In terms of its overall style, the Garmin Nuvi 1690 takes its cues from the Garmin playbook and blings it up with chrome and piano black to a level appropriate for a top-end GPS unit. With the back of the device rubberised, the 1690 feels great in the hand.
The windscreen mount is the standard issue Garmin one; it folds up neatly enough and sticks gamely to the windscreen no matter what road blemishes you drive over. Disappointingly, the charging plug that fits into the cigarette lighter slot is kitted out with a blue light that sears its way into your retina at night.
With its 480x272, 4.3-inch resistive touchscreen, the 1690 doesn't break any portable navigation norms — that role's been reserved for the delectable Nuvi 3790T due in the middle of 2010. The menu system is pretty much unchanged, with two big icons — Where To? and View Map — greeting you on start up. The map screen presents its information in a driver-readable format, although the by-default removal of map detail is annoying.
Destination entry is made easier by the inclusion of Google location searches, which usually throws up better and more up-to-date results than the built-in point-of-interest database, and is also often quicker to boot. Unlike Navman's MY range, the 1690 doesn't rely on a Bluetooth data connection to your smartphone, rather it has a built-in, non-replaceable SIM card.
Internet connectivity is provided by Dutch telco KPN's local partner and access to it, as well as Garmin's nuLink online services, is free for the first year of ownership and AU$99 per year thereafter. Red light and speed camera location updates are automatically pulled down over the air. Drivers can also check up on petrol prices via a feed from MotorMouth's service.
There's also a social media component dubbed Ciao, which lets you share your status — no, we're not quite sure why we need another status updating medium — and check up on the location of other connected and friended Garmin users. Users can turn off location updating at any time if they're feeling haunted by Orwellian nightmares or think that their spouse/boss/parent is trying to stalk them. Other online features include weather and flight status updates, and currency conversion.
By comparison the rest of the Nuvi 1690's feature list seems pretty ordinary, if no less useful. There's Bluetooth hands-free, which pairs up easily with a range of 'phones we had on hand, including Apple's now ubiquitous iPhone; sound quality is OK but best left for shorter conversations.
Text-to-speech for spoken street names works quite well with the speaker's volume range stretching from mouse-whisper quiet to ear-poppingly loud. As expected it stumbles on street names with an Aboriginal origin, as well as those pronounced with an Australian twang or English lilt.
Despite having an RRP just shy of AU$600, the Nuvi 1690 misses out high-end trinkets like an FM transmitter, music playback and voice control.
Although it's an internet-connected device, the Nuvi 1690's Whereis maps are stored in its on-board memory; map updates are not included in the nuLink subscription price and can only be done when tethered to a computer.
The routes generated by the Nuvi 1690 will get you from A to G — you can plan multi-stop routes, but the option's strangely located in the Tools menu — but don't go expecting that its routes will be the quickest or smartest way there. City drivers who frequently venture into the CBD will be frustrated by the occasional signal drop-outs and inaccurate positioning that's par for the course with portable navigators.
Whenever you're hurtling towards a motorway junction or exit, junction view replaces the usual map screen with a photo of said junction overlaid with appropriate arrows and signage. Equally useful is lane guidance, which is available for most metropolitan streets and roads.
Traffic messaging is also thrown in, although as it's delivered via the internet, as opposed to the usual method via FM, it's only available when your nuLink subscription is valid. Available in all capital cities, excluding Darwin and Hobart, Suna's traffic messaging service is nice to have, but don't be surprised if you run into a traffic incident that's yet to appear on the system or drive through a "delay" that's already cleared.
Much as we love googling destinations and checking out fuel prices, Australia's first internet-connected GPS navigator demands far too hefty a price premium for its extra features. Cost-conscious buyers will be better served by the Garmin Nuvi 1390T.