Nov 15, 2010

Garmin nüLink! 1695 - Umlauts exclaim!

It's lickably beautiful and oh so shiny!
After selling my Garmin nüvi 750 last year, I went GPS-less for a few months. But I soon found myself directionally crippled. So I bought a fancy new TomTom GO 740 Live. It did not go well, I returned it, and found myself navigation-challenged once again. It was a dark time. Seriously. I got lost a lot and often ended up in a different municipality altogether. You have not know fear until you find yourself in some unincorporated (or "hick") part of King County. People look at you and you can see it in their eyes; their beady little eyes. You know what? Fine. So, I don't know the sales tax rate here. So what? Maybe your tax rates are just as weird to me, okay? Did you ever think about that? Did you ever ONCE think about that? Just back off Farmer Joe. Don't make me go all urban on you.....that's right. Go back to your un-chlorinated well water and your non-planned communities. Jerks.

Where was I? Oh yeah, so I had no GPS. It was during that time I came to see that having a GPS was like having a microwave. It seemed ridiculously superfluous and generally unneeded at first. So what if it took 20 minutes to heat up a hot dog in boiling water on the stove? Your Mom could just do it during Knight Rider and, by the time she was done, Dynasty was on. Then you could eat your hot dog and still get to play Atari before bedtime. It was a perfect system. At least it was, until Mom got a taste of a little something called the "Super High Frequency radio wave polarized molecule exciter" (these were later renamed "microwave ovens"). Now it took 40 seconds to turn a hot dog into a freakishly hot dog. In fact, even though you were only 11, you could make your hot dog. Basicilly, the entire "Mom makes me dinner" paradigm disappeared. But it was good. Turns out David Hasselhoff was "hot" (who knew?) and your Mom "didn't mind" watching with you. The universe stayed in balance and we all were better people. The microwave had become like a member of the family.

And it looked like the GPS had gone the same way. Like the eating of human flesh, once you get a taste you never want to go back (or so movies have told me). And here I was. Suffering through every day with no GPS. So I decided to get one. After I did a lot of research found the most expensive one I could afford, I decided to get the Garmin nüLink! 1695. It retails for about $500, but I was able to get it for much less....just look around.

Unlike my previous experience with the TomTom, this unit has far more WIN's than FAIL's. Though there are a few things I really don't like. Lets hit the WIN's first:

WINS
(NOTE: Most of these features are part of Garmin's nüLink Service. Free for the first year; about $60 a year after that)
  • Heuristic traffic prediction.
    Not so great at first, but gets better as it learns your commute patterns. It also anonymously gets traffic indicators from other nüLink units (of any) nearby. I found the nüLink gave the most accurate traffic info of any unit I had owned in the past.
  • Very responsive touchscreen interface with excellent predictive text.
    Since the GPS (obviously) knows where you are, it assumes you need directions to Springfield (your current State) and not Springfield (about 30 other States). The TomTom would put every matching city in the country on one long list, in alphabetical order. And guess what? My state starts with a "W".
  • Wireless transfers from Google maps using the "Send to GPS" function.
    Only destinations are sent; not route information.
  • Google search integration.Search for, say, a nearby hotel and get reviews, etc.
  • Gas prices that are updated daily.Better than my old TomTom that would often show prices a week old, or older.
  • Garmin's opt-in location tracking function (called Ciao!).
    Works from your account page on myGarmin or from other nüLink devices.
  • Shows accurate elevation augmented by the terrain database.
  • When connected to the car charger, it turns on and off with your vehicle.
    Seems like a little thing...didn't know how great it was until the TomTom didn't have it.
  • No more than two clicks to cancel the route.
    As opposed to the TomTom which required five?!
  • Uses the exclusive "Garmin Lock" for security.
    It can be secured with a PIN (as most GPS's can). But it also lets you define a "security location" where the GPS will unlock automagically.
  • One of the best OEM suction-cup mounts on the market. Very easy to place and remove.
    The TomTom my wife uses has this goofy twist-and-lock thing that pretty much requires two people to set up.
  • So-called "Premium Weather" which adds recent Doppler radar animations(not included in a nüLink subscription)
  • Safety (aka "red light") camera alerts that are sort of accurate
    (also costs extra)
And though they are few, here are the downsides:

