Just over a year ago, TomTom radically changed the nature of the personal navigation device. Previously, it had been an essentially passive system, receiving location signals from satellites and providing routing information accordingly. Then TomTom introduced its LIVE Services with the x40 series, which hooked up to a mobile data link to provide a range of connected facilities. It has taken a long time for other manufacturers to answer TomTom, but now one of the oldest brands in the sat-nav business is meeting the challenge, and potentially raising the bar still further. With the nuvi 1690, Garmin is introducing its NuLink!, which mirrors TomTom’s LIVE and adds quite a bit more.
Like TomTom’s LIVE sat-navs, the 1690 has a mobile data connection built in. So it can download and receive information from the Internet. Garmin uses this to provide a comprehensive range of services. For a start, instead of using the traditional FM radio receiver to receive RDS-TMC traffic updates, the 1690 uses its data link. Garmin calls this Hot Traffic, as information is updated much more frequently. However, in the UK the supplier remains Trafficmaster, so the actual information isn’t quite as detailed as TomTom’s HD Traffic, although the similar service now provided by NAVTEQ is used in some European countries.
We found Hot Traffic was more proactive than previous RDS-TMC-based Garmin sat-nav traffic implementations, and was more able to send us away from jams on major roads. So it is a step forward from standard RDS-TMC, just not quite as far as TomTom’s HD Traffic. Garmin also keeps its safety camera database up to date over the mobile data link, with frequent updates. So you will be less likely to get caught out by an impromptu mobile speed check.
NuLink! also provides Google Local Search, which is part of TomTom LIVE as well. This augments the Points of Interest (POI) database stored locally on the device. It’s a pretty comprehensive service, and in the past we’ve been able to track down numerous destinations which are not usually part of most POI category systems, such as dog rescue homes and minor urban art galleries. Garmin provides its Google Local Search as a separate menu option, but also integrates it as a second tab in its POI Search Name interface. So if your POI search draws a blank, you can simply switch to the Google tab without having to re-type your search string.
Google Local Search results often include phone numbers. However, Garmin also provides a standalone Phonebook, which lets you search for personal telephone numbers by last and first name, then narrow your search down by postcode or nearest city. We didn’t find this discovered every phone number we tried, but it was effective enough to be potentially useful.
Another feature in common with TomTom LIVE is the Fuel Prices system. Although this still lists petrol stations in order of distance, beside each entry is the cost per litre for the fuel type of your choosing. The cheapest options are marked in green, with the remainder highlighted in red. Best of all, Garmin also lists how old the price information is in days, so if you know there was a recent national hike, you won’t end up going to a station listing its pre-increase data.