Whilst a selection of competitors have embraced the growing interest in smartphones, Garmin has been conspicuous by its absence. But with the increase in people foregoing a standalone device in favour of a smartphone app, including the likes of TomTom for iPhone, this was clearly a market sat-nav companies had to be in. So Garmin, with a little help from its purchase of Navigon in mid 2011, has succumbed and launched its own smartphone software, available in UK and Ireland or Western European flavours.
We looked at the Western European version, which costs £69.99, making it a better deal than the £49.99 you will need to fork out for the UK and Ireland iteration. However, although you can buy the software on its own, the Western European app is also available as a bundle with a sturdy screen mount for £89.99. This is only compatible with iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S models, however, and will not support the newly release iPhone 5. Despite this, the app itself will run on any device with iOS 4.3 and above, including including iPhone 3GS onwards and more recent iPod touch models including the new 2012 iPad touch. The phone is secured firmly in the mount, with a power adapter included for a car cigarette-lighter socket. The power adapter must be connected separately, however; it's not integrated into the mount.
The menu starts off on familiar territory for Garmin sat-navs, with two large icons to take you to the destination entry system or to the map, and an array of smaller icons for secondary functions. However, the overall look and feel is a bit different to Garmin's standalone sat-navs. You can enter a destination by looking up a house number and street keyword, or use a full UK postcode, or drill down from city to street in traditional fashion.
There is also a traditional category-based points of interest (POI) system, although you can search across this by keyword. We also found that in the Western European version, the database search is across all included countries, so you can potentially find destinations across the border when you are on holiday in continental Europe. The POI database is well stocked, but if you can't find what you are looking for, Google Local Search is also available, although of course this will require a 3G or Wi-Fi connection. You can also navigate to road intersections, city centres, iPhone contacts, GPS coordinates, and Exit Services along your current route. This calls up a list of useful POIs that are close to your route, if you want a quick stop for food or petrol. There's a multi-waypoint trip planner as well.
When you have found your destination, an icon on the top right lets you look up a six-day weather forecast for the location, with information supplied by My-Cast. You can also share whether you are coming to, currently at, or leaving a location via Facebook or text, with the latter being potentially more useful than the scatter-gun social media provisions of many competitors. Twitter support is noticeable by its absence, though. You can also add a found location to your favourites with a single click, and search for POIs near this location.