Editors' note: Garmin's Nuvi 3490 LMT features an interface that is similar to that of the recently reviewed Garmin Nuvi 2495 LMT and hardware that is similar to the Nuvi 3790T. Where applicable, portions of each of those reviews have been used in this evaluation.
At an MSRP of $399.99, the Garmin Nuvi 3490 LMT is easily the most expensive Garmin Nuvi that money can buy. Sitting firmly at the top of Garmin 2012 Prestige lineup of GPS navigators, it is also the most advanced Nuvi that money can buy and the thinnest GPS navigator on the market.
Besides being thinner, the Nuvi 3490 LMT attempts to justify its $150 price premium over the recently reviewed Nuvi 2495 LMT with snappier overall performance, traffic updates that are more frequently updated, and a capacitive glass touch screen that's faster for typing and enables pinching and zooming of the map screen.
Garmin started by making things thin. At 4.8 inches wide and 2.9 inches tall, it doesn't look much smaller than your average PND while in its packaging, but unbox it and lay it side by side with any automotive portable navigator, and the svelte nature of the 3490 LMT's chassis becomes evident. At 0.35 inch thick, this Nuvi is about half the thickness of any other Garmin, thinner even than the iPhone 4. The Nuvi features an array of high-quality-feeling materials, including a glass screen, chrome-finished edges, and a rear panel that is split between a black brushed-metal texture and a glossy-black-plastic panel, presumably to allow GPS and Bluetooth signals to penetrate.
The 3490 LMT is only 4 ounces; the light weight and the slim profile make this Nuvi very pocketable. However, to our hands it feels a smidge too light, coming off as delicate and a bit fragile. We'd prefer more heft and solidity.
The only physical control on the 3490 LMT's chassis is the power/lock button located on the device's top edge. Tapping this button brings up the lock screen, from where you can choose between locking the touch screen and putting the device into a sleep state. Holding this button toggles the unit's power on and off.
Along the right edge of the device is an unlabeled microSD card slot, and along the bottom edge are the connections for the car dock and a Micro-USB sync cable. At the upper left corner of the glass screen is a small hole, behind which sits the microphone that enables the 3490 LMT to receive voice commands and to act as a speakerphone.
Like most GPS devices, the majority of the user's interactions with the Nuvi 3490 LMT take place at the touch screen. This unit is built around a 4.3-inch TFT display with a resolution of 800x480 pixels. Touch sensitivity is capacitive rather than the normal resistive screen. As a result, the screen requires considerably less pressure to register a touch than previous Nuvis, making typing with the onscreen keyboard a much easier affair. This technology also enables the use of multitouch commands, such as pinch to zoom while browsing the map. However, there are compromises to be made. The capacitive screen requires direct contact with the skin to function and cannot be used while wearing gloves--not very good news for people in icy climates. Additionally, the glossy glass screen, though sharper than the matte finish of other Nuvi models, doesn't perform as well in direct sunlight, throwing up serious glare and washing out. The display is still visible and legible, but for daytime navigation, we prefer the matte finish applied to the rest of the Nuvi line.
The 3490 LMT features an internal accelerometer that can detect the device's orientation and switch between landscape and portrait screen layouts. The former is best for in-car use, and the latter for handheld pedestrian use, but one could use either orientation anywhere. The Nuvi 3490 LMT ships with a suction cup car dock, a 12-volt Micro-USB power cable, a Mini-USB sync cable, an adhesive dashboard mounting puck, and user guides in English and French.
There is more to the car dock than just a plastic bracket and a suction cup. For starters, the dock is the only way to keep the Nuvi charged while in the car, as Garmin's decision to equip the 3490 LMT with a Micro-USB port has made it impossible to directly connect the Mini-USB car charger. Additionally, closer inspection reveals that the dock features a speaker. When the Nuvi is docked and the power cable is plugged in, this more powerful loudspeaker takes over audio playback instead of the 3490 LMT's space-saver speaker. The results are much more audible turn-by-turn directions and better quality for speakerphone calls. Finally, in order to save space internally, Garmin has elected to place the 3490 LMT's FM traffic receiver inline on the power cable. This decision means that the Nuvi cannot receive traffic updates for routing unless it is placed in the dock and connected to power.
Aside from the old getting-from-point-alpha-to-bravo trick that all portable navigation devices (PNDs) should do, the Nuvi 3490 LMT has a few more tricks up its sleeve.
For starters, the device includes Bluetooth wireless technology. The only profile supported is the hands-free profile (HFP), which enables users to initiate and receive phone calls with a tap of the touch screen--from the appropriate menu, of course. That menu, appropriately labeled Phone, includes options for browsing the unit's database of points of interest (POIs), manually dialing numbers using a numerical keypad, viewing call history, and voice dialing. Unfortunately, the Nuvi doesn't include address-book sync, so voice commanding calls utilizes your phone's dialer instead of the Nuvi's own, names don't appear in the caller ID information for contacts not stored locally on the device, and the call history doesn't reflect calls made outside of the car. These limitations aren't what I'd call deal breakers, but they do prevent this Nuvi's hands-free system from rivaling event the most moderately featured standalone Bluetooth speakerphones.
On the Nuvi's home screen, you may notice a new Apps icon located at the bottom of the screen. This, in my opinion, is a bit of a misnomer, because the menu behind this icon doesn't contain what I'd consider to be apps in the modern smartphone sense of the word. They're more like extra features that don't really fit under any other menu. Here is where you'll find the Help menu, the settings for the Voice Command system, options for the Nuvi's ecoRoute calculations (which require the purchase and installation of the ecoRoute HD hardware), and other functions such as an alarm clock, calculator, and unit converter.
No, the only function in the Apps menu that even remotely feels like an app is the Audible audiobook player, which allows users to listen to audiobooks stored on the Nuvi's internal memory or a micro SD card.
I do like Garmin's implementation of voice commands on the Nuvi 3490. In the voice command menu, users set a custom wake up command that the PND will continuously listen for--I chose "Ahoy, matey!" Once set, the user only needs speak the command and the device will pop into full voice-recognition mode with onscreen and verbal prompts. So I was able to say, "Ahoy, matey, phone, call Home." to initiate a call to the phone number associated with the home address and at no time during that process did I have to physically touch the device. Other available commands include find intersection, recently found, find category, volume, brightness, detour, and dozens more. These available commands cover almost every commonly accessed function that I've ever used while driving, making it very possible to get into a car and interact totally with the Nuvi without ever removing one's hands from the steering wheel.
Additionally, the Nuvi 3490 LMT features Lifetime Maps and Traffic. Map updates can be downloaded quarterly for as long as the device is owned using Garmin's updater software on a PC or Mac. Once downloaded, users will use the included USB cable to update their device.
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.