Garmin's High-End GPS

What do you get in a high-end portable GPS system? If it's Garmin's Nuvi 760, you'll get lots of useful features and a bright widescreen display. But, alas, you'll also receive some occasionally irksome directions.

I road-tested Garmin's high-end portable GPS system in Toronto, San Francisco, and along the California coast. The Nuvi 760 lists for $750 but was available online recently for as little as $437. Here's what I liked and disliked about the handheld GPS.

Likes: QWERTY Keyboard, Useful Features

As you'd expect in this price range, the Nuvi 760 delivers lots of useful features.

Like some other GPS systems, you can connect to your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone. This lets you make or receive calls via the GPS and hear callers on the Nuvi's speaker. Primarily, I find this feature useful for dialing phone numbers associated with points of interest listed in the GPS software, such as restaurants. But unlike some other Bluetooth-enabled GPS systems, such as the Magellan Maestro 4040, I was able to pair the Nuvi 760 to the phone on the first attempt.

You can configure the GPS's audio to play through your car's FM stereo. But if you live in a city, you'll likely have to do some fiddling to find an unused FM frequency.

The keyboard can be displayed in QWERTY or ABCDE mode--your choice. Some GPS devices I've tested only give you the latter, which I find awkward to use. You've also got the option to create routes tailored for driving, walking, or bicycling, something not all GPS devices offer.

An RDS FM traffic receiver is cleverly built into the Nuvi 760's power cord. The receiver gets updated traffic information via the FM Radio Data System. Your Nuvi 760 purchase includes three months of Clear Channel's live traffic service; afterwards, it's $60 for 15 months.

An optional purchase is the MSN Direct Receiver ($125), which sends traffic, movie show times, and gas prices to the Nuvi 760. A three-month subscription is included; after that it's $60 per year.

The Nuvi 760 is sleeker than some earlier Garmin GPS systems. Its antenna is integrated into the body, as opposed to the pop-up antenna on some models. And the Nuvi 760 has an attractive, 4.3-inch wide screen. I found it sufficiently readable at just 50 percent brightness, which helps conserve battery power.

Saving routes is another useful feature. The Nuvi 760 allows you to create and preview a route before you leave home and to save frequently used routes.

The "Where Am I?" feature displays your current location as GPS coordinates and the nearest address. It also lets you quickly navigate to nearby gas and police stations and hospitals. The address was often a bit off, however. For example, while at a street address that begins with "4724," the Nuvi 760 said the nearest street address began with "4746."

Another plus is the "Last Position" feature. The Nuvi 760 remembers its last GPS position, so if you take it with you after parking in a big lot, you've got a better chance of finding your car again later.

The Nuvi 760, like some other Nuvi models, features a media player, image viewer, calculator, currency converter, and unit converter. It also includes a sample version of the Garmin Language Guide, for international travelers. However, the free sample is bare bones. For example, when I searched for phrases relating to the beach, the guide offered only one: "Are there jellyfish?" in both English and German. The possible proximity of German jellyfish would not be among my top beach-related questions.

Dislikes: Complicated Directions

This is an extremely short list, but it includes one big item: The Garmin Nuvi 760 occasionally gave ill-advised or unnecessarily complicated directions. One example: To travel down the California coast from San Francisco to Big Sur, the Nuvi 760 advised me to take I-280, then CA-85 to CA-17 toward Santa Cruz, then Highway 1 to Big Sur. But CA-17 is a notoriously winding road that's often congested with traffic. A less painful path, at least in my opinion, is to take I-280 to US Highway 101 to Highway 156 and follow that to Highway 1. The Nuvi 760's directions weren't wrong; they just didn't take Highway 17's notoriety into account.

On other occasions, the Nuvi 760 sometimes had me taking three or four streets when only one was needed. Perhaps as the crow flies those streets are faster or a shorter distance, but I prefer more straightforward directions.

And that brings me to the big disadvantage of every portable GPS device I've tested: Not one has consistently provided the intelligent routing a well-traveled local would provide. I don't think the technology--at least at the handheld GPS level--is there yet, even in high-end consumer devices like the Nuvi 760.

One other complaint: After being powered on, the GPS receiver was sometimes extremely slow to find a satellite signal. It managed to hold onto a signal during heavy rain, however, which was impressive.

Worth It?

Among the current crop of handheld GPS systems, the Nuvi 760--despite its occasionally questionable directions--is as good as it gets. I'd recommend it for frequent travelers who want a full-featured GPS and don't mind paying a bit extra for it.

What's Your GPS?

Do you use a handheld GPS device? If so, what are its pros and cons, and do you recommend it? Send me an e-mail. I'm especially interested in hearing from readers who use GPS navigation on their cell phones or smart phones.

More Information

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Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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