December 12, 2006 / by Don Jones / Gadgets, General / No Comments

Garmin nvui 660

Wait… what has this got to do with scripting? Nothing. But we’re geeks just like you (possibly even worse), and we like nothing more than a good gadget. So when we run across a notable one, we’ll share.

I had the opportunity to play with a Garmin nuvi 660 portable GPS – and I gotta say, I’m in love. I think Garmin gets just about every detail right, here. For one, the unit is tiny – a bit smaller than a paperback book – so it’s easy to carry around, like onto an airplane in your carry-on luggage. The windshield suction-cup mount is equally small, as is the power adapter. The nuvi runs fine on batteries for several hours – I clocked about 6 hours running unplugged – but the power adapter plus into a cigarrette lighter and then into the mounting base; the nuvi picks up its power from there. The adapter also includes an FM transmitter and a traffic data receiver.

The FM transmitter was a disappointment: I couldn’t reliably get a decent-sounding signal out of it into the car radio. The traffic data feature, however, kicked butt: On the way to Sacramento airport from SAPIEN World HQ in Napa, there was a bad pile-up on I-80. The nuvi detected it a mile out (CA apparantly sends signals when the CHP responds) and offered to route me around the delays. VERY cool.

The on-screen GUI is very simple and easy to use, even when… er… stopped in traffic, but not actually moving. Heh. It can also play MP3s; when it needs to give you spoken directions, it pauses the MP3 you’re playing. It accepts an SD card, so you can jack in quite a lot of music to take with you. The spoken guidance is language- and accent-selectable: I found a sexy Australian voice that I quite liked, although you can also choose from American English, British English, and more than a dozen other languages, most with male and female variants. Because nuvi uses a text-to-speech feature, it not only tells you where to turn, but also reads off the actual street or landmark name, which is very useful.

Nuvi also incorporates a Bluetooth hands-free phone option. You can select a point of interest (from its extensive, categorized, and searchable database) and call the POI using the built-in phone number directory. Or, dial using a keypad. Nuvi will also ring when your phone rings, and you’re given a great, big on-screen button to press to answer the call. The voice quality was pretty solid in a rented Lincoln, which was pretty quiet. MP3s pause while you’re on the phone, if you’re playing music. The Bluetooth range is excellent – my Cingular 8125 was in the trunk of the aforementioned Lincoln and nuvi had no problem communicating.

Routing was pretty flawless. I had one hiccup getting to SAPIEN World HQ, but I think I selected the wrong road – be careful when there’s a “North” and “South” variant of the road you want, for example. All in all, I quite liked the unit. Hmmm… wonder if anyone has ’em on sale for Christmas this year?

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