Garmin NuLink 1695
The nuLink 1695 is Garmin’s latest entry into the SIM-connected pnd market. While it has it’s roots firmly planted in the nuvi 1xxx line, it grabs some of the latest features from Garmin’s flagship 37xx series.
Combining a 5″ widescreen, live Navteq traffic, Bluetooth, an expanded package of nuLink services and the latest nuRoute features, it’s a good upgrade from Garmin’s only other connected model, the 1690. But how does it match up with Tomtom’s Live models? That’s the same market Garmin is going after with the 1695. After a couple weeks with it (and a side-trip to the Jersey Shore with another moderator, Boyd), here’s what I’ve found so far.
First off, it feels solid, yet not overly heavy at 8.2 oz. I was expecting the case to be a little thicker than it’s actual .7 inches, ever-so-slightly thinner than its predecessor, the 1690. Overall dimensions come in at 5.5″W x 3.4″H. With a matte-black rounded and rubberized back, and thin chrome band surrounding a 1/2″ wide faceplate, it looks and feels like quality electronics should. Classic Garmin style. While the bezel is a tad wider than I’d personally like to see, it’s still a pretty attractive device. The 5″ diagonal, easy-to-read display has Garmin’s typical matte screen, which does tend to carry your fingerprints around with it when it’s off. Not noticeable when it’s on though. The exterior has a single button on top that does triple-duty. First as a quick way to adjust screen brightness; secondly to put the 1695 into “sleep” mode; and thirdly to fully turn the device off by holding the power button down for at least three seconds instead of a quick press. The left side has a slot for an expandable micro-SD memory card, becoming increasingly rare on many other pnd’s. Along the bottom you find the 13-pin connector strip for powering the 1695 with the included active dock, and a micro-USB port for making connection with your computer.
While the typically excellent bright and high contrast Garmin TFT backlit display has been expanded to a nice 5 inches, the actual screen resolution for the nuLink 1695 is the same as the rest of the 1xxx line at 480×272. It would have been nice to see Garmin use the same higher resolution 800×480 found on the iPhone-like nuvi 3700’s, and even better if it was the same capacitive glass display (allowing multitouch) rather than the traditional pressure-sensitive touchscreen found on almost all other GPS models. But in all fairness, the beautiful sharp detail of the 37xx nuvi’s is the industry exception. Even TomTom’s just-released flagship models, the 1000 and 1005 (and NA version 2305 and 2505) have the exact same middling screen resolution as the Garmin 1695. Off the top of my head I can’t think of other pnd’s with a higher-resolution display outside of other Garmins. If it weren’t for the stunning display on those 3700’s, as noted by forum members Boyd, Sergzak and others, I don’t think anyone would be knocking the pixel count on this model.
In the Box
The 1695 comes with the same simple but dependable suction cup windshield mount Garmin is known for, plus an active dock (works with Garmin’s beanbag mount too) and vehicle power cable used for charging. I want to mention that traffic isn’t accessed by the power cable like other models, so the real-time traffic reporting and nuLink services work just fine on battery power, quoted as 3 hours. Also in the box is a clear adhesive disc for dash mounting, a surprisingly short but functional micro-USB cable for connecting to your computer, and a minimal Quick-Start Guide. Thankfully the on-device help files are pretty darn good at answering most questions. I forgot to note the version of the pre-loaded City Navigator US/Canada/Mexico mapset when I received it, but with Garmin’s 60-day Latest Map Guarantee it doesn’t really matter. Register your account at Garmin.com and if a newer map becomes available within 60 days of first use of your 1695, you’re entitled to it at no charge.
