup.
- Price: New car navigation systems start around £500. But in many cases, car manufacturers bundle sat nav with other accessories and call it a 'Tech' or 'Premium' package, and this can cost more than £2,500 in some luxury vehicles. In some cases, you cannot get a navigation system unless you buy the vehicle's higher, more expensive optional trim levels.
- Updates: The maps on factory systems are typically as current as the year of your vehicle and if you want to update the maps, you need to purchase a DVD or memory card. These can cost roughly £75-£200.
- Use limitations: Some factory navigation systems do not let you input directions while the car is moving.
Smartphone navigation systems
- Price: The standard map application on a smartphone is good enough for most people, and it's essentially 'free' (as long as you're not factoring in the cost of the phone).
- Traffic data: The fastest way to get from A to B isn't necessarily the shortest path, it's the one with the least traffic. Smartphone apps have excellent traffic data and access to Waze, the community-based traffic app. Factory navigation systems have live traffic, but you have to pay for a subscription.
- Current maps and POIs: Smartphone maps will never be out of date, and any updates are included. The same goes for the names and addresses of any points of interest you want to visit.
- Convenience: Smartphones offer the convenience of inputting an address as you walk to the car, leveraging your contacts for their addresses, having a calendar invitation remind you that you need to leave at a certain time and then routing you there.
- Integrated smartphone systems: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto offer the convenience of smartphone navigation with the integration and safety of a built-in system.
- Distraction: You'll need to purchase a car mount for the phone, otherwise it will most likely sit in a cupholder and you'll have to take your eyes off the road to check the directions (unless you're using an integrated smartphone system, of course). The mount itself can cost from £20 for a basic unit to £100 for a do-it-all mount that will charge the phone and boost the audio and GPS signal.
- Signal issues: Most of the native map applications rely on a phone signal for their map data. If you lose coverage, you may find yourself unable to use the maps and directions. The more fully featured navigation applications have stored maps, which could alleviate this issue, but those cost £30-£50 and the reviews seem to be negative across the board. Google offers the ability to download certain maps for offline use, but without a phone signal, you won't know your exact position.
- Battery drain: Running a navigation application on a smartphone can sometimes take a toll on the smartphone's battery, so you'll need to stump up for a phone car charger if you don't already have one.
In-dash aftermarket navigation systems
- More features: These aftermarket navigation systems have entertainment features that are not found on most factory systems, such as DVD video playback, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Pandora streaming.
- Better screen: Since many aftermarket navigation systems have DVD playback, they typically have higher-resolution screens with animated menus.
- Customisable: An aftermarket sat nav system is designed to be the centerpiece of an upgraded audio system that allows for user customisation. Some models allow the user to customise the menu icons, colours and backgrounds.
- Price: An aftermarket system can sometimes cost as much as the factory unit.
- Theft-prone: After the portable navigation system, an aftermarket stereo with navigation is the second most likely to get stolen. Thieves know how much these units cost and how easily they can be removed.~
- Not fully integrated: Although the system sits in the dash and is thereby more integrated than a portable unit, it will never look exactly as if it were part of the car's original design. Also, you will lose steering-wheel functions such as music volume and track controls.
Portable navigation systems
- Price: A portable navigation system is significantly less expensive than a factory system.
- Cheaper updating: Many current portable navigation system providers offer models with lifetime updates. These cost a bit more initially, but they are less expensive to update in the long run.
- Mounting: Portable units are usually mounted on the windscreen or the dashboard. More importantly, these easy-to-remove devices can attract thieves, so you'll have to make sure to hide yours or take it with you when you park the car.
- Limited warranty: If your portable navigation unit malfunctions, the warranty lasts as long the limited factory warranty lasts. Still, you could buy another one and still have spent less than you would have on a factory navigation system.
Which is best?
The answer all depends on how you use navigation. A smartphone works great if you're always within signal coverage. The factory system works everywhere and is for those who like the integrated factory look. The aftermarket stereo with nav is the pricier option for those who want better audio and customisation.
Finally, the portable sat nav systems are an inexpensive alternative, work everywhere and can be moved easily into other vehicles.
At the moment, no GPS system can provide all the features currently available. You pay your money and you take your choice.