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2013 Garmin Nuvi series gives more human sounding directions

Rather than saying "turn left in 500 feet" like a robot, your next Garmin may say "turn left at the green gas station."

The new Nuvi 3597 features a slim chassis and a revised interface. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

LAS VEGAS -- There's life yet to be found in the portable navigation market. Garmin has just pulled the wraps off of its new line of Nuvi GPS navigators at CES 2013. We were able to get a brief hands-on with what appears to be the best Garmin Nuvi models yet.

A new magnetic cradle mount allows the Nuvi 3597 to be removed from the vehicle single-handedly. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Before we get too carried away, the new Nuvi models largely behave like the old models, but there are a few new features that bear mentioning. Most interestingly, the new Nuvis boast a feature that Garmin calls Real Directions, which augments the standard turn-by-turn directions and text-to-speech spoken street names with a new set of more natural instructions that utilizes recognizable landmarks and buildings. So rather than simply saying turn left in 500 feet, the new top-of-the-line Nuvi 3597 may say turn left at the Starbucks. Garmin tells us that it has worked closely with map provider Navteq to vet the landmarks that Real Directions uses for visibility, permanence, and a variety of other attributes before including a landmark in its database. So, ideally, you shouldn't have to worry about being told to look for a landmark that no longer exists.

The new firmware places a heavier emphasis on voice prompts and commands. For example, the Active Lane Guidance system has also been updated to include spoken prompts, such as "Stay in the left lane", where it previously only gave visual lane prompts. On units with traffic data, incidents are relayed to the driver via voice prompt and can be responded to with spoken commands to reroute around jams.

The Essentials, Advanced, and Prestige units all feature slightly different aesthetics and feature sets. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Finally, the new models feature an updated exterior aesthetic. The top of the line Nuvi 3597 LMT HD features a slim, metal chassis and a glass capacitive touchscreen that looks pretty slick. This unit also connects to it suction cup mount with strong magnets, allowing it to be easily attached and removed with one hand, leaving the cradle and the power cable in the car. The Nuvi 3597 represents the top-tier Prestige series, beneath which Garmin is also updating its Advanced and Essential series with new designs, feature sets, and large screens ranging from 4.3 to 7 inches. The GPS manufacturer has discontinued the smallest 3.5-inch budget models for this next generation.

Garmin hasn't announced pricing for the new 2013 Nuvi models, which will launch in Q1 2013.