Garmin Mobile XT Review

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$99.99

Pros: Works with several smart phones; Free traffic, weather, hotel, and gas station information for life; Easy to set addresses and find locations; Inexpensive

Cons: Works with several smart phones; Free traffic, weather, hotel, and gas station information for life; Easy to set addresses and find locations; Inexpensive

Verdict: Garmin makes a wrong turn with its new GPS solution for smart phones.

Garmin's Mobile XT sounds like a winner on paper: Turn your GPS-enabled smart phone into a portable navigator, ensuring that you always have Garmin-quality directions on hand when you need them. But in practice the Mobile XT has some serious shortcomings. From a company that's earned a reputation for quality, this is a pothole on an otherwise smooth road.


Garmin Mobile XT Setup

The $99 Mobile XT is actually a microSD Card that comes packaged with miniSD and SD card adapters. It's preloaded with North American maps and 6 million points of interest, and the software is compatible with more than 70 phones, including the Motorola Q global and the Nokia N95 (a full list of compatible phones is on the Garmin Web site).
We tested it with the Samsung BlackJack II running on AT&T. Garmin should sell Mobile XT with a universal suction cup mount because otherwise you'll be forced to hold your phone in one hand while driving--and that's a pain (that's how we tested it).

Loading the software is a snap: Just insert the card and the program starts. You can also tap a Mobile XT icon on your smart phone's home screen. During our testing the device often took several minutes to acquire enough GPS satellites to pinpoint or position, compared with plug-in GPS devices. Worse, it didn't improve with repeated use.


Out-of-Date POI Database

While Mobile XT isn't loaded with extras, it handled basic navigation with mostly good results. (Once, however, it told us to take a left turn and then make a U-turn, when we could have simply taken a right to begin with.) You can input the address of your destination or choose from the POI database.
The choice to use a static POI database surprised us: Since the product is loaded on a smart phone, Garmin could have had the software connect to a central POI database, as Verizon Wireless' subscription VZ Navigator does. VZ Navigator plugs into a 14.5 million POI database, and it always has current information.

Mobile XT offered good results in our testing, but it didn't know about restaurants in our neighborhood that had opened or closed during the past two years.
To upgrade the POIs you'll need to pay to update the maps, which will be available yearly for $60, though this doesn't explain why a 2-year-old restaurant wasn't listed on our review unit. Garmin explains that it gets its info from Navteq yearly, but then spends 6 to 8 months massaging the data. Somehow that doesn't put us at ease.


Disappointing Interface

Maps are not nearly as refined on the Mobile XT as they are on Garmin's own standalone navigators, and screen space is wasted with too little information. For example, drivers aren't told which direction the next turn will be until they get fairly close, which means you might not be in the correct lane. We'd prefer to see a next-turn indicator always on the screen.
Startup isn't the only time when Mobile XT is slow; it's also pokey at rerouting after a missed turn. And when rerouting, this solution displays an advertisement while it recalculates the route--an unforgivable offense. So not only does it remove the map at a time when you're likely confused, but it sells ad space on a product you've paid for.
You'll also see an ad while looking up current information online, such as traffic and weather.


Traffic, Weather, and Fuel Info

While the Mobile XT promises free traffic, weather, and fuel price info for life, it's not as good as it sounds. The software looks for traffic incidents before calculating a route, but doesn't tell you about slowdowns that happen because of heavy traffic, and it doesn't check for new information during a trip. We were never notified of traffic conditions during testing. The hotel price finder, supplied by Hotels.com, works with just a few hotels: For example, it found a price for only one hotel in Jersey City, New Jersey. The fuel price lookup, however, was handy for finding the lowest-priced gas station nearby.
Other features include PeerPoints, which lets you send a text message with your location to other cell phone users, and a simulation mode. The Mobile XT offers only one English voice, and it doesn't pronounce street names.


Garmin Mobile XT Verdict

This card is acceptable if you simply want navigation on your smart phone for a bargain price, but both plug-in navigators (such as Garmin's own devices) and subscription cell phone software (such as Verizon Wireless VZ Navigator) provide much better experiences.
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