You could be forgiven for thinking that smartphones had made the average handheld sat nav extinct, but companies like Garmin don't seem to agree. Jon Reay tries the latest of its products to see if they can still compete.
What is it?
Garmin's poshest sat nav available – the Nuvi 3598 LMT-D, priced at a whopping £299. Brand new for 2013, it's a svelte looking thing, and has already been handed a RedDot design award for its pretty exterior.
>What's in the box?
Nothing out of the ordinary – the sat nav itself, an easy-to-use windscreen mount and a slightly ungainly power cable that plugs into your car's cigarette lighter and also functions as a traffic information receiver.
What are its features?
This is Garmin's top-of-the-range unit, so compared to the average sat nav, this Nuvi's list of tricks is nothing short of lavish. There's European mapping spanning an impressive 45 countries, voice activated navigation, 'real' directions that read town and street names aloud, and a clever lane guidance system that uses real photos to help you leave at the right motorway exit. Bluetooth is built-in too, meaning that the Nuvi can not only act as a hands free kit, but also use your phone's internet connection for 'live' services. Some are more useful than others – we reckon only Michael Fish would be interested in the £3.99 'advanced weather' service, for example – but things like the 'Dynamic Parking' add-on are quite justifiable if it means finding a space on a Saturday. Our favourite is the in-built location search function, which managed to find nearly all of the places we asked – including the AOL Cars office, the position of which continues to baffle car delivery drivers to this day.
Until TomTom's £300+ 'Go 6000' makes an appearance in August, the nearest you'll find is their 'Go Live 1005'. We haven't had the chance to play with one, and while it's arguably not as pretty as the Garmin, it does have a few party tricks up its sleeve – an in-built internet connection with three years of free traffic updates from TomTom themselves. Aside from that, the biggest rival is probably the Apple and Android smartphones already used by the Garmin's target audience – most of which have either inbuilt navigation apps or the option to download countless different ones.
What's it like to use?
Rather nice. The 5-inch touch screen is bright and clear, while the interface is attractively designed. Voice directions are clear too, helpfully describing that you stay in 'any of the two right lanes' rather than the simple 'keep right' instructions barked by most sat navs. Traffic seems to work reasonably well too. We only sampled the free 'digital' service on a trip from Portsmouth to north London and, although it couldn't quite save us from the Friday night M25 traffic, it did a great job of estimating exactly when we'd arrive and in fairness probably helped shave a few minutes off. What we did miss from our usual TomToms was the promptness of directions. The Nuvi had no trouble warning us of which motorway exit sliproad to take, but it's a little slow to prepare for the inevitable roundabout at the end of them – leaving you to pick a lane and hope for the best until it decides where to point you. Still, it's a minor blip on what is overall a well thought-out system, so we'll forgive it that one.
The AOL Cars Verdict
In a world of smartphones with onboard GPS and a sea of available navigation apps, it can almost seem hard to justify forking out nearly £300 on a stand-alone system. However, there's a lot to be said for not relying on a constant 3G connection for maps – battery life for starters – and when products like the Nuvi are so consistently good, it's certainly worth thinking about the investment.
Model: Garmin nüvi 3598LMT-D
Type: Sat Nav
Price: £299 (RRP)
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