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Ever since the Garmin Nuvi 880 was announced at CES 2008, we've been excited to get our hands on this portable navigation system. Given the good track record of the other Nuvi series devices, we expected more of the same, solid feature list and good performance. However, we were most looking forward to taking its speech recognition capabilities out for a test drive. To be honest, we were a bit weary since we've tried other such-equipped GPS devices, including the Magellan Maestro 4250 and the TomTom GO 930, and while they worked, there weren't the most accurate and the capabilities were limited. This isn't so with the Nuvi 880. We were blown away at the accuracy of the speech recognition, the range of features you can use it with, and its overall ease of use. This, in combination with the navigation offerings, sleek design, and solid performance, makes it worthy of our Editors' Choice award. The only downfall is that you're going to pay for these features. The Garmin Nuvi 880 has a price tag of $ 1,071.41, but you can probably find it for a bit less online.
Like the rest of the Nuvi series, the Garmin Nuvi 880 is sleek, compact, and simple. It measures 4.9 inches wide by 3.1 inches high by 0.7 inch deep and weighs 6.2 ounces for easy portability between vehicles. The small size also comes in handy when using the it outside of the car as an entertainment device or travel aid, since the Nuvi comes loaded with games and travel tools.
Another benefit is the Nuvi 880's spacious 4.3-inch touch screen. With a 480x272-pixel resolution, the display is bright and easy to read, whether you're reading maps or using the other features. You can adjust the screen's brightness and there's an automatic mode that switches the map colors for optimal viewing during the day or night. The touch screen was responsive to our commands, and the onscreen keyboard is available in QWERTY or ABC format. The keyboard is on the small side, so users with larger fingers might have some problems. The good news is that it has predictive text, so it will automatically pull up possible search results as soon as you start inputting a couple of letters.
The user interface and software is intuitive. All the icons and menus are clearly marked, and we found that you could pretty much figure out the basic operations just by playing with the device. However, for some advanced tasks such as planning a multidestination trip or setting up Bluetooth, you might want to consult the user manual.
On the left spine, you will find a 3.5mm headphone jack, a microSD expansion slot, and a mini USB port. There's a power button on top, and the bottom of the unit holds an external antenna jack and power/cradle connector.
The Garmin Nuvi 880 comes packaged with a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), a car charger, a USB cable, a speech recognition remote control, and reference material. The vehicle mount is simple to install and attach, and it securely held the Nuvi 880 in our road tests. We found it interesting that there is a separate remote control for the speech recognition capabilities. On other systems with this technology, it is simply built into the device. The control consists of on and off buttons to activate the feature, and a rubber strap so you can attach it to some place in your car, such as the steering wheel. It's a bit of an eyesore, but we're willing to overlook this minor inconvenience since the accuracy of the speech recognition capabilities are the best we've seen to date (see Performance for more).
The Garmin Nuvi 880 comes preloaded with City Navigator NT maps of North America and millions of points of interest. Perhaps the biggest highlight, though, is its speech recognition capabilities. We've seen this technology in other systems, such as the Magellan Maestro 4250 and TomTom GO 930, but the Nuvi 880 is the most impressive with the breadth of its capabilities and accuracy. In all, you can use voice commands to perform 30 functions, including entering addresses, adjusting the system volume, activating the hands-free speaker system, playing/stopping the music player, viewing the trip computer, and accessing MSN Direct services.
To start planning a trip, whether by using your voice or the touch screen, you can enter a specific address, choose a POI, or select a location from the Recently Found or Favorites list. The Nuvi 880 can store up to 500 favorites/locations. In addition, it supports multidestination trips and you can add waypoints on the fly. You have your choice of three route preferences (faster time, shorter distance, or off-road) and three usage modes (automobile, bicycle, or pedestrian). You can avoid certain road types if you choose, such as toll roads and highways. There's also a detour function if you want to avoid a certain part of the given route and if you happen to get off track, the Nuvi 880 can do automatic route recalculations. If you don't need guidance, you can just have the Nuvi track your movements by tapping View Map.
