As I drive the streets of San Francisco, a crisp, translucent graphic hangs in my view, showing a map with my GPS location. The car's speed shows in the upper right of the image, and if someone were to call me, a notification would pop up and I could accept or dismiss the call with a wave of my hand.
This is the Navdy, a head-up display (HUD) that incorporates its own navigation system and integrates with my phone.
Most importantly, it shows the crispest, most high-resolution graphics I've ever seen in a head-up display, even better than in high-end BMWs. I find the display easily visible at night or in bright sunlight, whether or not I'm wearing sunglasses.
HUDs project important information into the windshield space, hopefully without obscuring the view, so that drivers don't need to look down at a dashboard-mounted LCD. This technology has recently spread from the luxury segment to more attainable cars, appearing in low-priced models such as the Mazda CX-3.
Typically, a HUD shows vehicle speed and turn-by-turn directions for navigation. With the Navdy, the HUD is the system's only display, so it also shows a menu with icons for communications and music control, along with navigation, vehicle speed and fuel level.
The Navdy system consists of the projection unit, which has its own transparent display shield, a dashboard mount, a steering wheel-mounted control wheel and an OBDII plug that powers the unit and feeds it vehicle data. This plug-and-play system shouldn't be difficult to set up, but Navdy has partnered with the Enjoy service for installations. With Enjoy, a representative will come to your car, set up the Navdy and explain how it works.
Testing it out in an Audi A4, I have the Navdy setup on the dashboard and the scroll wheel strapped to the steering wheel. My iPhone is also running the Navdy app (an Android app is also available), and everything is connected through Bluetooth. Before even getting into the car, I open the app and set my destination, which is a convenience as most car navigation systems still don't easily transfer destinations from phones. The Navdy takes a reasonably fast 35 seconds to boot up, connect to my phone and fire up its navigation when I get in the car.
While I appreciate the clarity of the HUD, I don't like the position of the projection unit, as its place on top of the dashboard makes it hard to ignore. Built-in HUDs I've used in cars embed in the dashboard, while the Navdy unit sits on top of a curved cowl in the Audi A4. I think this intrusive positioning would be a common problem in sedans, compacts and especially sports cars -- this would really work better in an SUV or minivan.
With the wireless control wheel, I scroll through menus that let me choose preset destinations such as saved favorites and recent contacts. To minimize distraction, the Navdy doesn't let me view all my phone's contacts or select music from my phone. It does, however, allow Siri and Google Assistant access.
Siri is a bit limited here though. For example, when I ask it for navigation, it launches Apple Maps on the phone and can't send the destination to Navdy. But I can use Siri to select music from my phone, and connect to the car stereo through Bluetooth. I find Siri a little buggy when using it this way, as it gets stuck and becomes unavailable. That issue may have more to do with Apple than Navdy.
I like the translucent maps that the Navdy hangs in front of me, but these don't show lane guidance, just a simple turn indication. I find myself wishing it included a simpler turn-by-turn graphic as an alternative to the full map display, which might make it more clear what I need to do at each turn.
The Navdy tries to avoid bad traffic in its navigation, but I'm not impressed with its route planning. On a trip from downtown San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin, for example, it tried to send me up Powell Street. If you drive in San Francisco, you know that cable cars and congestion make this an extremely bad idea.
Likewise, when I skip a turn it recommends, its recalculation frequently tries to get me back on its original route, even directing me to turn in the opposite direction that I need to go. Most new navigation systems I test go with my flow, accepting when I've chosen a specific street without nagging me to turn off it.
Navdy's hybrid navigation system takes advantage of cloud-based Google Maps in its app, and a set of maps stored on the unit itself. I drive into an area without any phone service and it continues to guide me. In this same offline area, I'm not able to search for a destination from my phone, but I can still choose a favorite destination or find a nearby gas station from Navdy's offline database.
Beyond navigation, when I get a text message, the Navdy gives me a split view with the map on the left and a notification of the sender on the right. Just by waving my hand in front of it, I accept or dismiss the message. Accepting lets the Navdy read the message out loud, and even display it if I set that option in the app. This function works smoothly and seamlessly, and if I accidentally dismiss a message, a wave in the opposite direction lets me bring it back.
Finally, when I want to see my car's performance, I call up the Dash option from the menus, which displays a virtual tachometer and digital vehicle speed. That capability comes from the Navdy's OBDII plug-in, something not included in many aftermarket products.
I found a few functional limitations while using the Navdy, such as its inability to search for a destination through voice command, and I wasn't crazy about its route planning. But in general its navigation, communications and music interface proved very easy to use. The system is very responsive to inputs, as well.
The Navdy's biggest issue is its intrusiveness on the dashboard, which depends on the type of car in which it is installed. It should work best in cars with tall windshields and a good amount of dashboard space.
Navdy is available from the company's Web site for $599 or £599 on Amazon.