Introduction, Screen and Features
Another new sat nav, but the same old problem. Is there any point today in a dedicated navigation device? That’s the challenge for the Garmin nuvi 68LM.
After all, smartphones now come with turn-by-turn navigation as standard. What’s more, their screens are growing larger by the day and thus nearly cancelling out the most obvious advantage of dedicated sat navs, namely screen size. So the nuvi 68LM’s six-inch screen isn’t necessarily that much bigger than your smartphone.
Garmin’s response is twofold. First, do the basics really well – better than any smartphone – and for a reasonable price. Second, the 68LM throws compatibility with an add-on reversing camera into the mix. Is it enough? Let’s find out.
Build Quality and Screen
The Garmin nuvi 68LM’s six-inch screen is probably right in the sweet spot in terms of display size for use in passenger cars.
It’s big enough for excellent clarity and to allow for the big buttons on-screen and generous menus that are so important for in-car usability. In that regard, it has the edge even over the latest five- inch smartphones. Every little helps.
You can, of course, go even larger. But while even bigger can mean even clearer, beyond six inches you can run into problems in terms of obscuring your view ahead or finding a suitable mounting location on the car dash.
The 68LM also has a reasonably compact bezel, so it’s fairly compact for a six-inch sat nav. As for screen quality, it’s an 800 by 480-pixel panel, which is undramatic by smartphone standards but actually provides crisp image quality at the greater viewing distances typical with satnav use.
The panel isn’t going to win any awards for colour accuracy or viewing angles. But the powerful backlight ensures you can see it clearly in daytime use, which isn’t always true of smartphone screens, for instance. For the record, it will run in both landscape and portrait modes.
The suction mount for locating the device on your windscreen is another plus point. It’s very easy to set up and achieves and extremely sturdy attachment to the windscreen and an equally solid interface with the nav device itself. We have no fears about the device falling off, even on bumpy roads, and there’s absolutely no shaking or rattling.
First up, it’s worth being clear what the Garmin nuvi 68LM doesn’t have. It’s part of Garmin’s entry- level range and rocks in at £149.99.
That means it does have a data connect and it doesn’t support live services like HD traffic or online searching. You also can’t connect it to your phone to provide in-car hands-free.
Finally, it only has a small battery that delivers around an hour’s power. That allows the unit itself to be slimmer and keeps the price down, too. Given that the overwhelming usage model for a device like this is plugged into a car’s 12V supply, that’s absolutely fine. The battery is really only there to smooth over those moments when power might be cut temporarily.
While we’re talking power, the supplied 12V adapter is a bit of a problem. The socket end of it is huge. This is a common problem, but it’s certainly unnecessary and can make for a very unsightly installation depending on the location of your 12V sockets.
Luckily, the unit will accept a standard miniUSB connection, so if you have a USB socket or a compact 12V USB adapter, you’re good to go using those.
Elsewhere, there’s still plenty of interest for anyone looking for a really effective sat nav. Firstly, you get full European maps with four annual updates for life. There’s also a microSD slot to allow for memory upgrades if you’re bunging on a lot of maps.
Other highlights include a POI database provided by Foursquare, more natural searching for addresses and points of interest and what Garmin calls Real Directions, which involves spoken navigation cues that are supposed to be more human and thus easier to follow.
Next up is a speed camera database provided the Cyclops Speed Camera System and support for that Garmin reversing camera, the BC 30, yours for an additional £149.99. Finally, Garmin has revised its map interface with a new feature called Up Ahead that’s design to help you to get at the most commonly used features more easily and also make it easier to search for common destinations like petrol stations when en route.
There’s also an eco-driving app that allows you to set up car profiles and calculates both fuel costs and CO2 emissions. Be warned, you might not like what you see, but it could make for a handy motivator in terms of improving your eco driving.
Performance and Verdict
First up, let’s deal with Garmin’s revised interface. It looks largely familiar and as before it’s still not exactly beautiful. The 3D mode doesn’t have fancy 3D buildings or high-res textures.
But that’s fine because those beautifiers are ultimately gimmicks. They don’t help you get from A to B. What the new interface does have is a menu on the right called Up Ahead.
The shizzle here involves constantly keeping you up to date with the distance to the nearest points of interest. You can toggle various options on or off, but obvious choices include petrol stations, bank machines and parking locations.
It sounds obvious, but it’s seriously useful and beats the pants off trying to find petrol stations with Google maps, which is a much more complicated process. Of course, all the data for any searches in any of the sub menus is stored locally, so patchy data connectivity is a non issue.
On that subject, the lack of data connectivity might have you wondering how features like the Foursquare-powered POI database and the speed camera database work. It’s actually pretty simple. They’re stored locally and it’s up to you to occasionally plug the thing into a PC or Mac to update the databases.
When you think about it, updating in this manner is enough to ensure the vast majority of relevant info is up to date while not being a major chore. And like we said, it means you never have to worry about having a data connection. Given that the reality of data networks when driving is pretty terrible reliability, local storage makes an awful lot of sense.
The downside to no data is of course a lack of traffic information. We’ve mixed feelings about this. Traffic data even now isn’t hugely accurately. But just occasionally having access can save you getting stuck in a really hideous jam.
As for the core tasks of mapping and actual navigation, it’s familiar Garmin fare, which means it’s about as good as it gets in terms of accuracy even if you can’t assume it’ll be as smart as you are locally. As yet there’s still nothing to quite match local knowledge and human guile.
Are TomTom’s route calculations a little better? Perhaps occasionally. But most of the time, there’s very little in it. As for route calculation speeds, this cheapish device is a little leisurely, but still perfectly acceptable.
We’ve covered the screen quality earlier, but it’s worth noting that the touch input is resistive rather than capacitive, which means it’s neither terribly responsive nor terribly accurate. That can be a problem when trying to swipe around a map. But inputting addresses on the generous virtual keyboard is actually very effective so long as you are firm with your key presses.
Oh and as for those more natural spoken navigation cues, well, they’re just fine, but we wouldn’t describe them as dramatically different to what we’ve become accustomed to from Garmin.
Finally, we weren’t able to test the BC 30 camera. It requires quite a bit of installation including a bit of bumper drilling for mounting. It’s a bit of an odd one as if you are really worried about minor parking dings, you probably don’t want to have someone set about your car with a drill to fit a fairly large and unsightly camera.
As a pure nav device, there’s loads to like. The screen is clear and the interface is excellent. The new Up Ahead feature makes it uber easy to take detours to locations like petrol stations without the need to dig down into submenus or lose your route. Likewise, having the Foursquare POI and the camera databases stored locally arguably makes more sense than using a data connection. We also like the sturdy mounting for the device.
Not all that much. The 12V power adapter is huge and clumsy and ugly, which is a pity. However, the biggie is the lack of traffic data. It’s a major omission, even if it’s probably inevitable in this class of device. As for the reversing camera, the invasive installation means it’s not hugely appealing.
As a pure sat nav device, the Garmin nuvi 68LM is pretty lovely. The interface is really nicely thought out, the mapping is uber clear and the local data storage works really well. The snag is that missing traffic data. As well executed and the 68LM is, for some that will be a deal breaker, plain and simple.