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Crowdstorm’s GPS receivers buyer’s guide

Welcome to Crowdstorm – and more specifically our help page for those looking to buy a new GPS receiver. We gather all the best devices from the market leaders – from TomTom sat navs to Garmins – and list the best deals available from your favourite online and high street retailers.

But first, we have some advice on how to narrow down your search. Much as with a lot of everyday electronic devices, they’re adding more bells and whistles to them all the time but we only buy a sat nav every few years – so unless you’re a techy nerd it's hard to keep up!

You may have decided you want a TomTom because you’ve read some positive reviews, or friends have recommended them – but which one to buy? We break down the buying decisions one by one, to help you navigate the simplest route through the comparison landscape (see what we did there?).

Sat navs = GPS receivers

A quick note on terminology – sat navs are GPS receivers, so the terms are pretty much interchangeable. In simple terms, a sat nav (satellite navigation system) uses GPS (global positioning satellites) to locate your position and then work out the best route to your destination.

GPS is now used in all kinds of other devices, from mobile phones to running watches, but if you hear something described specifically as a GPS receiver the chances are it’s a sat nav!

Sat nav maps and updates

The best maps cost money. Even the cheapest GPS receiver will give you maps of the United Kingdom, so will work just fine out of the box. But do you also drive around Europe? Even if it’s only an annual jaunt you’ll never find your sat nav more useful when driving on foreign roads – especially if they include extra info such a lane advice.

Another important decision is updates. Your cheapest option is likely to be UK-only maps with no updates. This may well be enough if you only need sat nav occasionally and will probably buy a new device every couple of years – but even so, those updates cover more than you may think.

More expensive options allow you to download updates of your sat nav's info to stay abreast of road layout changes; as well as potentially places of interest such as petrol stations, restaurants, cash machines and the dreaded speed cameras. But if you want these up to date you’ll need a sat nav that has regular updates built into the price (perhaps as a monthly supplement, or as an ‘updates for life’ deal). Many also now do this via Wi-Fi, so you don't have to hook the device up to your computer.

If you spend that little bit extra so your sat nav stays connected at all times, you can get two super useful extras: traffic updates and dynamic traffic routing. Traffic updates does what it says on the tin, giving you traffic jam and road closure info as it develops. Dynamic traffic routing takes this a step further and automatically changes your route to avoid trouble spots (accidents, jams etc) as they emerge.

Additional sat nav bells and whistles

As with all modern electronic devices, there are a range of extras your new sat nav may or may not have – which may turn that cheap sat nav into a massive no-go zone. Here are some of the most common factors to look out for that you might otherwise overlook.

One of the few issues in buying online is not seeing the product in the flesh before you buy. But remember: this is negated by UK distance selling regulations, meaning you can return any product you buy online immediately if you don’t want it.

  • Message readouts: you can now ignore your smartphone, as the better sat navs can read out your messages as they arrive.  
  • Large vehicles: Drive a van, bus or lorry? Some sat navs will plot the best route based on your vehicle's dimensions. So no more narrow road or low bridge surprises! 
  • GPS receiver screen size: Size is a major factor in this type of returns, so think carefully about the screen size you’ll need to be able to see your sat nav clearly and effectively. Standard screens tend to vary between 3.5-6 inches in diameter, while you’ll also find both widescreen and standard devices.
  • DGPS ready: 'Differential global positioning', or DGPS, is the next step forward in accuracy for GPS. Ever had your satnav telling you you're driving along beside the road, rather than on it? DGPS should help to alleviate this in future!
  • TMC ready: A TMC ready GPS receiver is capable of connecting directly to the 'traffic messaging channel', using broadcasted travel information to change your route. 
  • Voice control and Siri: Don’t want to fiddle around typing in a location? With voice control, simply say your destination and let the sat nav do the rest.
  • Emergency assistance: Broken down? Some devices will help you get in contact with the emergency services.
  • Advanced routing: This is sat nav 2.0. Rather than just plotting the quickest route, your GPS receiver will take both traffic patterns and flow based on the time of day you’re travelling.
  • FM transmitter: This lets you hook your sat nav into your car’s speaker system.

It's not all about cars...

Cyclists and even runners and walkers now find sat navs super useful devices. And as technology improves, for many they're leaving the traditional compass firmly in the backpack of history.

You'll find Garmin is particularly strong on the handheld GPS receiver market, but there's something for everyone - with budget models weighing in at less than £100.

You'll also find some wrist mounted models, perfect for runners.

But if you do intend to take your satnav out of the confines of your vehicle, you may want to make sure it's waterproof!

Smartphone GPS receivers: Do you even need a satnav?

Most of us have a smartphone nowadays and they all have GPS receivers built in, as well as Google Maps (or equivalent) coming as standard in both Android and Apple devices.

In addition, smartphone can have some cool apps that let you connect your phone to your car via Bluetooth; or have parking location guidance – meaning your phone will remember where the car is parked! So who needs a sat nav?

One important consideration is battery life. You can often buy cables that connect your smartphone to your car, allowing your phone to charge while you’re on the move. But sat nav is a big battery drain on a phone, so you may get to your destination and finds your phone in no better state then when you set off!

Also, remember a sat nav is a dedicated device. It’s only job in life is to get you from A to B, and it is wholly engineered to do just that. It’s not going to be side-tracked by calls and messages, leaving your phone to do what it does best – keep you in contact with the outside world. And even better if the sat nav goes wrong you have a backup: but if you have only your phone, if the battery dies you’re alone in the dark (unless you still have a map in the boot somewhere!).

Finally, getting a quality map for your smartphone isn’t always cheap. To get the best you may find you’re paying almost as much as a sat nav device just for the smartphone maps – and all that extra data will be clogging up your phone’s memory. Google Maps works well, for example, but it can point junctions out too late - very frustrating!

I’ve found the best sat nav: What do I do next?

Once you’ve settled on the right device, the rest is easy – simply click on the link to be taken to the retailer of your choice. Crowdstorm isn’t a retailer, but we have advertising deals with all the best ones. This means we can offer you a way to compare all their products without any additional cost to you – and where you’ll be taken directly to the product page for the sat nav of your choice. After that, you simply finish the transaction with them directly. So that’s one smooth journey that will hopefully lead to many more – happy shopping!