Positioned near the top of Garmin's Nuvi Advance series, the Nuvi 2689 LMT is pretty close to as cutting-edge as portable navigation devices (PND) get. Portable standalone navigators, that is. Like many generations of Garmin Nuvi that came before the 2689 LMT, this PND faces stiff competition and ever increasing pressure from the smartphone market and its cornucopia of navigation apps.
Rather than march silently into obsolescence, the Nuvi Advanced series has recently learned to work with the smartphone in the driver's pocket, wirelessly linking the phone's Web connectivity for traffic, destination search and more to the Garmin PND upon the dashboard.
The PND hardware
The Nuvi 2689 LMT is a tablet-shaped devices that features a 6-inch glass capacitive touchscreen that supports swipe, tap and pinch gestures. At one corner, a small pinhole in the glass hints at the always-on microphone hiding behind. Along the lower edge of the device is a small microSD card slot for adding extra space for map data and more.
On the backside of the 2689 is the grille opening for the loudspeaker, a small power button, and the Mini-USB port that is used for power in the car and software updates at home. The rear end is also where I found the round socket where the suction-cup mount connects. Attached to the smooth glass of my car's windshield, the mount's ball and socket connection is the only point of articulation, allowing 360-degree rotation and just under 180 degrees of tilt in any direction.
The device feels a bit thicker in the middle than I thought it should be, thanks to a central bulge that is highlighted by its tapered edges. Though not at all a bulky device, the Nuvi does seem a bit chubby compared to my Nexus 7 tablet, which is about half as thick. On the other hand, my tablet doesn't have anywhere near as large a speaker or as robust a GPS receiver as the Nuvi packs, so it's not an apples-to-apples comparison.
Also in the box are a 12-volt-to-Mini-USB power adapter and a short Mini-USB cable for connecting to a PC or Mac for software and map updates.
Smartphone Link software
One thing that Garmin has historically done well is interface design. The Nuvi 2689 is no exception. The main map and destinations interfaces are well organized with large buttons that are easy to tap when the PND is mounted at an arm's length. Fonts are large and easy to read at a glance, and the settings menus are fairly well organized with large icons and tap points.
As the Nuvi lineup gains more and more features (such as EcoRoute HD functionality, Bluetooth calling, voice command, smartphone integration, a host of routing and directions options and so much more), the settings menu has bloated a bit, so don't go futzing around with this part of the interface while cruising at 70 mph.
Meanwhile, despite gaining a bunch of new features of its own, the map screen has remained as simple as ever. When on the road, the driver is presented with just the information important that is relevant to the moment. Streets and street names are crisply rendered, and the screen's colors are vibrant and easy to see even in direct sunlight.
One of my favorite things about the Nuvi Advance 2689 LMT is that I didn't really need to spend a lot of time tapping around its interface. For many trips, I didn't need to tap at all. The Nuvi's excellent voice-command system is always listening for a trigger phrase -- in this case "Voice Command" -- that I could speak to wake it up. From there, I just had to speak prompts such as "Find Address, 1000 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco" and I'd be on my way. Many of the Nuvi's most commonly accessed functions, such as increasing volume, finding a category of POI, or accessing saved locations, can be accessed via voice. The Nuvi doesn't do so well with proper nouns -- it seems to prefer "nearest airport" to "San Francisco International Airport" or "SFO" -- but some well-known national brands, such as Starbucks or McDonald's, can be understood.
Thanks to built in Bluetooth support and a Garmin Smartphone Link app that is installed on the driver's Android or iPhone device, inputting a destination for navigation can actually start outside of the car. The smartphone app allows the driver to search for destinations via, input and store favorite addresses, or pull data from the device's contacts. From there the driver can "beam" the address or GPS coordinates to the Nuvi to begin navigation with a tap. So I can get a restaurant recommendation from a friend or an address in a text message and send it directly to the Nuvi without having to re-enter the address.
This data connection is a two-way street. When connected via Smartphone Link, the PND gains the ability to display Foursquare review data alongside found destinations when searching on the device. And though the Nuvi 2689 features Lifetime Map updates and ad-free, over-the-air Traffic (that's what "LMT" means), a more-accurate, Web-connected version of Garmin's traffic data stream can be subscribed to via the smartphone and supplied to the Nuvi's onboard pathfinding software via Bluetooth. Likewise, Garmin offers subscriptions to traffic camera feeds and weather alerts, both of which get beamed from the paired phone to the Nuvi device over Bluetooth.
There and back again
With a destination picked, I hit the road. As I approached each turn and highway exit, two more high points of the Nuvi series' turn-by-turn navigation make themselves apparent. The first is visual; Active Lane Guidance is a spin on the old graphic lane guidance that many of us are familiar with. This new feature displays an animated inlay that highlights the lanes that are valid for the current route, complete with highway exits that approach and pass in real time. This pretty much takes a lot of the guesswork out of "Is this is my exit, or is it the next turn-off?"
The next standout bit is Garmin's Real Directions spoken navigation. As the Nuvi approaches a turn, it can call upon a database of landmarks that help it to give directions that sound more human. Rather than saying, "Turn left in 1,500 ft at Elm Street," it could say "Turn left at the cemetery," or "...at the large green building" or "...at the gas station." These real directions not only make the instructions less robotic, but they come in handy in areas where the street signs are not always the most visible landmark.
Over the course of a few weeks, I tested the Garmin's mapping and routing around the San Francisco Bay Area and found them to anecdotally be very accurate. Understand, however, that it's largely impossible for me to completely check the accuracy of the full North American data pack, so your mileage may vary.
Initial, out-of-the-box GPS positioning took only a few minutes, which may seem like a lifetime, but remember that the Nuvi is doing so without the A-GPS cellular tower trickery that modern smartphones use for rapid positioning. Once the Nuvi had figured out where it was, the positioning accuracy stayed spot on, even through complex highway interchanges with tightly packed parallel roads, through tunnels and under bridges, and through urban canyons lined by tall buildings.
The Garmin Nuvi 2689 LMT performed admirably during my weeks of testing. I never got lost, never encountered an inaccuracy in the map's data, and never received an illogical or wrong direction.
The Nuvi has learned a few new tricks that make it easier to live with, such as the ability to receive destinations from my Bluetooth paired smartphone and integrate with services like Foursquare to provide rich destination data. Its implementation of this Web-connected data is much simpler than, say, the, but this simplicity also makes it much safer and easier to use when on the road. The Magellan was a bit of an information overload, where the Garmin is more spartan and smartly organized.
It's no surprise, however, that the biggest hurdle for the Garmin Nuvi 2689 LMT is the very smartphones that it pairs with to gain Web connectivity. Even with its Outstanding rating, I'm sure that the vast majority of you are wondering, "why spend the $269 MSRP on a device that duplicates what my phone already does?" On the other hand, a subset of drivers no doubt still welcome the reduced distraction, the increased positioning accuracy, and task compartmentalization that comes with using a standalone portable GPS navigator.