I’m not going to waste many characters on some of the 1695’s features. Several are common to other 1xxx models like the 1490. Junction View, Lane Assist, Bluetooth hands-free calling, and user-selectable on-screen data fields are carried forward. Throw in EcoRoute too along with overspeed warnings. It pushes a fast and fluid screen refresh rate and a VERY loud speaker. In fact I have to keep mine at 60% volume or less even with the windows down. Text is large enough for my older eyes to see without reading glasses, POI sub-categories are a big assist, and screen colors (more about that later) are vivid with plenty of contrast. What sets the 1695 apart is the “live” connectivity.
The nuLink 1695 is a cellular-connected pnd, using a SIM Smartcard over AT&T’s network, the same general technology behind TomTom’s 740 and 340 Live models, and aimed squarely at competing with them. But unlike TomTom’s slow, basic GPRS connection thru Jasper/AT&T, Garmin’s 1695 uses much faster EDGE technology, effectively tripling the gross data throughput rate that Tomtom’s Live pnd’s can accomplish. What this means to you is faster Google searches, quicker traffic updates, and more bandwidth allowing for double the services offered by the competition. Where TomTom offers real-time traffic, Google Local Search, basic weather, Buddies, Gas Prices (dropped from the new EU Live models) and optional add-on subscription Traffic Cameras, Garmin ups the ante. Standard nuLink services include the same real-time traffic, Google Local Search, weather, Ciao (Buddies), Gas Prices. . . plus White Page lookups by name or phone number, Movie Times and locations, current Flight Time arrival and departures, Local Events for upcoming concerts, art, sports, and special community activities, SendToGPS using Google Maps or Microsoft Live, plus optional enhanced Weather Radar maps with Severe Weather warnings, and Safety Camera (redlight) Alerts via the nuLink Store. One year of the standard connected services is included with the device, $5 per month thereafter. Compare to Tomtom at $10 per month, with just three months free intro period.
believe this is one of two primary reasons buyers look for a connected pnd, the other being Google Search. On the surface, Garmin’s Navteq-sourced and ad-supported service looks generally comparable in coverage to TomTom’s Live Traffic in the areas I’ve looked at. Orlando seems to have a couple highways that may be covered by TomTom but not Garmin, while Tampa/St.Pete has both and TomTom matching up pretty close at the times I’ve checked. Locally I’ve seen more in the way of flow reports and traffic delays from Garmin, though with my 740 gone to a new owner I’m doing the comparison using TomTom’s online Route Planner. You can check on your local region yourself at routes.tomtom.com and traffic.com . And compared to the free traffic supplied with other devices, Navteq’s premium ML traffic doesn’t rely on spotty radio station signal coverage. If Navteq covers a region, you can see it on the 1695. For example, I was browsing Boston traffic while here in Florida a few nights ago, something you can’t do on a TomTom. But as we know, a few more reports shown on one or the other is far short of proving whether Garmin’s real-time traffic information is equal to TomTom’s TrafficCast enhanced product. Someone could rightly point out that TomTom doesn’t show traffic flow data that matches what’s historically expected with IQRoutes, so of course it wouldn’t show as many traffic events as Garmin. This is discussed more in our TomTom 740 review. While that could affect what I’ve seen at other times, I don’t think that explanation applies as I sit here at 8:27am on a Sunday morning. TomTom’s IQR wouldn’t be expecting much if any traffic congestion early on a Sunday for any reason I can think of. So for comparisons right now I’ll pretty much ignore that as a factor.
With a few nearby delays going unreported by TomTom today, similar to what I’ve seen on other days, me and my little corner of Florida appear to do better with Garmin. That is not to say you’ll get the same results where you live, and you can expect coverage will vary from region to region. If reported traffic (notice I didn’t call it verified) is high priority for you, be sure to look at the coverage maps I linked earlier. I don’t think you can consider either one to always be the best choice regardless of where you are. But if comparing Garmin’s real-time traffic service on the 1695 to Clear Channel or Navteq RDS-TMC, there’s no question which one comes out on top. No coverage map necessary.
