My real irritation with them comes from the one time I really blooming needed one. I was in the middle of Ukraine looking for a hotel in a town called Cherkasy and the sat-nav couldn’t find any satellites. And the sucky thing wouldn’t stick to the windscreen. About two hours later, after a military-style street-by-street search for the hotel, we found it, and the sat-nav was relegated to the glovebox for ever more.
But maybe things have changed in the sat-nav world since the summer of 2012 when I last picked one up. Step forward the TomTom Go 5100 and Garmin DriveSmart to see.
Nowadays, it seems, sat-navs are no longer just sat-navs. They’re more akin to smartphones without a call function with all sorts of ‘live’ functions and services, apps and, as with smartphones, a load of other stuff you’ll probably look at once and never use again.
The screens have also improved a great deal, the graphics clearer and faster-running, and when you touch something on the screen it actually responds - instead of the couple of seconds of delay you got on old sat-navs, which made you feel like you were making a phonecall to Australia.
Most important, the maps are incredibly clear and detailed, the search functions work a treat and, in the case of the TomTom (which I used more than the Garmin as I found it easier to use), you have the ability to look up places in an online TomTom portal you can log in to and then send the route direct to your sat-nav. Very neat and handy when planning a day trip. They’ll apparently save you from traffic jams, too.
A slice of humble pie was served to me by the TomTom on a recent holiday to Iceland. I was still relying on Google Maps, but it had never heard of the rural place I was staying in, nor the street it was on. That was not good. The TomTom knew exactly where to go, though; crisis averted, and points to the sat-nav. This goes to show just how thorough the mapping is on a sat-nav - hardly surprising, given that that's its primary purpose.
So my completely scientific sat-nav experiment and research has revealed that there can be a place for sat-navs in my travel world - albeit a small one. They’re at their best when you’re really off the beaten track and somewhere new, like on holiday, but that’s not frequent enough to warrant a purchase for me. Maybe just tick that option box on your next hire car to borrow one.
As for a long-term future… sat-navs are becoming more and more common in less expensive cars and lower down the trim levels, a trend that will continue, although manufacturers using maps from the likes of TomTom shows where perhaps the bightest future could lie for the sat-nav makers.
Smartphone maps will also only get better and benefit from the more portable nature of phones, meaning the role of the stand-alone aftermarket sat-nav will surely diminish further.
Whatever happens, though, they have regained my respect.