- Frequently updated database
- Built-in mobile data connection
- Year's free subscription
- Not all features work abroad
- Subscription costs
- Review Price: £286.96
- 4.3in widescreen
- Full-screen graphics
- Safety camera warnings
- Live currency converter
- Flight information
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.
The Weather Forecast facility again mirrors a similar feature in TomTom LIVE, except that Garmin’s version lets you check weather in cities worldwide. So whilst the UK model of the 1690 only contains European maps, you can see what the climate’s like in Tokyo if you want to – and get a detailed 6-day forecast as well.
Aside from the aforementioned Phonebook, Garmin diverges from TomTom by providing a live currency convertor. A basic convertor was already available as a tool with a number of Garmin sat-navs, but previously you had to enter the exchange rate information yourself. Now NuLink! downloads it for you, making a quick check very rapid indeed.
Perhaps the most unique NuLink! facility is Flight Information. This lists the airports near your current location, allowing you to search for a flight number to check whether it’s on time and which terminal it will be using. This is a great facility for taxi drivers or anyone who regularly picks up friends from the airport.
Not every NuLink! feature is confined to the sat-nav itself. You can also install a plug-in for your Web browser which will allow you to send address information to your nuvi 1690. This was already possible with earlier Garmins, but only worked when they were attached to the host computer via USB. Now you can send the information wirelessly as well. When the device is on and has a mobile data link, the location will magically appear in the Favourites section ready for use as a destination.
Less useful will be the Ciao! Friend Finder. Once you have registered your sat-nav with myGarmin, this lets you link up with your mates to see where they are currently located. Except, of course, this system only works with other Garmin devices sporting NuLink!. So unless you can convince all your friends to buy nuvi 1690s it may not be so useful, although it could come in handy for a team of travelling salespeople.
Aside from offering more features, Garmin has found another way of competing with TomTom’s LIVE. Where the latter’s devices now come with just a single month of service for free, Garmin’s nuvi 1690 ships with a whole year of connectivity, and after that it’s £69.99 per annum, which is £10 cheaper than TomTom LIVE. This makes NuLink! considerably less expensive. Like the most recent update to TomTom LIVE, services are available in other parts of Europe too. In Garmin’s case, this includes 15 European countries, although not every feature will work in every country.
Other than the NuLink! features, the nuvi 1690 is very similar in operation to other premium Garmin sat-navs. It has a 4.3in widescreen, and the map view is identical. You get the usual safety camera warnings, and full-screen graphics to help you get in the right lane at complex multi-carriageway junctions. The pedestrian mode is also compatible with cityXplorer maps, so you can load these to plan walking routes which also suggest public transport links to shorten your journey.
We’ve waited a long time for another manufacturer to put up some competition for TomTom’s LIVE, and finally Garmin has met the challenge and even upped the ante somewhat. It’s a shame that the traffic provision is not as powerful as TomTom’s HD Traffic, but otherwise the nuvi 1690 meets every TomTom LIVE feature with aplomb, and adds a few very useful extras on the top. Garmin also undercuts TomTom considerably on price. The subscription costs are still not exactly cheap, but you won’t have to pay them for a year. So if you can make do with Trafficmaster-based traffic, the Garmin nuvi 1690 is better value. Over to you, TomTom.
Score in detail
|Screen Size (inches) (Inch)||4.30 in, 4.3 in|
|General Features||Voice Prompt, Bluetooth Handsfree, Lane Assist, Text-To-Speech|
|Battery life (Hour)||4 Hour Maximumhr, 3 hour(s)hr|
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