Too little too late? Yeah, we think so, too. It’s not that the Garmin Nuvifone G60 ($99.99 through Amazon, $199 through AT&T) is a bad idea, a bad GPS device, or a bad phone, because it isn’t. It’s perfectly capable, and if it had been available when it was first announced—way back in January of 2008—the tech world would have sat up and listened. But now turn-by-turn navigation is a standard smart phone feature, the iPhone offers a bevy of good GPS navigation apps, and Google provides free GPS on Android phones like the Motorola Droid. A precipitous price drop within just a few weeks of launch makes the Nuviphone more affordable than some competing touchscreen phones, but this device still isn’t a good deal.
The Nuvifone is attractively compact. It feels solid and has a bit of heft to it (weighing 4.8 ounces and measuring 4.4 x 2.3 x 0.6 inches). Its smooth, soft texture feels good in the hand. The front of the G60 is dominated by the 3.5-inch touchscreen. The front also carries a little branding, but no controls. The power button is on the top, and once you’ve tapped it you’ll need to double-tap the screen to unlock the phone.
The left side holds the mini-USB port and microSD Card slot; the right side holds the volume and camera buttons; and the back holds the 3-megapixel camera lens. We weren’t crazy about the touchscreen, as it didn’t recognize our inputs accurately; we often clicked an icon when we were trying to scroll.
Garmin has created a custom operating system for the Nuvifone. The start screen shows two columns, one with big icons labeled Call, Search, and View Map, and another with smaller icons labeled Calendar, Camera, Ciao (a social networking feature), Contacts, E-mail, Music Player, Settings, Text Messages, Tools, Weather, and Web Browser.
The Nuvifone doesn’t just have GPS navigation software grafted on; it’s woven into the operating system. A small satellite icon on the start screen shows your GPS reception right next to the battery level. Photos are automatically geotagged, and the included social networking program Ciao lets you share your location with friends.
It’s easy to jump into the navigation features, since they’re prominent on the G60’s start screen. The Search button lets you look up a destination, and View Map lets you see exactly where you are. Since the phone constantly monitors geolocation satellites, maps showed us our position in seconds. The map works in portrait or landscape mode, although the included window mount is meant for the latter orientation.
There are two options for destination searching on the G60: checking the preloaded 6 million points-of-interest (POI) database or running a live Yellowpages.com search. Both offer the same categories and the same experience. The results are similar, although Yellowpages.com has ratings for some entries. We were also able to enter an address, navigate to a stored contact, and pull up a list of recently found destinations.
Many options in the search category are behind a paid wall. Calling up gas prices, local events, movie times, traffic alerts, and white pages listings requires a premium subscription of $5.99 per month. (New users are entitled to 30 days of free service.) It feels like a mistake that Garmin didn’t include some live info with the cost of the G60.
As a navigator, the G60 is as satisfactory as a typical Garmin device, which is to say that it’s quite good. Maps are simple and colorful, and staying on course was never a problem in our testing; they even displayed new roads in our area, which we didn’t expect. Next turn and arrival information is clearly visible. The one concession to the smaller screen size is that the name of the current street isn’t displayed—just the name of the next street. We were surprised that changing the map settings to show more detail didn’t seem to change anything on the map.
The navigation software pronounces street names, which is a must. Numerous voices are available to users, who can chose from both male and female dictation. The female voice we selected sounded fairly natural and loud. Rerouting took about 10 seconds, which is a little slow. We were happy to see that the G60 features multipoint routing (unlike the beta of Google Maps Navigation for Android) and a pedestrian mode, and that it remembers your position when you remove it from the car’s window mount.
While navigation was usually simple in our testing, we had a few small concerns. The standard setting has the screen dim after a minute; the screen will eventually shut off completely in the map view, but will continue giving directions. We don’t think the screen should dim while people are navigating, but a settings change corrected the problem. Also, there were a few instances in which we started up the navigator and it told us to drive to the highlighted route, but didn’t give directions from our current position. Since the software didn’t update as we drove, we had to call up our destination again and create a new route. Lastly, GPS reception is spotty around tall buildings. The map view jerked around a bit when we drove next to skyscrapers.
Lack of Extras
The biggest question facing the Nuvifone is how it stacks up to GPS apps on the iPhone. In our previous tests, we found that apps from AT&T, Navigon, and TomTom provide excellent directions. The search and driving experience is much the same, although each offers extras not found here. AT&T requires a monthly charge, but that includes live services such as traffic and gas station locations; Navigon costs a flat fee and offers lane assistance features; and TomTom offers four different voices (although none pronounce street names).
While iPhone navigation apps don’t offer all the info that the Nuvifone’s premium service does, other apps—many of them free—do. It’s easy on the iPhone to call up movie times, gas station prices, and local events using free apps. It’s surprising that both the Nuvifone and iPhone 3GS (16GB) cost $199 with a two-year commitment, at least through AT&T, but keep in mind that navigation apps are extra on the iPhone (Navigon, our favorite, costs $89.99). The fact that the Nuvifone comes with a window mount is a plus; TomTom’s mount costs an extra $99.99.
Web Browsing, Call Quality, and Battery Life
While Web pages using the Nuviphone’s browser looked good, they were excruciatingly slow to load. With a three-bar 3G connection, it took ESPN.com 1 minute and 45 seconds to open, and the New York Times’ home page took 1:25 to load. As the phone doesn’t support multitouch gestures, you have to use zoom buttons to resize the page.
In general, calls made over AT&T’s network from the Nuviphone were very good; callers could hear us clearly.
After navigating with the iPhone 3GS for an hour, our battery was nearly tapped. On the Nuvifone, an hour’s driving barely made a dent. That’s good, because the the device lacks a car charger. One should be included, but it costs an extra $24.99.
The Nuvifone G60 offers a very good navigation experience—and even works well as a phone—but we suspect that won’t matter all that much to shoppers. Even though the device’s price has dropped to just $99.99 (through Amazon), people willing to pay a little more for a premium smart phone can get a rich app experience, a faster browser, and more features. As a specialized phone, the G60 is worth a look, but you can get a lot more for your money elsewhere.