If your setting out to buy a sat nav unit then chances are you have already considered the following question: Garmin vs TomTom, which is better? I have used lots of devices from both manufacturers over the years, both as a consumer and as a reviewer and I still find it a difficult question to answer.
Yes, Garmin is better at some things than TomTom but, the reverse is also true – TomTom is better than Garmin at other things. In all honesty, whichever brand you end up choosing you won’t go too far wrong. Both TomTom and Garmin produce quality devices that are fairly similar in their offering.
The best sat nav should be easy to use and provide clear navigational instructions to the driver. It’s more important to get to your destination than to have an all singing – all dancing device
As consumers we all take different factors into consideration when comparing products. We all place different levels of importance on these various factors when making our purchasing decision. Some factors will be far more important to some people than others – for example, not everyone will require Bluetooth integration. Whilst others may find this a deal breaker if it’s not offered with the device as they want to be able to use their phone hands free through the speaker. How then should we compare the two manufacturers and their various car products? As no two devices are the same perhaps the sensible approach is to concentrate on what your actual requirements are from a sat nav. Here are a few key questions that it may be helpful to consider when making your decision.
Garmin vs TomTom
Ease of Use
In my experience, the interface of the Garmin is more intuitive and easier to use. The graphics and onscreen icons are clear and easy to understand – exactly what is required when your driving those busy roads. The TomTom on the other hand is not so clean a display but it does provide more information to the driver when travelling. The route bar on the side of the screen provides information in a cyclical manner – current time, estimated time of arrival etc
Some devices come with a huge range of options. This could make the interface a little more difficult to navigate and understand – making them perhaps not the best Christmas gift for granny!
It’s also worth considering how quickly the sat nav finds enough satellites to get a lock onto your position. There’s nothing more annoying than sitting in the car waiting for the device to find where you are. Particularly, when you’ve only just loaded the kids into the car and they have already asked “when are we going to get there” a dozen times already! The speed that the unit calculates your route is also something to bear in mind and typically, the rule of thumb is that the older the device then the slower the route is calculated.
In the past, I have found the TomTom to be quicker in finding my location and locking onto the satellites. In my experience it also seems faster at calculating routes, particularly when re-calculating routes if I have taken a wrong turn. However, I do prefer the interface of the Garmin as it provides a clearer screen and therefore a clearer picture of what is up ahead.
Garmin vs TomTom RESULT: GARMIN – an easier to use and more intuitive interface
It is also becoming more common to receive lifetime updates to the maps on your device (typically limited to 4 times per year). This means that the maps on your device will show those new roads that are being constructed or where perhaps the roads are being closed. As more and more devices begin to offer both of these options, Worldwide Maps and Lifetime Updates it becomes less of a distinguishing feature.
Many users have reported on various online forums that TomTom possesses better maps for European countries, whilst Garmin has the more accurate maps for the US. It’s difficult to ascertain the validity of this statement fully as I haven’t driven across the two continents using a TomTom and a Garmin. I can however, confirm that the Maps on both continents are great but it is important to ensure that your device is updated with the latest versions.
Traffic Information & Updates
In my experience, the TomTom Traffic provides a better experience for the driver and is more accurate in providing information. This finding appears to be backed up by a study conducted by the University of Michigan in January 2014, where they analysed real time traffic capabilities of different navigational devices. They found that TomTom achieved the highest score when looking at the accuracy of traffic jam reporting – 67% for TomTom as opposed to 22% for Garmin. That’s quite the variance. I am certain that the University were completely impartial in their findings however, it is worth be remiss of me not to mention that the TomTom Group funded the study. Perhaps they knew for sure that their devices were going to come out on top with this feature!
Places of Interest
There are differences between the capabilities of Garmin and TomTom when searching for POIs. In my experience this feature with TomTom devices can be very generic. A search for a shop will bring a list of the larger stores in the search vicinity – for example when on holiday in France I’ll receive a list of the major supermarkets or main shopping centres. Likewise when searching for a restaurant, I am likely to get a list of the major fast food joints.
Garmin on the other hand provide you with the ability to drill down into a POI for more information. A search for a shop will provide far more options and search categories. They have also taken it a step further and have introduced Foursquare inbuilt onto a number of their devices. This crowd-sourced platform provides the ability to search a database based on Foursquare user recommendations – find that restaurant that everyone is talking about!
- Voice Recognition – this option is great if you need to use the device without taking your hands off the wheel. The sat nav is activated once you speak your”wake up” phrase – it could be ‘Superman’ or even ‘teapot’. You can then speak to the sat nav and it will run through a series of menus and confirmations until it gives you your intended destination.
- Bluetooth Integration – with this option you can pair the sat nav with your mobile phone via Bluetooth. Using the microphone and speaker of the sat nav you may then make and receive calls. This option wouldn’t be necessary if you already have some form of phone kit or integration in your car.
- Speed Camera Alerts – this feature may be offered free for a few months initially before reverting to a subscription based service if required. Premium devices may even offer this feature as standard. This service will tell you the location of all speed cameras along your journey. Probably only a requirement if you have a number of points on your driving licence or you are on the road often.
Before purchasing ask yourself the question: do I really need this feature and can I see myself using it? By asking this simple question you may save yourself plenty of money. Buy only what you will use.
Comparing these two manufacturers has been a difficult task as they both offer a number of navigational devices. Each of these sat nav devices are different to one another and offer something a little different. It is therefore a tough ask to compare like for like. By opting not to pit one device against another and by looking at the whole range it’s my hope that you get a clearer idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the two manufacturers.
So, which is better – Garmin or TomTom? It appears that the answer depends upon your specific requirements. Again, I emphasise that you should set out how much you are willing to spend on a sat nav and stick to your budget. I hope that this website helps you pick a device with the features you need at the right price. Each manufacturer has some cracking devices but you do need to take your time in comparing them. With the cost of these devices dropping every year now is probably the best time to make your purchase. Here is a summary of the findings above that should help you in making your decision.
- Clear & bright screen
- Easy to understand icons
- Superior Places of Interest (POIs)
- European maps
- Battery Life
- Voice recognition
- Accurate traffic updates
- Clever route bar
- Fast searches
- US maps
- Battery life
- Map updates can be problematic
Do you agree with my findings above or have you had a different experience with either Garmin vs TomTom? Either way, please feel free to comment below!