Garmin HUD eases navigation but might tax your smartphone's battery

Every time you glance down at your dashboard, you're taking your eyes off the road. That's why drivers often mount their GPS or mobile device above the dash, to minimize that risk. Alas, locating a device here creates a blind spot on the windshield.

Better idea: Garmin's $150 HUD (head-up display), which projects navigation information into your line of sight on the windshield. The HUD works with Garmin's Navigon and StreetPilot apps (Android/iOS/Windows Phone 8 ), which supply the actual data and cost an additional $30 and up.

Compared to other add-on HUDs that cost thousands of dollars, the Garmin HUD is significantly cheaper because there are no built-in smarts. Also, the navigation graphics are old-school, bright-blue arrows and numbers generated by the unit's VFD (Vacuum Fluorescent Display), rather than slick animation.

Compact unit with two projection choices

The Garmin HUD is about the size of an external 2.5-inch hard drive. It weighs about ten ounces and feels very solid, almost hefty in your hand. The projector unfolds from its mounting base up to about a 70-degree angle. It also tilts side-to-side, so you can adjust the projection angle for your particular windshield. You can project information to the provided, transflective sheet of film, which you attach to the inside of your windshield, or you can use a plastic bezel that attaches to the device itself.

Attaching the transflective sheet requires cleaning and moistening the windshield, then placing the sheet and working out the bubbles. You can't remove the film without damaging it, so plan the placement ahead of time and follow the instructions carefully. It works fine, but it’s a bit more obtrusive when the HUD isn't on.

Personally, I stuck with the plastic bezel, as it offered a slightly clearer image—and I'm a lousy bubble-squeezer. However, the bezel can't be adjusted, and given the steep rake of my windshield, all the info just barely made it onto the screen.

Garmin
The HUD kit includes a transflective film to mount onto your windshield, or a bezel that attaches directly to the device, along with a 12-volt power adapter.

After you mount the device, you plug the auxiliary 12-volt adapter into your power socket, attach it to the HUD, and you're ready to connect with the phone app. You'll need to establish a Bluetooth pairing between your mobile device and the Garmin HUD before using the device, and communication between the two is automatic from there. I had no problems with the HTC Radar and iPad I tried this with, but an HTC 8X worked only once, for reasons we could never determine. The HUD is firmware-upgradeable; the Navigon app on my iPad actually upgraded the unit the first time I ran it.

Navigating my way around San Francisco using the HUD was easy. The information it displays includes direction of and distance to next turn, which lane to drive in, which side of the street your destination is on, and your ETA, as well as your estimated speed and the speed limit. There was no noticeable lag from app to the device. I quickly switched allegiance from my mobile device to this handy windshield projection.

Both apps worked well for me, but as with most GPS-phone pairings, the phone bears the brunt. The phone ran hot, and its battery drained quickly. Although there's a USB port in the HUD's 12-volt adapter, I still steadily lost ground on the charge. This experience will vary from phone to phone.

Sticky mounting material attracts schmutz

I drive a convertible that takes all of 15 seconds to slash and open, so I never lock it or leave anything in the cab. I want to pull the HUD out of a bag and use it when I need it, and leave it safely stowed when not in use. The high-tech tacky material on the bottom of the unit works fine for the most part, but it collects schmutz and needs to be cleaned quite frequently to maintain its grip. It might be nice to have a permanently mounted base for precise placement.

Also, I don't like cables running about the passenger compartment. A battery would let you use the HUD without the wires. However, the glass on top of the LED is almost hot to the touch. Garmin informed me that the VFD uses a lot of juice (has to be bright enough to be seen in daylight), so a battery is probably not practical. Alternatively, you could run a cable from another 12-volt source through a vent or small hole in the dash. Were I to continue using the HUD, I'd do this myself, but you could undoubtedly find a stereo installer who'd do the job for a reasonable charge.

HUDs are most likely in all our automotive futures. The Garmin HUD is a useful and affordable add-on for basic navigation. Limo drivers and other professional drivers constantly using their phones for navigation could benefit the most. But because of the steal-me location of the device, and having to mess with another cable, I'm guessing many amateur drivers will stick with their dash-mount solutions.

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