The POI database contains all the major categories (gas stations, lodging, ATMs, restaurants by cuisine type, and so forth) and more specialized interests, including golf courses, gyms, and nightclubs. On top of the preloaded entries, you can add custom POIs, such as safety cameras and school zones. In addition, the Nuvi 880 ships with a three-month complimentary trial to MSN Direct services, which lets you get traffic updates and movie times by title or theater, and searches for nearby gas stations by fuel prices. You can also plan your trip from your PC via Windows Live Local and send it wirelessly to the Nuvi 880 as well as get the latest weather forecast for your area, news, stock prices, and local events. After the three months are up, you'll have to purchase a subscription plan, which starts at $49.95 for an annual plan or a one-time payment of $129.95. The MSN Direct receiver is built into the car charger, so you don't have to worry about purchasing an extra accessory.
Maps are available in 2D and 3D view with day and night colors, and you can change it so north is always at the top of your screen or the direction in which you are driving. A plus and minus icon on the map screen lets you zoom in and out, and there's a trip information page that displays your speed, direction, trip time, and so forth. In addition to the visual aids, you, of course, get voice-guided turn-by-turn directions with text-to-speech functionality. The Nuvi 880 also has a built-in FM transmitter so you can pipe the audio through your car's stereo for better volume.
Like the more recent Nuvi devices, the Garmin Nuvi 880 has the "Where am I?" feature, which gives you the coordinates of your location, the nearest address, and intersection. It will also list the closest hospitals, police stations, and gas stations to your position, giving you a bit of peace of mind if you're in unfamiliar territory and need access to any of these services, or if you need to give your location to a tow truck. You'll be able to call any of these services or other businesses or POI directly from the Nuvi 880 since it has integrated Bluetooth. We're happy to report that your phone's address book and call history will automatically synchronize with the GPS for easy data transfer.
Finally, the Garmin Nuvi 880 includes a host of other tools that can be useful outside the car. There's a Travel Kit like that included with other Nuvi models that consists of 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. It also comes loaded with a ton of games, including Solitaire, Sudoku, and Space Shooter.
We tested the Garmin Nuvi 880 in San Francisco, and from a cold start, it took the unit about two minutes to get a fix on our location under partly cloudy skies. Subsequent starts could take up to a minute, but more often than not, the system was able to acquire a fix within a few seconds. While running errands around the city, the Nuvi 880 did a good job of tracking our position. It did lose the lock as we drove through the Broadway Tunnel (a normal occurrence with GPS) but was able to re-establish a connection once we exited.
We planned several trips using the Nuvi 880: all originating from San Francisco's Marina district to Roseville, Calif., Sunnyvale, Calif., and CNET's downtown San Francisco headquarters. For the first trip out to Roseville (near Sacramento, Calif.), we entered the trip information using the standard touch-screen method and added several stops along the way. It may have been the extra destinations, but it took the Nuvi 880 a couple of minutes to calculate a route. Nothing horribly inconvenient, but just something we noticed. That said, we found the directions to be accurate and it got us to our destinations. The text-to-speech feature did a good job with street pronunciations, and the voice prompts were always loud and clear. We also missed several turns and exits, and the Nuvi 880 was able to get us back on track in a timely manner.
For the next two trips, we used the speech recognition capabilities and we were blown away at its accuracy. With the other systems, we had to ensure that we were in a quiet environment and even then, they were numerous errors. However, this wasn't the case with the Nuvi 880. We were able to launch the various applications and enter addresses with such ease. Even with the radio in the background, the system was able to understand and compute all our voice commands and more importantly, perform them accurately. There was no need to shout, and only once or twice did we have to repeat ourselves. It was truly impressive, and it's the first time we felt it's actually worth using the voice commands over the touch screen.
Last but not least, we were able to successfully pair the Nuvi 880 with the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8310. The setup process was easy. All our phone book information instantly transferred over to the Nuvi 880 and we had no problems making or receiving calls. The Nuvi 880 has a rated battery life of four hours. The battery is replaceable, so you can purchase an extra battery ($30) to keep as a backup.