Garminfone (T-Mobile) review: Garminfone (T-Mobile)

Garminfone (T-Mobile)

Bonnie Cha

Bonnie Cha

Former Editor

Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.

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Garminfone (T-Mobile)

The Good

The T-Mobile Garminfone offers accurate driving directions and other advanced navigation capabilities. The Android-based smartphone also has better messaging and calendaring apps than its predecessor.

The Bad

The smartphone has lackluster multimedia capabilities, including a subpar camera. Battery life is a concern.

The Bottom Line

The T-Mobile Garminfone is a huge improvement over the Nuvifone G60, proving to be a capable smartphone just as much as it is a reliable navigator.

Forgive us for having little faith when we first heard about the Garmin-Asus A50, but it's not like we had the best experience with Garmin-Asus' first GPS-smartphone hybrid, the Nuvifone G60 for AT&T. It worked fine as a GPS device, but failed horribly as a smartphone, so that didn't exactly leave us with the best impression. However, we saw signs of improvement when we got some hands-on time with the A50 at Mobile World Congress. At the time, Garmin said it wasn't sure that the model would make its way to the States, but lucky forT-Mobile customers, the A50, renamed the Garminfone, is headed to the carrier on June 9 for $199.99 with a two-year contract and after a $50 mail-in rebate.

We say lucky because the Garminfone is the complete package, succeeding where the Nuvifone failed. Now running on the Android platform and sporting a sexier design, the Garminfone works both as a capable smartphone and navigator. It may not have the mass appeal of the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G Slide, but for those who spend a lot of time on the road, whether it's driving to business meetings or to and from their kids' soccer practices, the Garminfone is definitely worth a look.

Looks don't count for everything, but they do count for something and the Garmin Nuvifone G60 didn't make a very good impression with its blocky, drab design. Fortunately, that isn't the case with the Garminfone, which sports a sleeker, sexier frame. At 4.57 inches tall by 2.46 inches wide by 0.49 inch thick and 4.9 ounces, it's much more manageable as a cell phone but still big enough to work as a navigator. The device also has a solid construction and a soft-touch finish on back to give it a nonslippery texture when held in the hand.

The Garminfone is a much sleeker device than its predecessor.

On front, you get a 3.5-inch, HVGA (320x480 pixels) capacitive touch screen. Admittedly, we would have liked to see a slightly bigger display, but it's still large enough that we had no problems viewing maps while driving. It's also vibrant and clear and was still viewable in daylight. In addition to pinch-to-zoom support, the display has a proximity sensor and built-in accelerometer, and we're happy to report that the screen is much more responsive than the Nuvifone's. The screen orientation changed within a couple of seconds of rotating the phone, and it never froze during our review period.

The touch screen also performed well during our tests. It was responsive, and we had no problems selecting items or scrolling through lists. That said, we thought there was slight lag when using the onscreen keyboard. The layout of the keyboard was spacious enough that we could type with some speed, but there was a slight delay from the time we touched a key to the time the letter appeared on screen, so we had to continually go back and check for any spelling errors.

Below the display, there are four touch-sensitive buttons--home, menu, phone, and back--and a four-way D-pad, which all work well. On the right spine, there's a volume rocker and camera activation/capture button. The power button sits on top of the device; a Micro-USB port is on bottom for charging and syncing the phone. Last but not least, the camera is located on back.

The Garminfone comes with a number of accessories, including a car mount.

T-Mobile packages the Garminfone with a healthy set of accessories, including an AC adapter, a car charger, a car mount (windshield and dash), a 2GB microSD card, a USB cable, a wired headset, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check out cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.

User interface
The Garminfone now runs Android 1.6, but Garmin chose to stick with is proprietary user interface, which isn't a bad thing since it's quite easy to use. The main home screen is split into two parts, with the phone and navigation apps prominently displayed on the left and on the right; there's also a customizable bar that allows you to scroll through your favorite apps. The latter also features a small tab that you can tap, which then expands to reveal the full main menu of apps. From here, you can also drag and drop icons into the aforementioned favorite apps bar.

Though it seems you only get one home screen, there is a widget app in the main menu that presents you with five home screens that can be personalized with various widgets and shortcuts. Alternatively, you can do a long press of the home key, which brings up the same option. It's handy for accessing your wireless manager and viewing any upcoming appointments, but other times, we found it just as quick to launch the appropriate app from our favorites tray.

In all, Garmin's UI may not be as sophisticated as HTC Sense, but it works. You can launch your e-mail or address book and know how to access information and perform basic actions, without being overwhelmed with too many options, so there's something to be said about Garmin's straightforward approach. Also, the Garminfone just feels much more like a complete device in that the UI is consistent throughout the whole phone, and the features are well integrated with each other (e.g., navigation functions are worked into the contacts page). It's such a stark and welcome contrast to the Nuvifone.

