Garmin-Asus NuviPhone G60 Hands-On

Computex 2009: Should be available by September.

While speculation has been rife as to whether the Nuviphone would ever see the light of day, Garmin-Asus representatives here at Computex were adamant it would be available within the next few months and judging by the handsets they had on show, there’s no reason this date can’t be met, at least from a hardware/software point of view.

The device itself is very much more reminiscent of a sat-nav than a phone and as such it’s not the most elegant device. That said, it feels very well made and is still perfectly nice to hold. The screen is also particularly impressive despite not being particularly high resolution (480 x 272). As you can see from our photos, colours are bright, viewing angles are brilliant, and the anti-reflective coating blows away anything I’ve ever seen on a phone – Garmin’s expertise in creating easy to read sat-nav screens has obviously paid off here. Incidentally, the touch sensing is resistive just with a very hard plastic screen.

Most of the hardware specs have already been leaked but the one thing we did notice was a proper 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. This along with the MicroSD slot on the side and 4GB inbuilt memory means multimedia fans will be happy. That said, we didn’t get a chance to try its video playback capabilities.

The operating system is a custom Linux-based one and, though it is quite capable, it does look quite clunky compared to more developed system. Nevertheless, it’s quite functional and is perfectly designed for its GPS emphasised use. For instance, the home screen uses enormous icons that make it easy to drill down to the sat-nav functions for when you have the device mounted in a cradle and can only poke at it with one hand. The keyboard, like the rest of the interface, looks a bit clunky but was actually very easy to use, though the substantial lip round the edge made it more difficult than it should’ve been.

Like the OS, the web browser is a custom one but it seemed to work very well, coping well with complicated formatting and responding to scrolling and zooming commands quickly and intuitively.

The real killer feature of this phone, though, is just how good its sat-nav is. Even from the brief time we spent with the device it was quite clear it was streets ahead of any other smartphone based sat-nav solution. It wasn’t just the maps and navigation services themselves either. There are a host of location based services included that make it easy to search for a local restaurant, say, drilling down through food types and other criteria to quickly and easily find what you want and set the sat-nav showing you the way to go.

The real question here is whether in the intervening time other devices will come along that do sat-nav well enough that the other compromises on this handset (its looks, limited multimedia facilities, clunky interface) prove too much to take. The obvious candidate here being the new iPhone that is set to have proper turn by turn sat-nav. Time, as they say, will tell.

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