Garmin Nuvi 3597LMTHD review:

Garmin adds a premium edge to classic GPS

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The trip
Tap any of the results and you'll get shortcuts to a map with up to three routes, an information screen with street address and phone number, and "Go!" which simply starts turn-by-turn navigation with the fastest route possible.

Routing and rerouting were quick and the paths chosen were logical, judging from my local knowledge of the test areas.

Garmin Nuvi 3597LMTHD
The Nuvi's map screen displays a lot of information without overwhelming the driver. Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

As I stated earlier, I liked the conversational tone of the Nuvi's turn-by-turn directions, but I also appreciated that the directions were brief and to the point. No one wants to listen to a robotic voice droning on and on.

I first attempted to test the Nuvi 3597LMTHD from the dashboard of the 2013 Jaguar XJ AWD, but -- after 30 minutes of fruitlessly "Searching for GPS" -- I surmised that the sedan's weird heated windshield was somehow blocking the signal. Later, in the 2013 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG -- with conventional glass -- the Nuvi snapped up its cold-start GPS position in mere moments and retained a good lock on its position, even while I was driving between tall buildings and through tunnels.

The software
One of the first things that you should do when you unbox your new portable navigator is plug it into your computer and search for firmware and map updates. The LM at the end of Nuvi 3597LM stands for Lifetime Maps, so there's no excuse not to check for the most recent data.

After connecting to a computer via USB and downloading the Garmin Express software from Garmin's Web site, I was able to download fresh firmware, the most recent version of the text-to-speech engine for turn-by-turn directions, and the newest maps. All of these updates totaled a few gigabytes and the update took about 20 or 30 minutes, but it's also largely automated, so you won't have to babysit the software.

Garmin Smartphone Link app (Android)
The Garmin Smartphone Link app didn't really offer much functionality outside of the paid premium services. Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Also downloadable is to your smartphone is Garmin's Smartphone Link software for Android and iOS. This app connects your phone to the device, so you can beam over destinations that you find on your phone, and provides a data connection for access to premium Garmin Live services with yearly subscriptions: Advanced Weather data ($4.99 per year), Fuel Prices ($9.99 per year), Live Traffic data ($19.99 per year and a bit redundant on this particular model), and PhotoLive traffic camera feeds ($4.99 per year).

When you get out of your car, Garmin Smartphone Link also marks a Google Map with the GPS location of where you parked based on where it was when the Bluetooth connection with the Nuvi was broken. Using the map, users can navigate from the parking spot to the Nuvi's last chosen destination and back, but without turn-by-turn directions, it's navigation of the DIY sort.

Compared with Magellan's breed of smartphone linking with its SmartGPS, Garmin Smartphone Link doesn't seem very useful. There's no searching from within the app and no way to edit favorites either. It doesn't allow the Nuvi device to connect to the Web to search Google for destinations, and really only seems to exist as a way for Garmin to charge the user more money for services that Magellan offers for free.

Fortunately, the Nuvi 3597LMTHD performs just fine without it.

The competition
The Garmin Nuvi 3597LMTHD retails for $349.99, placing it directly in competition with the Magellan SmartGPS. That's about the price that I'd expect to pay for a premium portable navigator, but which is better?

Where the Nuvi falls flat is its Smartphone Link software, which doesn't really seem to add any value to the navigation experience. The Magellan SmartGPS and its app work seamlessly together, providing Web-connected search, Yelp and Foursquare reviews, and contact and address book syncing both on the device and the handset. The interface is a bit too busy when compared with the simple Nuvi, but it's also much more functional.

Garmin Nuvi 3597LMTHD
Even without the Smartphone Link gimmick, the Nuvi 3597LMTHD is a premium navigator with an exceptional UI. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Personally, I prefer the Nuvi hardware and the simpler interface to Magellan's offering. The Garmin is more responsive to touches, seems to route and reroute more quickly, has a more intelligently organized interface, and generally feels like a more expensive product. The Garmin also boasts a better voice command system.

When the rubber meets the road, however, I'll take a lot of simplicity and ease of use over a bit of extra functionality any day. So this round still goes to the simpler Garmin Nuvi 3597LMTHD.

Both devices face stiff competition from the very smartphones to which they attempt to connect. Your average Android phone or Apple device comes with apps like, for example, Google Maps, which is free and boasts cloud-based map data that is potentially more up-to-date than the Nuvi's static maps. And it's oh-so-hard to argue with free. I get it; smartphone navigation apps are pretty great.

The Nuvi, on the other hand, will actually work without a connection to the Internet, which could be important for some users. Also, as good as Google Maps or apps like Scout, Waze, or MapQuest may be, the Nuvi's interface just seems a bit better. It was designed to be used in a car rather than adapted for the task. The onscreen buttons are larger and easier to hit; the voice commands, while not as extensive, are tailored for use behind the wheel; and the mapping and routing experiences are bulletproof -- apps may crash or stutter depending on your phone's background processes, but in my testing, the Nuvi never did.

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