- Review Price: £286.83
Our primary way of telling each other what to do is the spoken word. But attempts to bring the same facility to digital devices have been rather less successful. That hasn’t stopped manufacturers from trying. The potential of verbal control for sat-nav devices is particularly clear, and so we have the Garmin nüvi 860, the main selling point of which is its voice-activated navigation.
Garmin isn’t the only sat-nav company to offer verbal control. Both TomTom and Navigon also include the capability with some of their devices. But the 860 has a unique implementation, revolving around a simple but clever innovation. This is a remote control specifically designed to be strapped to a convenient position on your steering wheel. This remote only has two buttons. The most prominent one enables the voice-activated navigation system, whilst a much smaller one turns this off again.
Previous voice recognition implementations we have come across expect you to touch the screen at some point. With the GO x40 LIVE series, TomTom has confined this to a single tap to get the ball rolling. But it will still be a distraction from driving, an action which you really shouldn’t perform unless your vehicle is completely stationary. Garmin’s remote removes this final interactive necessity. However, we found it not so easy to attach to a thick-rimmed steering wheel.
The voice command system itself is very intuitive, and just about the best we’ve seen. Instead of having to remember the right phrases to use for various functions, you can simply say virtually any of the commands you currently see onscreen – such as ‘Where to?’ and ‘View map’. You can even access settings, and call up the Bluetooth options by voice alone. We still wouldn’t say the recognition was faultless, but it’s much more reliable than the system TomTom introduced with the GO x40 LIVE series. Nevertheless, your attention will be drawn to the screen, and yet again we would recommend caution using the 860’s verbal commands when your car is in motion.
Although the voice recognition is the main feature of the 860, it is a premium device and has numerous other extra facilities. The maps cover the entirety of Western Europe in detail, plus major roads in some nearby countries in Eastern Europe. The microphone and speaker can be hooked up to your mobile phone via Bluetooth for use as a hands-free kit. There is also allegedly an FM transmitter built in, for piping sounds to your car stereo, but we couldn’t work out how to set this up.
The 860 also has RDS-TMC traffic updates built in, with a receiver aerial intended to be routed round your windscreen. This hooks up to the mount, as does the power connection. So all you need to do to get going is to slip the device into its cradle – it even powers on automatically. There is still a USB 2.0 connection on the 860, so you don’t need a special cable when you want to download updates using a desktop computer, although you will need to download the necessary app from Garmin’s website, as it’s not included in the box.
Traffic updates pop up with a message asking if you want to recalculate your route to avoid nearby jams. This isn’t as effective as TomTom’s HD Traffic, but at least it makes acting on the information provided easier than some traffic implementations we’ve come across. The safety camera warnings are also the right balance between subtle and intrusive, with a clear indication of how fast you should be going and whether you are currently exceeding the limit.
The usual premium extras are included as well. There’s a media player, which supports MP3s and audio books. In fact, the Tools menu is replete with applets, some potentially useful, others less so. The Where Am I? function tells you your current location and lets you find Hospitals, Police Stations and Petrol Stations nearby – as well as the AA phone number. There’s a Picture Viewer which can play a slideshow, a calculator, plus currency and unit converters. The World Clock can show five different time zones and there’s even an alarm clock.
A sampler of the Garmin Language Guide is included for bilingual travel translation. The most bizarre extra is the library of nine games – just in case you fancy a quick bit of Sudoku whilst driving. This might just be useful if you find yourself stuck in the car for an extended period but otherwise it feels like a feature Garmin included merely because it could.
However, the features found in the very latest Garmin sat-navs haven’t made their way into the 860. It doesn’t have the lane guidance graphics or 3D landmark models found in the 765T. The lane guidance would be a handy addition. But the 3D models won’t be missed that much, as they’re still more of a novelty than a useful navigational tool in every device we’ve seen them in so far.
The 860 of course does come with the usual uncluttered Garmin interface. Some might find this a little bare, but the main information is available, and the map colours and layout are very clear indeed. The readily accessible trip meter is a particular highlight, providing statistics which could well be very handy if you need to keep track of your journey for company expenses or billing a client. You can set the Garmin to calculate routes for bicycles and pedestrians as well as cars, but not trucks. The routing can consider off road options, too, rather than calculating the fastest time or shortest distance.
After the excitement of TomTom LIVE, other sat-navs just don’t get the blood racing so much anymore. But that would be a little unfair on the Garmin nüvi 860, which is an extremely competent device. If you don’t drive enough to make the monthly subscription for TomTom LIVE worthwhile and want a device covering Europe, the 860 is worth considering. There are cheaper alternatives but its voice-activated navigation is the best implementation we’ve seen and if you would find that useful it could be worth paying the extra for.
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