TomTom's got one. Magellan's got one. Now, we have our hands on Garmin's newest 5-inch GPS navigator. Dwarfing the current norm of 4.3-inch units, the Garmin Nuvi 1490T's big screen makes it that much easier to view from its perch on a car's dashboard or windshield. With Bluetooth hands-free calling, free traffic data, and a clever, green driving suite of tools, this big fellow is not a bad choice for people looking for a good blend of advanced functionality and ease of use.
The Nuvi 1490T's most distinguishing feature is its large 5-inch screen. Compared with the 4.3-inch units we normally see these days, the extra real estate is quite obvious. There also appears to be a slight increase in screen brightness. At arms length, the larger onscreen buttons are easier to hit, making light work of address entry. However, screen resolution remains the same 480x272 pixels as the 4.3-inch Garmin units, so the display's pixels are slightly more obvious and its text is rendered with more aliasing.
The unit features a glossy, black bezel with a small pinhole microphone in its lower left edge. The left side is home to a microSD card slot and on the top edge features the power/lock button. Flipping the Nuvi over reveals its matte-finished back panel. Here you'll find the Mini-USB port for charging and syncing and the unit's speaker.
Also in the box is a suction cup windshield-mounting bracket, a 12-volt car charger with a Mini-USB tip and integrated FM traffic antenna, an adhesive dashboard-mounting puck, and an assortment of user guides and warranty papers.
The Nuvi 1490T's home screen features two large icons for the two major functions of a portable navigation device: finding a destination and browsing the map. Along the top edge of this screen is a status bar with icons for GPS signal strength, Bluetooth status, navigation mode, current time, and battery state. Touching the Bluetooth icon jumps straight to a hands-free setup screen; the navigation mode icon lets users select between automobile, pedestrian, or bicycle navigation modes; and tapping the time brings up the time settings screen. Of course, the time is automatically set by the GPS signal, so this last option is largely unnecessary.
The bottom edge of the home screen is where you can find the volume controls and the tools menu. With a destination chosen, the bottom bar will also display options for detour and stop navigation and if a phone is paired, here is also where the phone menu will appear.
You can select your destination using an address or by searching a preloaded database of points of interest. Address entry and search use the onscreen QWERTY keyboard, which is quite nice as far as navigation keyboards go. It doesn't feature any sort of predictive blanking of keys, but will display a list of possible completions once you've gotten a few letters punched in. The resistive touch screen requires more pressing effort than most smartphones, but after a few entries, we quickly got used to bearing down.
Meanwhile, the map screen is able to display 2D or 3D maps that are easy to understand and read at a glance. The top bar displays the current street or the next turn. Along the bottom edge is a back button for returning to the home screen, a configurable button that displays routing data (ETA, direction of travel, elevation, etc.) and a speed display that, when clicked, takes you to a trip computer screen.
Along the map's left edge is the traffic icon that is gray when traffic data is unavailable, green when the route is all clear, or turns yellow or red when obstructions are ahead. It also displays an estimated delay time. On the right edge are transparent buttons for zooming in and out and an EcoChallenge score icon, which we discuss in the next section.
EcoRoute is a suite of tools and functions that the Nuvi uses to help drivers get to their destinations while using less fuel and emitting less carbon.
After inputting our vehicle's city and highway fuel economy (fueleconomy.gov is a good starting point) and estimated per gallon cost for fuel, the main ecoRoute function went to work, producing the EcoChallenge score. On the map screen, a circular icon appeared containing a numerical score (from 0-99) and a leaf that changes from red to green as your score increases. Driving smoothly caused our score to increase, whereas fast starts and harsh braking resulted in lower scores. The ecoChallenge score is an easy way to estimate how efficiently the vehicle is being driven, but for even more information, you can tap the EcoChallenge icon to view a detailed scoring screen with a historical graph of the past few hours' scores and breakout averages for overall, speed, braking, and acceleration scores. The detail screen is also accessible from the EcoRoute menu, from which you can also find options for viewing mileage reports, historical fuel economy graphs, vehicle profile information, and green driving tips.
