Phones can pretty much do anything these days. In fact, the idea that “there’s an app for that” has almost become tedious for anyone who has invested in one. For starters, it’s not always as true as you’d like it to be: sure there’s an app, but that doesn’t mean that it’s worth using. But one thing phones seem to have down well-enough is navigation. Google Maps is a standard app on both iPhone and Android, and surely among the most regularly used.
So are smartphones a valid replacement for more traditional in-car Sat Nav solutions? It’s a complex issue, and here, UK car leasing company NVC look at the Pros and Cons of both:
Consumer opinion seems to be against the Sat Nav. Tech media regularly forecasts the death of the market as a result of smartphone dominance and the plentiful evidence that people are using their dedicated devices less and less. But there are still many benefits to having a stand-alone Sat Nav in your vehicle:
Stronger GPS receivers;
Typically provided with the accessories you need to power and mount the device on your dashboard;
Dedicated Sat Navs are built for surviving on your dashboard, smartphones just have to survive your pockets;
Large screens that work great in sunlight;
Loud and clear voice guidance;
Pre-loaded with extensive, accurate apps;
Advanced features with certain models, such as motorway junction lane guidance, points of interest;
Your device isn’t trying to be anything else whilst it’s being your sat nav – no power or responsiveness is lost to an electronic identity crisis.
You get what you pay for – cheap Sat Navs are often unresponsive to commands and slow to register changes of direction. They may also have out-of-date map data and a lack of other useful features (e.g. Traffic data);
Industry leaders come at a price – some top sat navs cost about as much a smartphone;
Additional costs for map updates, traffic and speed trap information (though this is typically standard for smartphone apps too);
Whilst preloaded with maps, you still have to pay extra for maps when you go outside the bounds of the package you’ve already purchased;
Sat Nav displays are often quite ugly, low resolution affairs with screens that need a proper jab to be made to work. (This drawback is something of an asset though);
Larger models aren’t especially useful as portable navigation devices;
“I just want a phone that’s a phone” say the luddites, but for the rest of us who understand the joys of smartphone ownership, we understand that smartphones aren’t the proverbial ‘Jack of all trades’ – they’ve mastered many different functions. But is GPS navigation one of those?
Using a smartphone means having one less device to in your life;
Performs countless other tasks – allows you to listen to many hours of music, take hands-free phone calls as you drive and much more;
If the software you’re using for navigation is out of date or inaccurate in your current area, you can switch to an alternative via the Google Play or Apple App Store;
Portability: obviously, you’re carrying your phone around with you constantly, so the lightweight, comfortable in your hand form-factor is a given. This size and weight makes these devices perfect for GPS navigation on foot.
Huge comparative cost: yes, smartphones do a lot of other things, but if you don’t already have one in your life, cost will be a substantial factor;
GPS receivers in phones are generally cheaper than those put into Sat Navs, usually down to size considerations, energy and cost efficiency;
Whilst Sat Navs are an attractive prize for thieves, a car with a smartphone left unattended on the dashboard is doubly likely to get its windows smashed;
All those funky extra functions come at the cost of responsiveness and power draw;
Smartphone apps typically have fewer features, less-up-to-date maps and worse navigation;
Most smartphones have small screens that are a lot tougher to see. When in direct sunlight these devices are most likely to become completely unusable;
As amazingly responsive as modern capacitive touch screens are, their sensitivity becomes a major frustration when your engine is running;
Many map apps rely on a data connection to populate your route as you travel, rather than being preloaded with the maps (the end result being that you’ll start driving into a sea of nothingness). Even those that preload your maps may require that you select and download them ahead of your trip;
Finding a decent navigation app is tough (especially on Android devices), and tried and tested solutions such as the TomTom App are a lot more expensive than apps typically are (i.e. £50 instead of £2);
Other costs: live traffic data still requires a subscription, and data access abroad costs an embarrassing amount.
Smartphones are here to stay, and with more and more people taking out contracts and investing in the technology, it makes sense to use their extensive and capable Sat Nav functionalities. If you take only one long trip to an unknown destination a year, it’s difficult to justify buying a dedicated Sat Nav, but if you’re a regular user, a Sat Nav is absolutely essential. Smartphone GPS technology just isn’t trustworthy enough for this kind of consumer. Could this change in the future? Maybe, but in some small but meaningful ways, smartphones simply need to be less rugged and specialised than Sat Nav technology. There’s definitely a future for both.