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Could integrated smartphones kill the built-in sat nav?

Android Auto

Forget the smartphone holster and the small phone screen. Smartphones can now fully integrate with your car and take over the central console screen. Tempted?

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay systems will become more common over the next couple of years, and could make your sat nav become a thing of the past. Here’s why…

Sat navs and smartphones

According to a survey we held earlier this year, two thirds of people have never updated their car’s built-in sat-nav. Not updating it might mean you miss out on things, such as that shiny new bypass, updated speed limits or any points of interest. Opting for a built-in sat nav can add cost to the car and the updates may not be free either, making this a potentially costly option.

If you buy a standalone sat nav, you’ve got the cost of the device plus the potential subscription costs to access live traffic information. It also takes up more space in the car – though considering that you can place the sat nav in line with the driver’s eye-line, some may see this as a plus.

Then there’s the smartphone. If you use Google Maps, Waze or another app that’s free to download, it usually has free live traffic, unlimited map coverage and it also keeps itself up-to-date. It’s true that some apps don’t do this – some charge for maps and have subscription deals for live traffic.

There are problems with using your smartphone; the small screen, the data usage and the battery life. You could place your smartphone in a holster, as I do. And if you’re trying to counter the battery problem by plugging it in to your car, you may end up with trailing leads near the console controls or by the steering wheel, which is not ideal.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay

Enter the new systems: Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. These systems are fast becoming available on more and more cars, with a number of models being launched this year able to use one or both.

Now if you attach your phone via a USB socket, a distinctly familiar Android or Apple operating system takes command of the central console screen in your car. The smartphone is now in control, and handles everything from sat nav to music. Voice control is also available.

There are a number of apps available within Android Auto and Apple CarPlay such as Spotify, WhatsApp, Skype, TuneIn Radio, Amazon Music and more.

This immediately gets over the small screen and the battery problem of smartphones. Your phone should stay charged thanks the USB connection and, because everything appears on the screen in your car, you don’t need to use the phone’s own small screen.

Smartphone sat nav data use

However, there is one large problem that remains: data usage.

Normally, I use the Waze app on my phone. During a two hour car journey, I expect to use around 5-8MB of data.

But I’ve also had the chance to play with Android Auto. Using Google Maps as its sat nav, the map that displayed was clear, easy-to-use and kept adjusting my route to keep me out of the worst traffic. But it also ate up a lot more of my data. 18MB in fact.

On top of that, according to my phone, just the Android Auto app used an additional 8MB of data during that time – making it 26MB in total. In two hours. And that’s without using any other apps, like Spotify to stream music. As my contract has a 1GB data limit, that means I used over three quarters of my day’s data allowance in one fell swoop.

So if I wanted to make use of this system, I’d have to upgrade my contract. Car manufacturers are already saying that you should opt for unlimited data bundles to use either of these systems.

Would you integrate your phone and car?

So it comes down to this: do you want your smartphone to become one with your car? Would you prefer to spend more on data if it meant maps stayed up-to-date? Or would you prefer to stick with either your standalone sat nav, built in sat nav or just use your smartphone as it is?

Personally, despite the potentially massive data use, I think integrating smartphones with our cars is going to be the next big thing. No need to splash out on standalone or built in sat navs, and no small phone screens seems like a strong argument. But what do you think?

Do you think you'd integrate your smartphone with your car?

No, I'll stick with a built-in or standalone sat nav (48%, 800 Votes)

Eh? What's wrong with a paper map? (30%, 501 Votes)

Yes - I like the sound of it, despite the large data use (14%, 227 Votes)

No, I'd prefer to use a separate app on my smartphone (9%, 149 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,677

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TomTom are now doing satnavs with lifetime world maps and unlimited data and roaming to keep you up-to-date with traffic so you don’t have to worry about data usage.

I haven’t looked at new cars recently but isn’t it time all cars came with a dedicated area to put satnavs and phones?


Hi alfa, thanks for the comment – what does TomTom charge for that? Is there an ongoing subscription rate, and if so, how much?

And a lot of cars now have dedicated areas to put phones – but not if you’re using them as a sat-nav. For instance, BMWs I’ve driven have specific areas to clip your phone in say in an arm rest or in the storage between the front seats. But as I use mine as a sat nav, I have to clip it to the air vent (using a special phone holder I own).

The advantage of the apple and Android systems I describe above is that I could clip it into the holder, attach a USB to a nearby socket which a) would keep wires out of the driving/controls area because the USB is usually near the holder and b) charge it via the USB, and then the phone interface would take over the main screen in the car. That way the phone has integrated, without it being in the way.


One disadvantage is the phone facility is not then usable while the satnav is working, is it? Would we miss that though!


Hi Adrian,
There are no on-going charges with TomTom 5100 and the features are available for the lifetime of the product. There have been queries as to what lifetime actually means on various forums though. Is it as long as you own and use the product or will it be when TomTom pull the plug on the features?

I think we got into places (or lack of them) to put satnavs in a previous convo. Your air vent is still in one piece then?


Anything that stops people using phones when they are driving is to be welcomed.


People will not only use a satnav when driving. The best use is probably when walking in unfamiliar towns or countryside.


I used to do this but find that a smartphone is a much better tool for the job and can be used for a variety of other purposes.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists highlights the dangers of using mobiles in cars including handsfree phones: http://www.iam.org.uk/media-and-research/media-centre/news-archive/996-using-smartphones-behind-the-wheel-is-more-dangerous-than-drink-driving


Actually, you’d still have all phone functionality – if you use Android/Apple, you can still call people, answer calls and have text message read out to you, if you like. You can use voice control (using the car’s microphone I believe, as your phone’s may not be able to hear you – but as phone and car are one, the systems work in tandem). What I’m trying to explain, badly, is that Apple users, for instance, can speak to the car to activate Siri, and then get Siri to do phone stuff for you. Hopefully that makes sense.

Alternatively, if you just use the phone as I mostly do, as a sat nav clipped in, I can still use the bluetooth connection to the car so that I can make and receive calls, should I ever feel the need.