Picking an in-car satellite navigation system is a very difficult choice at the moment. What with mobile phones becoming so much more competent at being companions on the road. It seems a bit futile for you to spend money on a decent, dedicated GPS system. However this has not stopped Garmin from producing a high end unit that dwarfs older units from years gone by.
Looking around the device, on the top there is nothing but a large shutter button, allowing you to snap a quick and easy picture. Obviously not whilst driving as that would be dangerous, however if a moment were to present itself whilst you are parked then you can grab it quickly and easily.
The back features the power button, a grill for a speaker that is easily fit for purpose and inside a magnetic circle are some ports for connecting the charger and mount. One of the handiest features is the NuviCam’s ability to just pop onto it’s mount to start charging. No need for fiddling with MicroUSB connector or a proprietary connector every time. A powerful magnets guides you in and clamps the two together with a satisfying connection. This great mechanism eases the burden of having to remove the unit from view every time you leave the car.
On the bottom are three ports, one for a mircoUSB when connecting the unit to a computer or power source outside the car. There are two MicroSD card slots. The first is an expansion port for storage of maps whereas the second is dedicated storage for the dashboard camera. A simple and tidy solution. A 4GB card is included as standard for video recordings.
The Garmin is a massive device first and foremost. A 6 inch screen fills a huge unit however this size allows the NuviCam to capture so many desirable aspects of in-car equipment that you would not normally have access to. Not only does it tell you directions and find local services but it integrates with your phone via Bluetooth, it records your journey via camera, preserving important maneuvers to SD card for easy playback when required and barks orders at you to help or correct your driving.
The device is easy to set up, has a fantastic holder that connects to your dashboard with minimal effort, alongside a very simple to use interface. One thing I can’t sing praises about is the wiring, the power cable and microphone cable are incredibly difficult to conceal. Whilst one is a double width cable that you cannot easily conceal in dashboard seams. The other is so fine it slips out with a simple knock or shudder. However you can forgive this because the rest of the unit works so darn well and there might also be cars out there that have particular troughs that can accommodate. Here is, rather crude, video to illustrate the nuisance wiring.
Whilst we are on the topic of video here are some examples of the in built camera:
As you can see from the footage in the video above the picture quality on the inbuilt DVR is exceptional. A wide angle lens captures everything you could need on the road right down to the fine detail and most importantly number plate information from a considerable distance. Videos are recorded at full HD 1920 by 1080 resolution at 8mb per second. The quality is perfect level of detail and you should hopefully only ever have to use the footage in the instance of an accident. A already mentioned it is pretty handy to be able to hit the button to allow you capture a still image along the way in case of something interesting ahead of you. I can’t imagine too many instances that you would need to grab a still image, however it a nice feature to throw in. The 4gb card in included and this is great for about an hours worth of footage, if you were to upgrade to a larger card, say for example 64 gigabytes you can get almost 18 hours of storage.
The screen is excellent, on paper a 6” screen sounds pretty hefty for a portable device however it makes sense when in use as it really has to rival the screens built into the dash of modern cars. One criticism is that modern day smartphones tend to use swipes and gestures to navigate around the menus and the user may find that they are swiping unnecessarily as a Garmin does not support swipe-like movements.
Whilst driving with a camera I noticed that there were a number of warnings as I’d progressed through my journey. There were things like Lane departure notifications, speed limit warnings, proximity collision alarms and whilst these are very handy they become a little annoying from time to time and distracting whilst driving. They were easy enough to turn off and on again whilst parked however I was unable to find a way to vocally interact with these warnings perhaps including the voice command “shut up” may have be a good idea.
Garmin have included a Digital Traffic via DAB radio service. This has a DAB radio receiver built into the unit that allows the device to update itself with traffic information every minute. I found this to be somewhat accurate during rush hour. The Digital Traffic lifetime subscription is included with the new Nuvicam however this does not stretch to all countries around Europe, instead a handful including Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Germany. For other countries you receive standard RDS-TMC updates which aren’t quite as luxurious and only update every 15 minutes.
One handy extra feature is the integration of Foursquare point-of-interest locations that appear on the map. This is a nice use of relevant social networking to keep the Garmin system as an up to date platform.
When it comes to the voice commands I found it to be fairly accurate. I do not have a particularly broad Northern Irish accent and I did not have to make a much of an affort to “bend” my accent to help the system pick up certain phrases or words. Once you learn how it works you find it to be quite confident at picking up local requests. I did have an issue trying to find the nearest Smyths Toy Shop at one stage and it recommended Smiths Tours or some such over 300 miles away. Changing it to Smyths-Toy-Shop-Belfast sorted that out on the first try.
Comparing this to a smartphone app like Google Maps the Garmin is a very choice satellite navigation system. The differences are phenomenal. Having used Google Maps to navigate for the last few months I have found it I have made several errors whereas the Garmin has always kept me right I have not had to question its logic or lane placement when leaving a motorway. The roads around Dublin tend to be quite difficult for new drivers to understand and mistakes are often made along the way, the Garmin helped me navigate them very easily and in a sensible fashion that I was able to understand whilst not distracting me from my driving.
Certainly the Garmin is more expensive than using your smartphone on the road. There is no doubt it is really for the road warrior as opposed to the casual driver. Having something like this in your car will require forward thinking as this is such a large, bulky device you will likely need to take it with you when leaving your car in a city centre for fear that it may be spotted and removed. It wipes the floor with smartphone and inbuilt car navigation. There is also the factor it does not impact on your phone’s battery life or data allowance and can be used across Europe without fear of extra charges and will actually serve as a bit of a talking piece for passengers in the car.
The Garmin Nuvicam will make you realise just how half baked the other options are and it is with a heavy heart I have to hand this back to Garmin.