If you've been following the story of the Garmin Nuvifone at all, you know it hasn't been the smoothest of rides. After being announced in January 2008, the launch of Garmin's first smartphone was delayed time and time again, and we had all but given up on the device. Still, when word officially came that the Garmin Nuvifone G60 would be offered by AT&T starting October 4, we were eager to try it out.
The advantage of the Garmin Nuvifone G60 over the other GPS-enabled smartphones is that it comes with preloaded maps and voice-guided directions right out of the box, so there's no need to add a location-based service subscription. Not surprisingly, given Garmin's 20 years of experience in the GPS market and the company's history of excellent portable navigation devices (PNDs), the Nuvifone G60 excels as a navigator, but unfortunately, it falls flat on its face as a smartphone. The Linux-based smartphone offers the basics, such as e-mail, calendar, and document viewing, and even comes with an HTML Web browser and all the wireless options. However, the capabilities of each is limited and there are user interface and system problems.
The Nuvifone G60 feels like a half-finished product, which really shouldn't be the case since it's taken two years to come out. At $299.99 with a two-year contract, you'd be better off getting one of AT&T's other GPS-enabled smartphones and adding its TeleNav Navigator service. We hope Garmin's other Nuvifone models will be better, but we also can't help but wonder if the company would be better off designing an app for smartphones rather than coming out with its own hardware.
The Garmin Nuvifone G60 has a plain but clean design. Cloaked in a black soft-touch finish, the G60 measures 4.4 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and weighs 4.8 ounces, so it's a bit bulky and not the most pocket-friendly device. Of course, it has to be a certain size to make it a viable navigation option in the car, but we would have preferred something slightly slimmer. On the positive side, the phone has a very solid construction and looks like it could survive a tumble, not that we recommend that you be rough with the device.
The G60 features a 3.5-inch, 65,000-color touch screen with a 272x480 resolution. It's not the sharpest display we've seen, so images and text don't look quite as smooth. However, it's still clear and bright enough for viewing maps and the like. You can adjust the brightness and like regular PNDs, you can choose from day and night map colors or just select auto to have it adjust automatically.
The display has a built-in accelerometer but unfortunately, it's very temperamental. During our testing period, there were numerous times when the screen wouldn't change orientation after we rotated the phone from a vertical to horizontal position and vice versa. It was frustrating, especially when we used the device as handheld navigator.
The user interface of the Nuvifone G60 looks easy enough at first glance. On the left, you'll find shortcuts to the main functions of the phone: Call, Search, and View Map. Meanwhile, the right side features a sliding menu of all the smartphone's other apps, such as contacts, calendar, e-mail, Web browser, music player, and so forth. As we said, it seems straightforward enough at the beginning, but after using the device, we found some inconsistencies and navigation problems that just made for a bad user experience.
For example, there's no dedicated home key, so exiting out of a program to get back to the main menu can require multiple taps of the onscreen back button, especially as you get deeper into the submenus. Also, the onscreen keyboard, though pretty easy to use, is only offered in QWERTY format in landscape mode, while the portrait keyboard is in ABC format and can't be changed. It all just makes the Nuvifone feel unpolished and half-baked.
There's isn't much else to the phone's design, as the Garmin Nuvifone G60 doesn't have many physical keys. There's a power button on top of the device, while you'll find a volume rocker and a camera activation/capture button on the right. A microSD expansion slot and a mini USB port reside on the left side; when turned horizontally, the left side becomes the bottom of the device where you can attach the included car cradle.
In addition to the vehicle mount (both windshield and dash), AT&T packages the Garmin Nuvifone G60 with an AC adapter, a USB cable, and reference material. Unfortunately and much to our annoyance, there's no car charger included in the box, so you'll have to purchase one, though it'll work if you have a car charger with a mini USB connector. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.
If you've ever used one of Garmin's PNDs before, the Nuvifone G60's navigation features will look and feel familiar to you. The device comes preloaded with maps of North America and offers a points of interest (POI) database containing millions of entries in categories ranging from lodging, food, and shopping to landmarks and entertainment venues. Garmin and AT&T also offer some additional connected services, such as Yellowpages.com for business searches, Flight Status to see departure/arrival times and gate numbers, and Ciao, Garmin's location-based social networking app.
The G60 is capable of getting real-time traffic updates, weather information, fuel prices, and the like, but you'll have to pay $5.99 per month for the privilege. A 30-day complimentary trial to these set of Premium Connected Services will be offered, so you can try them before deciding to continue with the subscription.
To start planning a trip, you can enter a specific address, choose a POI, or select a location from the Recently Found or Favorites list. In addition, you can map any addresses that are located with a Contact file. The Nuvifone G60 supports multidestination trips, and you can add waypoints on the fly. The smartphone offers directions in automobile or pedestrian mode. If you're traveling by car, you can choose from three routing preferences (faster time, shorter distance, or off-road) while pedestrian mode offers two: shorter distance or off-road. There's also a built-in compass.
