Why you shouldn't buy a satnav

Walk into Halfords and you'll see an array of satnavs next to the car stereos and shiny alloy wheels. But I can't help but wonder why people are still buying them. After all, your smartphone has a built-in GPS and might even have a bigger screen than a dedicated satnav.

The old argument used to be that a standalone navigation device was better because it didn't need an internet connection for maps and if you're driving in an area with poor mobile reception, your smartphone satnav won't be any use.

Poor reception remains a bone of contention for many drivers, but these days there are plenty of apps which will cache the maps for that journey, or even store entire country maps so you don't need an internet connection.

I've been particularly impressed with Nokia's Here maps on Windows Phones, which let you download any country of your choice at will. But there are also alternatives if you haven't got a Windows Phone, such as Scout by Skobbler which is completely free.

See also: Best satnav apps for Android

Apple and Google offer turn-by-turn directions using the built-in mapping apps, but their services are still lacking compared to the features of a dedicated satnav. Where they excel is at searching for points of interest or addresses since they're not limited to a smaller (and probably out of date) database of POIs: they have the entire internet at their disposal.

But even if Apple and Google maps lack the usability of a dedicated satnav with its 'realistic junction views' and 3D buildings, there are lots of other apps you could install.

The one I've used most is Waze. I'm not a huge fan of Waze's privacy policy, but the actual service is unbeatable. The interface is superb but the killer feature is crowd-sourced real-time traffic information. Every 'Wazer' can easily report traffic jams, which are corroborated by other users' reports. This information is then fed to other Wazers so you'll get a notification if you're approaching a jam and usually the option of an alternative, faster route.

Sure, there are some satnavs which offer a similar service, but it's certainly not free as it is with Waze. Waze also warns of speed and red light cameras and the accuracy of information is very good because users are constantly reporting their locations. This also means that temporary cameras will appear - there's no need to sync your satnav with your PC to download the latest updates.

In fact, this brings me neatly to map updates. Most new satnavs offer free map updates for life. They have to, because it's the only way they can compete with smartphone apps which download mapping data in real-time which means it's almost always bang up to date. And apart from the fact that it uses a small amount of your monthly data allowance, it's basically free.

The only limitation with Waze is that there's no option to download maps to use them offline, but if you're offline you'll lose out on the benefits of traffic information. Telenav Scout, though, does allow maps to be downloaded, which is handy if you regularly drive where there's no 3G signal. Scout used to charge for map downloads but is now free. It will nag you to pay for premium traffic information and speed cameras, but does offer car, cycling and walking routes.

Why you shouldn't buy a satnav

All you'll need to use your smartphone as a satnav in the car is a windscreen, dash or vent mount, neither of which is expensive. So if you're considering buying a satnav but already have a smartphone, give the apps I've mentioned a go first. You could save a hundred quid or more.

Download your FREE issue of Android Advisor, the brand new monthly digital magazine dedicated to everything Android.