In the case of the Prestige series of Nuvi navigators--to which the 3490 belongs--Lifetime Traffic refers to what Garmin calls 3D Traffic Digital. Unlike the standard 3D Traffic that we tested on the Nuvi 2495 LMT, 3D Traffic Digital is powered by HD Radio frequencies, which enables the 3490 LMT to receive traffic updates every 30 seconds (versus 5-minute intervals).
Additionally, Garmin's "Offers" that subsidize the standard 3D Traffic service appear to be absent from the 3490 LMT's 3D Traffic Digital feed, which should be a boon to users who would be annoyed to see ads on the maps and in the menus.
This new generation Nuvi features a plethora of small updates that add up to huge changes. Garmin calls this its Guidance 3.0 interface.
To start with, the Nuvi 3490 LMT's home screen features smoother graphics that are more pleasing to the eye. These graphic tweaks looked good on the 2495 LMT's 480 x 272 pixel display, but on the 3490 LMT's 800 x 480 pixel glass, they're stunning. Text is remarkably easy to read and the maps, which feature topographical contours, are gorgeous.
Digging into the "Where to?" destination selection screen, the Nuvi shuffles most of its major category-selection options into a submenu and downright hides many of usual search methods (city, intersection, GPS coordinate entry) by default. Instead, you're immediately presented with a selection of user-definable shortcuts to favorite destinations or search parameters. So if you find yourself often searching for something as broad as the nearest fast food restaurant or as specific as the nearest Chick-fil-A, you'll be able to add a shortcut for that search to this main search screen. You can also choose to re-add city, intersection, and coordinate entry for destination selection. This new organization requires a bit more initial setup on the part of the user, but can shave seconds off the entry of repetitious searches.
One new interface addition that I'm loving is the addition of a search bar to the top of every POI selection screen that allows instant filtering of whatever category is being viewed. So, though entering "Golden Gate" on the main "Where to?" screen searches for every destination with those words in the title, entering the same phrase while viewing the Attractions category listing will likely only surface POIs related to the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a simple addition that--when combined with the Nuvi keyboard's very Android-like autocomplete feature--simultaneously speeds up and fine-tunes the process of finding what you're actually looking for in a sea of millions of destinations.
The settings menu has also seen some serious tweaking. Gone are the large, chunky, cartoony icons. They've been replaced by a scrollable list of submenus, each complete with a short description of the settings found within. The organization of these menus has not changed dramatically, but the aesthetic does make better use of screen real estate while also making the Nuvi feel less like a child's toy.
One particular item on the settings menu that merits mention is Dashboards. A Dashboard is a way of customizing the information displayed in the lower third of the map screen. Some of the available Dashboards feature graphics that mimic a car's dashboard, while others are more straightforward. Each Dashboard has two to four customizable spaces for displaying data chosen by the user from a range of options such as direction of travel, vehicle speed, time to arrival, time of day or arrival, distance to arrival, and altitude. Likewise, each Dashboard features a shortcut that takes you to a menu where 13 commonly accessed shortcuts can be found, such as Mute, Phone menu, Cancel route, and Detour.
Combined with customizable vehicle icons, color schemes, voice skins, and an option to display the Nuvi's interface in portrait or landscape orientation, being able to adjust the map Dashboard gives you a great deal of flexibility regarding how you look at and interact with your PND.
Garmin doesn't publish processor speeds in its GPS navigator specs, but I'd be willing to bet that whatever is powering the Nuvi 3490 LMT is significantly faster than the 2495 LMT's brain. Every menu transition was rendered smoothly and quickly and addresses were able to be effortlessly entered with light taps of the Nuvi's onscreen keyboard. Responsiveness is no doubt augmented by the 3490 LMT's capacitive touch screen, which is more sensitive to inputs than the traditional resistive display. Swipe to pan and pinch to zoom around fast enough and you'll still catch the Nuvi lagging a bit with the rendering of tiles of the map, but map rendering didn't seem to affect the calculation of routes or speed of map navigation.
Otherwise, the Nuvi 3490 LMT's performance is indistinguishable from any other Garmin Nuvi that we've ever tested. GPS positioning was locked in quickly and accuracy is maintained to acceptable levels even amidst the skyscrapers of San Francisco's Financial District, through tunnels, and across covered bridges. The chosen routes usually matched with our local knowledge of the San Francisco Bay Area's traffic patterns and shortcuts.
The svelte form factor, pocket-friendliness, and automatic switching from portrait to landscape orientation makes the 3490 LMT one of the most pedestrian friendly Garmin Nuvis that we've tested, greatly increasing its usefulness outside of the car.
Garmin's Advanced series' Nuvi 2495 LMT is a very good GPS device, but the Prestige series' Nuv 3490 LMT is a great one. It's got a better screen, a more pocket-friendly form factor, and snappier performance in almost every respect. But is the top-tier model worth the $150 premium? I'm not so sure. It's my job to nitpick things like seconds shaved on map rendering and touch-screen responsiveness, but in this case, I doubt that most users would notice the difference in the navigation experience without a serious side-by-side comparison.
If you're looking for the best Garmin that money can buy, look no further than the Nuvi 3490 LMT--you won't be disappointed. However, those looking for the sweet spot of functionality and value on Garmin's menu may want to look a little lower on the totem pole.