Maps are available in 2D and 3D view, and you can change it so either north is always at the top of your screen or the direction in which you are driving is. A plus and minus icon on the map screen lets you zoom in and out, and there's a trip information page that displays your speed, direction, trip time, and so forth. If you'd like, there's also a trip log where you can view data, such as distance traveled and total trip time. In addition to the visual aids, you, of course, get voice-guided turn-by-turn directions with text-to-speech functionality. If a call comes in during , the Nuvifone will pause voice prompts until you've hung up and then pick up from your current location.
For some peace of mind, the G60 has the "Where am I?" feature found on Garmin's Nuvi devices, which gives you the coordinates of your location, the nearest address, and intersection, and lists the closest hospitals, police stations, and gas stations to your position. The feature is a bit hidden though. You have to go to the Tools section on the right side of the main menu, and you'll see it at the top of the list, along with some other utilities, such as a calculator, a clock, a converter, and some of the Premium Connected Services.
Of course, we know that the Nuvifone G60 doesn't stop at just driving directions and marks Garmin's first foray into the smartphone space. As a phone, the quad-band G60 offers world roaming capabilities, a speakerphone, call waiting, and call forward. It has a 5,000-entry address book (the SIM card can hold an additional 250 contacts), and each contact file can hold multiple numbers, e-mail addresses, personal information, and more. For caller ID purposes, you can assign a photo or a custom ringtone.
The Nuvifone G60 offers a full array of wireless options: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and 3G data and voice. Supported Bluetooth profiles include wireless and stereo headsets, hands-free kits, and remote audio control. Whether using Wi-Fi or 3G, the full HTML browser is bound to frustrate you, as it loads pages slowly and it requires a lot of zooming and panning to view pages. Using AT&T's 3G network, it took CNN and ESPN's full sites to load in 1 minute and 34 seconds and 1 minute and 5 seconds, respectively. Some pages loaded so slowly, enough that the progress pinwheel icon stopped in motion that we thought the phone had crashed but eventually it would start chugging along again. Also, while you can e-mail and bookmark links, there's no way to open new windows or clear browser history.
Messaging also isn't the Nuvifone's strongpoint. To start, the G60 can send and receive text messages but not multimedia messages, and there are no instant-messaging clients. Also while it offers real-time deliver of Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, and other POP3 and IMAP e-mail accounts, you have to tether the phone to your PC to get Outlook synchronization. We thought the configuration process was confusing, in that there's little communication as to what's happening. We entered our Gmail log-in and password and then nothing happened. We weren't sure if the configuration had failed or if it was just taking a long time as there was no indication. Thinking that it was the former, we eventually walked away only to come back and see that our Gmail in-box had successfully synced with the Nuvifone.
Also, while Garmin says that there are document viewing capabilities, there isn't a file manager to find and open such files on you device or microSD card. Aside from the aforementioned tools, there aren't very many extra apps included on the device.
For entertainment, there's a very basic music player that supports MP3 playback. On back, you'll also find a 3.2-megapixel camera. There are, however, no camera settings (white balance, resolution, for example) and it doesn't record video. You can geotag photos. Picture quality was OK. Images could have been sharper and colors a bit pale, but we were still able to make out objects in the photo. The Nuvifone G60 has about 2GB of user-available memory and a microSD expansion slot.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Garmin Nuvifone G60 in San Diego using AT&T service and call quality was decent. Though audio wasn't pristine, we were still able to enjoy mostly clear-sounding conversations with friends and had no problems using an airline's voice-automated response system. Our callers reported a bit of crackling on their end but no other major complaints. Speakerphone quality was quite good, though the audio could get a bit blown out at the highest volume. We paired the phone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active Headphones with no problem.
For the road test, we used the Nuvifone G60 on our trip from San Francisco to San Diego for the Fall CTIA 2009 show. From a cold start, it took about a minute for the G60 to lock onto the necessary satellites and find our location and subsequent starts were a bit faster. We plugged in our start and end points and the smartphone was able to come up with a route fairly quickly.
Once under way, the Nuvifone provided clear voice-guided directions. The text-to-speech pronunciation was decent and didn't mangle up too many street names. We encountered traffic as soon as we crossed into Los Angeles; the G60 alerted us to the congestion with a visual alert. Not wanting to get off the freeway, however, we opted to just work our way through the mess of the 405 freeway rather than have the GPS reroute us, which is possible. Speaking of which, we found that the rerouting capabilities could be a bit slow.
We made a pit stop in Carlsbad to visit some friends and first, the Nuvifone directed us to get off the freeway at an earlier exit than we had been told to take by our friends. It wasn't the most efficient route as we had to drive through more residential streets than necessary, but we took it as an opportunity to test the rerouting rate. We missed a few turns and there were several times that the GPS barely came up with new directions in time for us to make the next turn and as a result, it would have to recalculate the route again.
Once in downtown San Diego, we switched to pedestrian mode and walked around the Gaslamp Quarter. The Nuvifone G60 accurately tracked our position and helped us find places to eat by category. It would be cool, though, if the POI database offered reviews of the businesses.
The Garmin Nuvifone G60 features a 1,200mAh lithium ion battery with a rated talk time of 4 hours and up to 10 days of standby time. The G60 wasn't particularly impressive in our battery drain tests either, providing only 3 hours and 45 minutes of continuous talk time.