Free satnav: a real-world road test

Google satnav

Can Google and Nokia's free satnav beat a top-of-the-range TomTom? We find out

The days of paying hundreds of pounds for satnav devices are over. At least that’s what Google and Nokia would have you believe, with both deciding to give away free satnav software for their smartphones.

But is relying on free satnav the equivalent of filling your petrol tank with chip fat? Will the cheaper alternative leave you stranded on a motorway while those who paid for four-star blast down the open road?

There was only one way to find out: a real-world road test. The PC Pro team slipped on their driving gloves, filled the glove box with Werther’s Originals and set about testing a variety of satnav systems in a day-long driving test.

Our five drivers were each given a different satnav system for the day. In the free corner, reviews editor Jon Bray loaded Google Maps Navigation on to his Acer Liquid smartphone, while production editor Priti Patel took to the road with Nokia Ovi Maps and an N97. At the other end of the scale, senior designer Sarah Ratcliffe was given a top-of-the-range TomTom Go 950 Live, while features editor Barry Collins headed for the middle ground with the £27 CoPilot 8 software loaded onto his iPhone. And by way of a control sample, editor Tim Danton was given nothing more hi-tech than paper roadmaps to plot a route across country.

The rules of the road test were simple: the drivers would perform each of the four challenges simultaneously, exposing them to the same road and traffic conditions. All the available traffic alert systems were switched on, and the drivers were told to follow the satnav’s instructions to the letter – unless it involved compromising their safety or the law. All of the drivers were instructed to obey the speed limit, to minimise the effect of variations in car performance.

Read the challenges and verdict below for the surprising – and often amusing – results of our day on Britain’s highways, as well as reviews of each of the different satnav systems, plus our practical tips for satnav owners.

The challenges

Challenge 1: the country drive

Challenge 2: the middle of nowhere

Challenge 3: town-to-town

Challenge 4: traffic jam

The final verdict

Satnav reviews

Nokia Ovi Maps

Google Maps Navigation

TomTom Go 950 Live

CoPilot 8 for iPhone

Advice

Tips for satnav drivers

Read more

Analysis