Hands on with the T-Mobile Garminfone
The T-Moble Garminfone is Garmin’s first Android smartphone released in North America. Produced by the Garmin-Asus partnership, it includes many of the goodies you would find on a nuvi, including North American maps, junction view, lane assist, Where am I?, tracklogs and multi-destination routing.
As you can see from the start screen below, navigation dominates the interface. The sliding Application Tray in the lower portion of the screen can be customized to show your most frequently accessed apps.
Pull the Application Tray up to view all apps (see below).
This is a custom interface, but it’s well done. One of the few downsides is that you have to tap the widgets icon to see any widgets you have installed, but you do get five screens for them (sample screen below).
Of course the screen rotates automatically to portrait or landscape mode, thanks to the built-in accelerometer.
Navigating with the Garminfone
The Where To? option offers plenty of familiar choices. In addition to the ones shown below, you can also choose from Upcoming events, Panoramio, Gas prices, Cities, White pages, Coordinates, Intersections and Extras.
Voice search is available for Points of Interest and Google Local Search (see below). This appears to utilize Android’s built-in voice search capabilities and it is very accurate.
To store a favorite under Saved Locations, simply search for the address or point of interest, tap the balloon on the map, then tap Save.
The map screen will be very familiar to nuvi owners. Tap the top left field to hear the next turn called out; tap the top bar showing the next turn to see a route overview including a list of turns.
You can also see a traffic icon (tap for more info), speed limit (where available), current speed and arrival time. Tap either of the two data fields to view the trip computer screen and compass below.
Settings > Navigation will allow you to customize settings for Automobile, Pedestrian and Public Transportation. You can change voice settings here as well.
A lot of location features are buried in with the rest of the apps, but again, you can move the most frequently used ones to the Application Tray for quick access. These include the Gallery, Flight Status, Where Am, I?, Movie Times, Ciao, Traffic Search, Routes and Google Maps.
If you want to use more than one Via point when navigating to a destination, you’ll need to use the Routes feature, which allows you to optimize a list of destinations or manually re-order them.
One feature that I don’t believe I’ve seen on nuvis before is the ability to page through points of interest (POIs), using the arrow keys shown below.
Another item of possible interest to smartphone shoppers with a strong interest in navigation – the Garminfone supports and runs Google Maps Navigation. This gives you a built in fall back, should Garmin’s navigation fail you.
Real-time traffic coverage is provided by NAVTEQ, and I was pleased to see reports show up well outside of their purported coverage area. Because of this, I gather that NAVTEQ has (and can serve) data for these areas, but may not deliver them via FM if its outside their transmitter range. Regardless, I was thrilled to see this, and it could tip you towards buying the Garminfone if you live in a fringe reception area.
The stock browser loaded most sites quicker than my current favorite Android browser (Skyfire) on my Droid. It also seemed to redirect to mobile versions of tested websites more often than Skyfire. Pinch to zoom worked very well, although the browser did not seem to auto resize pages to fit text as well as other browsers I’ve tried. Here’s a screenshot showing GPS Tracklog.
Some hardware notes
The Garminfone comes with a car mount, car and AC chargers, stereo headset, and microSD card. The headset uses an adapter (included), connecting to the phone via the mini-USB port. The phone is lightweight, tipping my scales at 5.1 ounces. For comparison purposes, my Motorola Droid (seen at right, below) weighs 6.0 ounces. The 3.5” screen is slightly smaller than that of the 3.7” Droid.
Connecting the unit in your car is easy, since the charger plugs into the mount, and not directly to the Garminfone. The mount, shown below, is quite small and uses the universal Garmin mount attachment point to connect it to the included suction mount or to a friction mount.
The internal speaker seemed adequate during my testing. I wouldn’t call it loud necessarily, but I was able to hear directions even with music and air conditioning going.
Call quality was very good, clearer in fact than my Droid, which my wife has complained about on multiple occasions.
Here are a couple of quick pics I snapped with the 3MP camera. You can enable geotagging of photos, and I’ve posted full-size geotagged versions at Picasa.
Custom UI and Android 1.6
The biggest drawback to this phone is that it is stuck on Android version 1.6 with a custom user interface (UI). That custom UI means that it will be harder for Garmin–Asus to update the OS, and will likely take longer if they do.
Personally, the biggest thing I missed over my Droid was voice entry. Showing up in Android v 2.1, this allows you to enter text by voice in nearly any field. I use it extensively for composing emails and text messages, and sorely missed it on this device.
I also miss my home screen and would really prefer to see the navigation interface act more like an app, easily available from the OS, rather than as a layer on top of the OS. I only installed a few apps, but didn’t come across any that wouldn’t run on 1.6 in the process. Nevertheless, this is a significant concern.
- Best Android phone for navigation
- You can carry one device, giving you a nuvi-like navigator and a smartphone
- All the benefits of Android – seamless integration of Gmail, Google Contacts, etc., access to Android apps through Market
- Sleek and small
- Good user interface
- Offers live traffic in at least some fringe areas where there is no FM traffic reception
- Built-in screenshot app
- Powered mount
- Relatively small 3.5” screen
- Uses Android 1.6 (Android is now up to v 2.2)
- Custom UI may mean it is hard or slow to get updated to a new version of Android
- Does not warn when speeding
- Must pay for map updates (though it comes with Garmin’s nuMaps guarantee)
- No 3.5 MM headphone jack (must use included adapter)
Conclusion and recommendation
If you want one device, a smartphone with the best navigation app, this is the Droid you’ve been looking for. Despite being stuck on Android 1.6, it really is an excellent device.
Would I give up my Motorola Droid for it? I doubt it, if for no other reason than the limited T-Mobile coverage in my area. I absolutely LOVE the traffic coverage, since this is a significant problem where I live; this is the first device I’ve seen with decent coverage in my area. That alone could tip me towards it. In the end though, I don’t think I’d give up voice entry for email and texting, since I use that feature many times a day. So I guess my recommendation depends on how important integrated navigation or fringe traffic coverage are to you, versus things like voice entry for text fields and being assured of app compatibility. Only you can decide that.
Garmin has a very tough row to hoe here. I understand their reticence to get into the app game, but I would buy a Garmin-Asus phone a lot quicker if the navigation interface were set up like an app instead of a customized interface. Clearly they can create an excellent product with a great interface and, unlike many folks, I think they have potential to compete in this market. But they really need to find a way to run the latest version of Android or the market will leave them behind.
More T-Mobile Garminfone reviews
- Consumer-authored T-Moble Garminfone reviews are beginning to be posted on Amazon
- Gadling has posted a very positive Garminfone review
- Bonnie Cha of CNet gives a 3-1/2 out of 5 star rating in her T-Mobile Garminfone review
- MobileBurn scores the Garminfone 78 out 100
- A brief Garminfone review from PC Mag
- PhoneDog.com reviews the T-Mobile Garminfone
- An AP reporter reviews the Garminfone
- An extensive Garminfone gallery
- BikeRadar gives a 3-1/2 out of 5 star rating in their Garminfone review
- Phone Arena reviews the T-Mobile Garminfone
- PC World gives a 3.5 out of 5 starrating in their Garminfone review
- A Video review from DroidDog.com:
I’ll be posting more hands on reviews as they appear, but in the meantime, here are some…
Other T-Mobile Garminfone resources
- A PDF version of the Garminfone owner’s manual
- T-Mobile’s Garminfone support page
- Here’s one way to sync iTunes to your Garminfone
- The official Garmin-Asus Garminfone web page
- The official T-Mobile Garminfone page
Compare prices on the T-Mobile Garminfone at these merchants:
- Check the current T-Moble Garminfone price at Amazon