Another great contrast between the two phones is the smartphone aspect. The original Nuvifone was a Linux-based system, and although it had all the elements of a smartphone, the features seemed half baked and just thrown onto the phone without consideration of how to work together. However, the Garminfone's switch to Android makes a world of difference. You now get real-time Microsoft Exchange synchronization, more robust calendar capabilities, and, of course, all the other benefits of Android, including full support for Google services, Android Marketplace, Amazon MP3 Store, and more. (T-Mobile has not officially said whether the Garminfone will get Android 2.2, but it did say that the phone is capable of over-the-air updates.)

Though Google Maps with Navigation is included in that mix, we have a feeling that the app will mostly collect dust since you've got access to Garmin's full navigation software. Unlike Google Maps with Navigation, you can access maps on the Garminfone even when you're offline since the device comes preloaded with maps of North America and nearly 6 million points of interest (POI). You also get access to the company's Connected Services, which includes such things as real-time traffic and weather data, gas prices, and movie times. To access such information on the Nuvifone, you had to pay an extra $5.99 per month, but this time around, it's included in the price of the Garminfone. Other extras include notifications for special offers, flight status checker, and Garmin's Ciao app (similar to Google Latitudes).

The Garminfone can create routes in vehicle, pedestrian, or public transit mode. To start planning a trip, you can enter a specific address or intersection, 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 or navigate directly from a Web search result, and we were successfully able to enter addresses using Android's voice-to-text capabilities via Google Local search. The device can handle multidestination trips, and you can add waypoints on the fly.

Maps can be viewed in 2D or 3D mode with voice-guided, text-to-speech directions. There's even an app called Garmin Voice Studio, where you can have a family member or friend record a set of instructions and let that be the voice you hear when getting directions. If you receive an incoming call during a session, the Garminfone will mute the directions while still giving visual cues until you're off the phone and will pick up from your current location. If by chance you run into an emergency or have car troubles, the onboard "Where am I?" app can provide you with your coordinates and a list of the closest hospitals, police stations, and gas stations. Also, once you reach your destination, the Garminfone will automatically record where you've parked in case you forget.

There are other uses for GPS as well, such as geotagging photos. The Garminfone has a 3-megapixel lens with autofocus and video-recording capabilities, but editing options are pretty light, with settings just for resolution, lighting adjustment, shutter sound, and auto review. In video mode, you can only change the video quality and format type. Picture quality was mediocre. Despite having autofocus, it was difficult to capture a clear image. As you can see from the shot below, pictures came out somewhat blurry, though colors looked OK.

We had a difficult time getting a clear photo.

The Garminfone's media player is as basic as you can get, but it supports a number of formats, including MP3, WMA, AAC/AAC+/eAAC+ and MPEG4, WMV, H.264, and H.263. To get multimedia on the device, you can use the included USB cable and drag-and-drop files or use a third-party app like DoubleTwist to sync your library. Of course, you can purchase additional songs from the Amazon MP3 Store right from the phone as well as view YouTube videos. The device offers 4GB Flash memory and 256MB SDRAM/256MB ROM.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; UMTS/HSDPA) Garminfone in New York and Arizona using T-Mobile service and call quality was good. There was very little background noise so we had no problem hearing our callers or using an airline's voice automated response system. Friends also reported positive results with no complaints of voice distortion or background interruption. One caller did, however, note a faint echo, but she was the only one to make such a comment. Speakerphone quality was bit on the hollow side, but there was ample volume. We had no problems pairing the phone with the Logitech Mobile Traveller Bluetooth headset and the Motorola S9 Bluetooth Active headphones.

For our road test, we took the Garminfone on a recent trip to Phoenix. We actually threw caution to the wind and used it as the only navigation aid (we always recommend having some sort of backup or double-checking your route before leaving), but fortunately, the device proved to be a reliable navigator. It was quick to come up with directions once we entered an address and provided clear and accurate directions. We missed several turns, but the Garminfone was able to get us back on track quickly and to our destination.

We also used the Garminfone to find some local attractions to kill some time before the flight. The POI database proved to be helpful resource. Though some business listings were out of date, it still provided some nice recommendations for parks and botanical gardens and places to eat and shop.

The Garminfone is equipped with a 600MHz Qualcomm MSM7227 processor and was able to handle most tasks without problem or delay. We didn't notice any significant lags nor did we experience any major malfunctions during our review period. T-Mobile's 3G network provided reliable coverage in both the Manhattan and Phoenix areas. In Manhattan, we were able to pull up CNET's full site on the Garminfone's WebKit browser in just 12 seconds; CNN's and ESPN's mobile sites loaded in 7 seconds and 6 seconds, respectively.

The Garminfone features an 1,150mAh lithium ion battery, which is a pretty small cell. We are still conducting our battery drain tests, and will update this section as soon as we have final results. However, we did find, however, that the phone barely lasted from sunrise to sundown with moderate use. According to FCC radiation tests, the Garminfone has a digital SAR rating of 0.714 watt per kilogram and a Hearing Aid Compatibility Rating of M3/T3.


Garminfone (T-Mobile)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8