Chunky glove-friendly buttons. A big, bright clear screen. No jargon. And full OS mapping. What better combination of ingredients could you ask for in a handheld Satnav? The Satmap is a British designed GPS, which to my mind eases the path for GPS newbies between paper maps and on-screen navigation, but which has enough features to be the only GPS that you’ll ever need.
At £370 for the UK Plus model, which includes a 12-hour Lithium battery, car- and wall-chargers as well as the ability to run on AAA batteries, it’s far from being the cheapest satnav on the market. However, it comes loaded with what’s called a UK Base Map (looks like a street map) and via an SD card slot you can purchase and install the mapping of your choice. Satmap sent me a custom set of maps for my area, including OS 1:25000, OS 1:50000, 1:10000 street map and the awesome aerial photographs.
At retail prices, you can purchase the OS mapping per county from £27 for Bedfordshire, up to a whopping £135 for the North of Yorkshire. I know that the pricing is mostly dictated by Ordnance Survey themselves, but I wonder if they charge by the contour-line!
Back to the unit itself. It is a full handful of plastic with a weighty feel and a look that’s a bit Star Trek. the black body and orange detailing are neat looking, and the juxtaposition of light grey buttons makes them immediately obvious to use.
The use of the unit centres around 6 main large buttons and a joystick. The buttons change feature depending on what the Satmap is doing in any mode, and you get a written explanation of each function on screen.
Switching on to map mode, your current position is indicated by a blue circle, and then you can move around your view using the joystick. The map, which you can zoom in and out of, will scroll as you move your cursor around. This makes planning a route incredibly easy and intuitive. You get a live coordinate readout for the location of the cursor and – as you plot any route – a live readout for the length as well.
I found plotting routes even easier than on the already intuitive Viewranger which I use day to day. Top marks for that.
The Satmap will also record tracks (where you’ve been) and show you graphs and calculations for all manner of details like altitude, speed and the best place to eat that Snickers bar you’ve just found in your pack.
One great advantage over paper mapping is the ability to zoom in on any scale map. The above shows a 1:25000 map at much larger scale so it’s easier to pick out details with tired eyes.
The Satmap software is fairly easy to use and features some neat tricks. I’ve just read about a red-mode for preserving night-vision which I’m a little bit in love with but haven’t yet tried.
What makes Satmap interesting is that they only make one handset, so they can spend their time working on the software and only tinkering with the hardware when it’s necessary. In fact, you’d be wise to take all Satmap reviews with a pinch of salt because the product name hasn’t changed for so long that reviews (including this one, of course) could be anachronistic due to software changes. The handset itself is designed to be simple, and do what it’s best at doing. Some GPS now come with cameras, touchscreens and trickery, but the Satmap seems designed for being rock-solid at the basics – navigation.
There’s a built-in electronic compass, and you can set the on-screen maps to rotate with your direction (much like orienting a map) or to stay on North=up mode which is neat.
But coming back to what makes the Satmap special is the ease of use of the mapping. OS maps are phenomenal things, and a satnav whereby you can use them and manipulate them with points-of-interest, routes, tracks and then swap to satellite imagery or road maps is just mind-bogglingly clever.
SUMMARY: The Satmap Active 10 is brilliant for using with the optional OS mapping. A glove-friendly, chunky unit which is pretty UK-proof is teamed up with an intuitive, easy to use interface that can be managed for newbies and professional navigators alike. This GPS is what you make of it.