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In terms of its overall style, the Garmin Nuvi 1690 takes its cues from the Garmin playbook and blings it up with chrome and piano black to a level appropriate for a top-end GPS unit. With the back of the device rubberised, the 1690 feels great in the hand.
The windscreen mount is the standard issue Garmin one; it folds up neatly enough and sticks gamely to the windscreen no matter what road blemishes you drive over. Disappointingly, the charging plug that fits into the cigarette lighter slot is kitted out with a blue light that sears its way into your retina at night.
With its 480x272, 4.3-inch resistive touchscreen, the 1690 doesn't break any portable navigation norms — that role's been reserved for the delectable Nuvi 3790T due in the middle of 2010. The menu system is pretty much unchanged, with two big icons — Where To? and View Map — greeting you on start up. The map screen presents its information in a driver-readable format, although the by-default removal of map detail is annoying.
Destination entry is made easier by the inclusion of Google location searches, which usually throws up better and more up-to-date results than the built-in point-of-interest database, and is also often quicker to boot. Unlike Navman's MY range, the 1690 doesn't rely on a Bluetooth data connection to your smartphone, rather it has a built-in, non-replaceable SIM card.
Internet connectivity is provided by Dutch telco KPN's local partner and access to it, as well as Garmin's nuLink online services, is free for the first year of ownership and AU$99 per year thereafter. Red light and speed camera location updates are automatically pulled down over the air. Drivers can also check up on petrol prices via a feed from MotorMouth's service.
There's also a social media component dubbed Ciao, which lets you share your status — no, we're not quite sure why we need another status updating medium — and check up on the location of other connected and friended Garmin users. Users can turn off location updating at any time if they're feeling haunted by Orwellian nightmares or think that their spouse/boss/parent is trying to stalk them. Other online features include weather and flight status updates, and currency conversion.
By comparison the rest of the Nuvi 1690's feature list seems pretty ordinary, if no less useful. There's Bluetooth hands-free, which pairs up easily with a range of 'phones we had on hand, including; sound quality is OK but best left for shorter conversations.