With EcoRoute active, a new Less Fuel route preference opens up over in the navigation settings menu along with the standard Faster Time, Shorter Distance, and Off Road options. With this option checked, the Nuvi will attempt to route the most fuel-efficient path for your vehicle's profile and, at the end of each trip, display a report listing distance traveled, average fuel economy, fuel cost, carbon footprint, and average EcoChallenge score for the trip. The Nuvi also stores this data under the Mileage Report icon in the EcoRoute menu and as text files for retrieval later using a USB connected PC.
However, the EcoRoute software is merely making educated guesses at the vehicle's fuel economy using the information gathered from the GPS antenna (speed, elevation, and acceleration and deceleration rates) and the fuel economy estimates input during setup. For a more accurate snapshot of fuel economy, you have two options. The first is the "At the Pump" function, a low-tech solution that is little more than a glorified calculator. After stopping for fuel, you input the fuel price (per gallon), the amount of fuel used, and the distance traveled since the last fill-up (conveniently automatically filled by the EcoRoute software) to calculate the actual miles per gallon burned. But that's a simple function that can be accomplished with a basic understanding of division and is calculated only after the fuel has been used. For the best balance of up-to-the-minute accuracy, you can purchase and install Garmin's EcoRoute HD module in your vehicle. This module connects to the vehicle's onboard diagnostics port and wirelessly transmits engine and emissions data to the Nuvi over Bluetooth. Armed with this information, the ecoRoute software can most accurately estimate the efficiency of the vehicle in motion. The Nuvi also gains diagnostics capabilities through this connection, so it can view and clear trouble codes if the car's check engine light illuminates.
Garmin Nuvis with model numbers ending in "T" feature traffic data reception. In the case of the Nuvi 1490T, you get free lifetime FM-RDS traffic data. This data is displayed in a traffic menu as a list of incidents and on the map screen as icons and color overlays on major highways. A green highway should be all clear and a red street is probably stop-and-go, with yellow roads somewhere in between. Due to the somewhat limited resolution of FM traffic, we had a few incidents where we followed the Nuvi onto a green highway only to be met with a jam. Also, there's simply no data available for surface roads. However, most of the time the FM traffic data could be trusted.
Traffic data is used during trip routing and to deliver more accurate estimated times of arrival (or delays). Even with no destination chosen, the Nuvi will occasionally verbally warn the driver of impending delays on the current road.
Nuvi units that feature traffic receivers, such as our 1490T, carry a slightly higher MSRP than units without traffic, but don't think that Garmin is footing the monthly traffic data subscription out of the kindness of its corporate heart. Rather, the traffic subscription is ad-supported, which means that you will be subjected to occasional text ad in the map screen's top bar or in menu screens' bottom bar. Clicking on any of these ads will bring up a listing of the nearest locations for the advertiser, for example a restaurant or hotel. We found the ads to be unobtrusive, but some may find them annoying.
The antenna for the traffic system is embedded into the 12-volt power cable, so you won't be able to receive traffic updates without first plugging in.
The Nuvi 1490T is equipped with a Bluetooth wireless connection and supports the hands-free (HFP) and phonebook access (PBAP) profiles, as well as a data connection when paired with the previously mentioned ecoRoute HD module.
Pairing with a Bluetooth-enabled phone can be initiated from the handset or from the Nuvi's Bluetooth menu. After inputting a four-digit PIN, the Nuvi will be recognized by your phone as a speakerphone. In the main menu, a new Phone icon appears along the bottom bar, opening up options for calling points of interest, history, and home, as well as a manual-dialing keypad. An option for voice dial opens a connection for using your phone's voice command system, if supported, to initiate calls.
With handsets that support PBAP, the Nuvi can also request and download your contacts to be accessed from a phone book icon that appears in the phone menu once the download is complete.
Incoming calls are recognized by the Nuvi and displayed in a pop-up window along with caller ID information and options to accept or ignore the call. Call quality is passable; the Nuvi's speaker is loud and clear; but the microphone picks up almost as much road noise as spoken words, so be sure to wind those windows up and turn down the stereo before accepting or making any calls.