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Satellite navigation has experienced two major trends in 2010: the arrival of competitors to TomTom’s groundbreaking LIVE services, and the resurgence of the smartphone app as a viable alternative. The two trends are not so far apart, either, as data connectivity is central to them both.
With LIVE services, data connectivity was added to sat-nav devices which were previously passive. TomTom pioneered this idea at the end of 2008, providing facilities like the more regularly updated HD Traffic service and Google Local Search. The former is the most sophisticated system yet for routing you round jams as they emerge, and the latter provides a valuable, freely searchable extension to traditional Points of Interest.
Now, however, Garmin, Motorola and Navigon have added data connectivity to some of their high-end models, and even included extra features TomTom doesn’t yet offer. Motorola takes a particularly novel approach with its Motonav TN550 and TN760t. Instead of having mobile data connectivity built in, these devices piggyback on your phone, but without using tethering. They place small phone calls to retrieve the necessary data, which means the services can be used with any Bluetooth-equipped mobile, and also in areas where cellular data coverage is poor.
Of the new features TomTom LIVE doesn’t offer, the most eye-catching is the flight status update ability. This won’t be something you use every day, unless you drive a taxi on the airport run, but will be useful if you do need to make flights a few times a year. However, no sat-nav maker has managed to outdo the TomTom HD Traffic, which remains the best reason to have a LIVE-enabled navigation device.
If you own a powerful smartphone, however, you already have a data-enabled device in your pocket. So, in theory, you don’t even need the maps installed locally on the device – you can download the latest versions when required. In our opinion, this strategy is as flawed as any pure cloud-computing strategy, as you’re unable to use this kind of service when out of data range.
Despite this, on-demand sat-nav services such as Google Maps Navigation and Telmap5 now provide a very respectable service when data is sufficient, and the former of these is even available for free with Android-based handsets. So you won’t even need to pay for capable navigation. Nevertheless, you’re still better off with locally stored maps if you want a dependable service, particularly when travelling. So two of our three contenders this year will work whether or not you have data coverage.