The Garmin Nuvi series has proven to be a great success for the veteran navigation manufacturer. The Garmin Nuvi 350 impressed us not only with its solid performance but also with its travel-friendly features, and it consistently ranks up there as one of our readers' favorite GPS devices. Armed with navigation tools, travel guides, and multimedia capabilities, it is the ultimate travel companion. Now, the company's latest model in the series, the Gamin Nuvi 660, adds even more improvements, such as integrated Bluetooth and a larger screen, all while delivering solid performance. Now, here's the bad news. It costs a whopping $1,076.91, and you have to fork over even more cash if you want the expanded travel tools. If you don't need all that functionality, the Nuvi 350 is a solid alternative, or take a look at the HP iPaq rx5900 series.
At 4.9x2.9by0.9 inches and 6.2 ounces, the Garmin Nuvi 660 is slightly bigger and heavier than its predecessor but it's still an ultraportable and sleek device that you can use in and out of the car. Plus, the extra size is for a good reason. The Nuvi 660 now boasts a larger, 4.3-inch display compared to the Nuvi 350's 3.5-inch screen. The touch screen has an impressive 480x272 pixel resolution that made maps look extrasharp and colorful. It's also still readable in direct sunlight.
You can access all the Nuvi 660's tools and enter information via the touch screen. The interface is clean, and the menus are clearly identified and intuitive, so there isn't a steep learning curve to operate the device. In fact, it's so easy to use that we didn't even have to crack open the user's manual once. In addition, the icons and onscreen keyboard are large, so we didn't have any problems with pressing the wrong buttons.
With everything handled via the touch screen, the Nuvi 660 can have a minimalist design, which we like. There's a sole power on/off button on the top of the unit, while there's an SD expansion slot, a mini USB port, and a headphone jack on the right spine. Finally, there is a flip-up patch antenna on the back that stores flush with the unit's surface in its closed state, so it doesn't add any extra bulk. Our only wish would be for external volume controls, but if you give the power button a quick press, it brings up a Quick Settings page where you can adjust the sound and screen brightness.
Garmin packages the Nuvi 660 with a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), an AC adapter, a car charger with an integrated FM traffic receiver, a USB cable, a carrying case, and reference material.
The Garmin Nuvi 660 keeps many of the same features that we loved in its predecessor and adds some new tricks as well. First, the system now has integrated Bluetooth, so you can use it hands-free to make and accept phone calls. Once connected, just press the phone icon that appears on the Main Menu page, and you can start placing calls with the onscreen dialer or your phone book. If a number is listed for a point of interest, the Nuvi 660 can dial out to that business with a press of a button--perfect if you need to make a last-minute reservation at a restaurant or hotel. Voice-guided directions are automatically muted during incoming calls. There are also options to send text messages, synchronize your phone's address book and call log, and dial by voice, but these features aren't supported with all mobiles. You can find a list of compatible phones and services on Garmin's Web site, though we were able to successfully pair it with the Cingular 8525, which wasn't included on the list.
As far as navigation, the Garmin Nuvi 660 is equipped with a WAAS-enabled (Wide Area Augmentation System for better position accuracy) GPS receiver and comes preloaded with maps of North America. You get all the standard GPS features found in the latest systems, including turn-by-turn text- and voice-guided directions, automatic rerouting, and text-to-speech functionality, which allows the unit to speak actual street names. The system can generate directions by fastest time, shortest distance, or off road, if you're the adventurous type. The Nuvi 660 isn't just limited to use in the car, either; there are settings for pedestrian, bicycle, truck, and bus modes. Unfortunately, however, the system does not support multistop route calculation.
The Nuvi 660 has a detour function for avoiding certain portions of your prescribed route, but the system also now comes with an FM traffic receiver that's integrated into the cigarette lighter adapter, so you don't have to pay extra for an optional accessory. Traffic information is provided by Clear Channel's Total Traffic Network and can alert you to any upcoming congestion or road construction. With the purchase of the Garmin Nuvi 660, you get a complimentary three-month subscription to the service. After that, you'll have to pay $60 for three more months. Also, be sure to check that your city is covered by the network.
Maps are available in 2D and 3D view with day and night colors, and you can change your view so that either north or the direction in which you're driving is always at the top of your screen. Plus and minus icons on the map screen allow you to zoom in and out, and there's also a trip information page that displays your speed, direction, trip time, and so forth. Finally, the Nuvi 660 has a comprehensive POI database with all the major categories and more specific ones; you can even search for restaurants by type of cuisine.
Among of the greatest perks and differentiators about the Garmin Nuvi 660 are its travel features. Like the Nuvi 350, it has an onboard Travel Kit that includes an MP3 player, an Audible book player, a JPEG picture viewer with a slide-show function, a world clock, currency and measurement converters, and a calculator. You can expand the device's capabilities with one of Garmin's three optional software packages (available on SD cards): Language Guide ($74.99), Travel Guide (price varies depending on what region you want), and SaversGuide ($49.99). The former includes a multilingual word and phrase bank with support for nine languages and dialects and five bilingual dictionaries. Thanks to the Nuvi's text-to-speech functionality, you can also get a spoken pronunciation of each entry in the word bank. The Travel Guide provides reviews and recommendations for restaurants, attractions, and more, while the SaversGuide offers discounts at participating merchants.
We took the Garmin Nuvi 660 out for a test-drive in San Francisco, and it performed wonderfully. The unit impressed us by acquiring a satellite fix in less than a minute, and subsequent starts were much faster. The system precisely tracked our location as we drove around the city running routine errands. We also entered a specific destination, and the Nuvi 660 quickly returned with a route. The directions were accurate, and automatic route recalculation was also prompt after we got off track.
As we noted earlier, we were able to pair the unit with the Cingular 8525, and we had no problems making calls. The multimedia experience was as to be expected on a portable navigation device: it wasn't great, but it was fine for when you're in an absolute pinch. Music sounded OK through the system's speakers, though it was a bit muffled and soft; we plugged in a pair of Shure E3s, which improved the sound quality.