Garmin has endowed this thing with its top-of-the-line navigation goodies. For example, it speaks street and place names (“Turn right on Bayberry Lane” rather than “Turn right in 400 feet”). Better yet, the speech doesn’t sound as if it’s stitched together from canned chunks, like most talking gadgets (“In half of a mile — turn left on — forty — first — street”). Instead, it speaks flowingly, in complete sentences.
The software is easy to navigate. (Evidently, Garmin has realized the importance of simple software in a moving car. After all, in the end, driver distraction equals fewer potential customers.)
When you pop the unit off its car mount, it memorizes its location, so you can easily find your car again when you return.
The Nuvifone includes a national White Pages and Yellow Pages; you can look up any residence or business in seconds. A gas-station app shows current gas prices at stations near you. A movies app instantly shows you what movies are playing nearby, complete with today’s show times, and can even add a selected showing to the phone’s calendar for you. (An included Windows-only synching program keeps your phone up to date with your PC’s calendar and address book.) The Nuvifone also receives real-time traffic details; color-coded road lines represent traffic speed, and the unit offers to route you around them.
Sadly, the bundle of real-time information services (traffic, gas, movies, weather, White Pages, Local Events) costs $6 a month forever.
Now, the Nuvifone is a cellphone, too, so it can perform all kinds of cool tricks that a regular GPS unit can’t. For example, when you tap an address or a point of interest, you’re offered not just a Go button, but also a Call button. It makes perfect sense, as you’re steered toward some restaurant or store, to call ahead from the same screen to find out what time they close.
Similarly, you can tap someone’s name in your address book and see on a map to (or navigate to) that person’s house.
Unfortunately, your happiness with this gadget begins crashing the moment you snap it off that ingenious windshield mount.
Oh, it feels great as a smartphone. It has almost exactly the same dimensions as an iPhone, but is thicker (by a hair) and blockier (by lots of hairs). The screen is big and bright.
But whatever technology Garmin (and Asus, its computing collaborator) chose for the Nuvifone’s touch screen was a balky mistake. You have to really bear down to make it register a click, and “flicking” to scroll a list works only sometimes. The rest of the time, it registers a click on whatever item was beneath your finger at the start of the flick. It’s wildly frustrating.
The Nuvifone has Wi-Fi built in, so you can hop onto wireless Internet hot spots to check your e-mail or consult a Web page. But this Web browser gives “crude” a whole new meaning. There are + and – buttons to zoom into or out of a Web page, but of course you can’t control what it’s zooming into, meaning that after each zoom, you have to re-center the page, which means you have to flick to scroll, which means ... well, see above.
There’s a long list of other frustrations, all of which scream, “Garmin’s a GPS company, not a smartphone designer!” For example: Incredibly, there’s no way to advance from one e-mail message to the next; you have to return to the Inbox after reading each one. To save power, the screen turns off when you’re on a call — but since there’s no proximity sensor, it doesn’t turn back on when you pull the phone away from your face. So to hang up, you have to first wake the phone up. Grrr.
There’s no Home button, only an on-screen Back button. (You can get Home by holding down that Back button, but a proper button would have been simpler.) There’s a so-so camera, but it’s slow, and it doesn’t record video. And although it has a basic MP3 music player, this “smartphone” can’t play video, either.
You’re supposed to enter information (e-mail, for example) by tapping an on-screen keyboard. But considering the amount of force required by this screen, it’s tough slogging.
The speaker, and thus the driving directions, are feeble; you’ll want to use a Bluetooth headset or external speaker if you drive more than 40 miles per hour.