Drivers are likely to take to the roads for the Easter weekend, given the recent lifting of the ‘stay local’ policy in Wales and England.
For many, this will be the first opportunity to meet with family and friends (although outdoors and in limited numbers) since lockdown measures intensified in late 2020. So if you’re planning a trip to meet with loved ones, you’re not alone. There’s a good chance that roads will be flooded with drivers eager for a change of scenery and company.
That could spell a return to traffic jams, making a sat nav with live traffic data a useful companion, allowing you to spend more time outdoors with your loved ones and less time listening to catchy ads on the radio.
But should you pay for a sat nav, or will a free app do the job just as well? Read on to find out.
Our tough lab and road tests reveal the top five best free sat nav apps for 2021.
How does live traffic data work?
Live traffic data works by looking at road conditions along your route. This information is sent to your sat nav, which can then adjust your journey if a faster route is available.
This traffic information can come from a range of sources. These include speed and location data from other vehicles on the road, information from fellow sat nav owners, and traditional traffic reports.
Some sat navs take historical data into account too, predicting rush hours or holiday tailbacks before they even happen, based on previous traffic reports.
Sat navs with live traffic data
Our rigorous tests reveal that not all sat-navs are made equal. But is it worth shelling out for a dedicated sat nav when free apps can do the same thing?
Google Maps (free)
Google has no shortage of data, and that includes traffic data. Bear in mind that using live traffic updates on your phone will use up your data. It’s only a small amount, but it does mean you’ll need a 3G or 4G connection for it to work.
Google Maps has plenty of features, especially for a free app, but does it get you from A to B in good time? Read our Google Maps for iOS review and Google Maps for Android review to find out more, or see our favourite free sat nav apps to explore your options.
TomTom Go Navigation (subscription required, free trial)
On paper this ‘freemium’ app combines the convenience of a phone app with the advanced functionality of a TomTom sat nav, including live traffic data.
The pricing system is unusual in that you get 50 miles per month free of charge, or unlimited access with a subscription. This costs £14.99 a year on Android, or £1.99 a month on iOS. There’s a 30-day free trial though – perfect for the Easter break.
Garmin Drive 51LMT-S (£99)
This budget sat nav doesn’t have some of the premium features of more expensive models, but it does come with options for live traffic data. This model works by pairing with your smartphone via Bluetooth to use its data.
TomTom Go Premium X (£299)
If you’re happy to splash out on a high-end sat nav, you’ll probably cross paths with the TomTom Go Premium X. With a large screen and plenty of route planning options, it has just about every bell and whistle there is.
Unlike most apps and some budget models, there’s no need to worry about data. The Premium X receives live traffic and map data free of charge through a built-in Sim card.
Do features like this justify the high price? Read our full TomTom Go Premium X review to find out.
TomTom Go Camper (£245)
Staying in a motorhome might sound like a novel way to explore while Covid restrictions remain, but it’s worth bearing in mind that campsites across the UK still aren’t open for business.
If you do plan to travel in a motorhome, you may consider investing in a sat nav that’s designed specifically with motorhome and caravan users in mind. The big draw is that you can tailor your route based on the size of your vehicle – avoiding narrow passes and low bridges, for instance.
This model has a built-in Sim card, so you’ll automatically receive live traffic and speed camera alerts without needing to use your phone’s data. But does it fare any better than a regular sat nav? Read our full TomTom Go Camper review to find out.
If you do plan on buying a camper sat nav, be sure to explore our caravan and motorhome sat nav reviews to find one with the right features for you – especially given how pricey they can be.