FAILS
Here you see the ads, the travel history, and the dummy traffic icon
  • After it's enabled, you can view all travel history represented by a thin cyan line.
    Think of it as having a leaking can of paint hanging from your rear bumper. Sounds neat, except this one very im
    portant note: though it's not enabled by default, the GPS is still recording all your travel history. The history must be manually cleared. And even then, I wonder....
  • Some major map inaccuracies.
    There was a major rework on a freeway interchange over three years ago. The Garmin doesn't know about it and some of the street names near there are completely wrong.
  • Ad Supported?
    I know for sure that the first year of the nüLink is free, but after that it's something like $60 a year. Or not. I have also been told it is free as long as you don't mind seeing ads on the GPS screen. But then again, I am still well within my first year and I am seeing ads anyway. They only come up when I am stopped, and they are small. I have contacted Garmin to get an authoritative on this. I will update if/when I get an answer.
    • UPDATE (11-18-2010): After posing this question to Garmin support, I received a standard response from Garmin Tier I support:
      •  "Those pop up ads come from the traffic receiver, not the nulink services. If you do not want the pop up ads, then you must operate the device without the receiver. However, you will also not receive traffic updates. If you wish to disable the pop up ads permanently, then you will have to purchase a new traffic receiver for your device."
    • I found that answer odd, since there was no external "traffic receiver" for the 1695. And it also seemed that if one should disable the "position reporting" function they would lose more than just the ads; they would also lose several other nüLink features tied to position reporting. After inquiring further, I got a response from a a higher level support "specialist" (emphasis mine):
      • "...I apologize for the previous message. You are correct, there is no separate traffic receiver on the Nuvi 1695. So you can't turn off traffic without disabling the other features that require position reporting like you say. The adds [sic] don't really support all the nuLink services, but the adds [sic] are what allows us to offer traffic without having to have a separate traffic subscription. Basically, I don't think that we can get to where you would like to be - add-free [sic] but maintaining all the available features except traffic. You can still use Google, weather, and the internet based services except for Ciao with the position reporting turned off. Please let us know if you need additional information."
    • So that's pretty definitive. To use the nüLink service you will see ads and pay a yearly subscription fee. Personally, I am willing to do that since the service is so great. But I do wonder why this was not disclosed to customers. Seems like buyers should know that they will be forced to see advertising if they use this GPS. Since it costs well over $400 and there is a subscription fee, it's seem like it's pretty important thing to mention; at least in some fine print somewhere. When I posed this additional question to Garmin, here what their response (again, emphasis mine):  
      • "...In researching the nuLink services, you are correct, I find no mention of the this being an ad-based service. I am looking further into this matter for you. I have checked with a senior product support specialist as well for more information. I did find information on the ads, in the traffic portion of the owner's manual for the 1695 [which a customer would not see until after they had made their purchase], I'm including a link to this below. [link to owners manual here] I can tell you, the service is ad-based to subsidize the subscription fee, initially, because these services are free to the consumer for one year. I am forwarding your question, for my knowledge as well, to our Subject Matter Experts department, for an answer as to why this information is not clearly disclosed to the consumer. I wish I could provide a clear answer to your question. I will certainly get back to you when I receive more information."
    • I received no further responses after this one. It will be interesting to see if this plays out any further.... will update if/when I get more info.
  • Ambiguous traffic alert icon.
    Instead of giving me real information on a traffic delay (i.e. "+20 minutes for an accident 2.3 miles ahead"), there is just a dummy icon. It changes from green to yellow to red depending on traffic severity. The TomTom actually showed the expected delay time.
  • Meaningless mileage data, courtesy of "ecoRoute".
    After using this "feature" for a few weeks, I can tell you it's all but useless (and, thankfully, something that be turned off). It appears to have been designed primarily with an expensive accessory in mind - the ecoRoute HD. But without that doo-dad, all ecoRoute does gathers recent gas price info and relies on the driver to enter marginally accurate mileage stats. Then it shows some cheese-ball "Eco Challenge" score that constantly updates on-screen. It's based on speed and acceleration. However it does not seem to know the difference between coasting down a hill at 45 and powering up the a hill at the same speed. It means well, I guess.
Given all the positives with this Garmin unit, I can recommend it for those who, like me, have no functional sense of frugality. And you certainly get what you pay for with the 1695. At least, that is, until 2012 when it will be laughably obsolete and for sale at RadioShack for $99. Unless the world explodes...but let's not go there.

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