September 28, 2009, 12:03 PM — Competition in the connected GPS market is starting to heat up. Earlier this year, TomTom introduced its $370 Go 740 Live GPS device, staking a claim to the market for navigation devices with a built-in cellular radio (for real-time services such as traffic, weather, and Google Live Search). Now, Garmin counters with its $500 Nuvi 1690.
I tested a late preproduction unit of the 1690, so the final shipping product will undoubtedly include some code changes. Though I saw room for improvement, I came away impressed overall.
The Nuvi 1690 shares many of the features found on the recently reviewed Nuvi 1370T, including a 4.3-inch screen, text-to-speech conversion (which enables the device to announce street names), Bluetooth phone connectivity, and lane assist with junction view (so you can see simulated highway signs).The 1690 is slightly thicker and about half an ounce heavier than the 1370T, however; and unlike the 1370T, it includes multisegment routing with route optimization.
Navigating with the 1690 mirrored the experience I've had with other Nuvi GPS devices. The 1690 generated good routes with no surprises, and its text-to-speech feature worked as expected. Lane assist with junction view provided a clear visual for my interstate highway exit tests. The Bluetooth phone interface paired easily with my LG LX9900 phone and worked well as a speakerphone. I was disappointed that the Bluetooth interface--like the ones in other devices in Garmin's Nuvi 200 and Nuvi 1000 product series, but unlike the ones in the company's Nuvi 700 and Nuvi 800 series--couldn't read the contacts and call history from my phone. I had expected the better Bluetooth interface on the premium-priced 1690.
The menu structure on the 1690 is essentially the same as that on other Nuvis, though on the 1690 various connected NuLink services are sprinkled throughout the menus. Most of these services are, for the most part, logically located in the appropriate menus. For example, the connected services in the tools menu are Flight Status, Weather, Ciao, and Currency. Under flight status, you can check flight numbers and search arrivals or departures. Checking weather gives you the current day's forecast for your current location along with a five-day forecast. The device also provides current conditions for New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles; but you can't specify other locations. Ciao aggregates multiple location-centric social networks such as GyPSii and Buddy Beacon. Finally, the currency exchange function updates exchange rates daily, so you'll always have the latest information.