The 1695 is also much better at showing the details of those delays. Where my old TomTom 740 would often just parrot back the road name without anything useful when requesting specifics, Garmin’s traffic reporting shows the type of incident causing a delay along with the length of the affected road segment and expected time you’ll be held up. Trying to scroll thru TomTom’s traffic list often fails to even clarify what county that road section is in. Not very helpful if you can’t determine how close that incident is, or if it even affects you.
Then there’s the displayed flow data between the two devices, and this could more of a personal preference. Heavy traffic and I just don’t get along and I always seem to be in the wrong lane or dodging aggressive lane changers. So whether the traffic is expected for that time of day or not, I want to know before I get to it. There’s times I won’t care if it’s still the fastest way to get to my destination. I’m not always in that big a hurry, and a less stressful drive might be worth a few extra minutes. Give me a choice. TomTom’s traffic won’t always do that. To repeat a previous point, their method of displaying traffic ignores any expected congestion on its flow-reporting roadways. Garmin’s 1695 tells you about it. Simple. While I understand TomTom’s reasoning, there’s another benefit to Garmin showing the current flow data if it’s available for that highway. There are roads I tend to avoid due to frequently slow traffic. I’ve been known to detour around them even though I know I’m adding time to my journey without evidence there’s any current problem. But if I had some advance indications that traffic was moving along nicely, I’d probably choose to stay on the charted course. Tomtom doesn’t allow for roads moving faster than would be expected, and has no method for showing it on the traffic map. But the nuLink 1695 color codes the current flow regardless whether it’s to be expected, offering more information so I can make the right routing choice for me.
Another nice discovery is that the 1695 will audibly warn of traffic ahead even with no route set. Along with a timely verbal alert, details are displayed in the green navigation bar at the top of the display, with traffic painted yellow (not a great choice with yellow highways) or red on the map itself. If traffic congestion has been reported on the road you’re traveling you’re covered even while out on a leisurely drive. No need to go into the traffic menu, no fumbling around for a screen icon, and that’s good for driver safety. Garmin obviously put a lot of thought into how they wanted to present traffic on the nuLink 1695, and it shows in their intelligent and well-designed traffic warnings that require a minimum of driver interaction. I didn’t expect this in the 1695’s traffic features and with TomTom lacking anything similar, I’ve got to give Garmin engineers a big thank you.
Now for the traffic map graphics in general. Props to TomTom. Garmin’s habit of using bold lines, easy to see and follow at a glance, isn’t a good choice for graphically displaying midtown traffic conditions. Those bold lines and vibrant color choices so helpful when following a route turn into a sea of color confusion when presented with multiple incident and flow reports in congested travel areas. It’s really difficult to make heads or tails out of what the traffic map is trying to show you in some situations. A poor presentation that’s done much more cleanly on the 740 with TomTom’s use of thinner lines and smaller text. It has nothing to do with TomTom’s Live models perhaps having a better screen resolution. They don’t. Even the latest is exactly the same as Garmin’s 1695. It’s simply different design choices made by the two industry bigwigs. While I prefer the bolder routing map display on Garmin devices, it’s terrible for displaying regional traffic with multiple colored-coded highways in bigger metros on the traffic map. While TomTom’s is actually usable, I might even go so far as to say that if Garmin can’t choose to do better on the traffic map graphics, don’t bother to show it at all. Unless you’ve zoomed in fairly close it’s sometimes next to useless. I suggest going straight to the traffic search results themselves. They’re much better.
So how about the million-dollar question: Is Garmin’s real-time traffic service more accurate and reliable than TomTom’s? I don’t know. I’m not sure how I could verify that all those reported incidents on either platform actually exist in real-time, and even then that the associated delay times are current and accurate. So far the reported traffic conditions have been true when driving them, and ETA’s have been pretty dead on. But there hasn’t been any major traffic issues yet on any of my travels to really test it. I can also say that a one-day roadworks lane restriction along the heavily traveled road leading to my business wasn’t reported on the Garmin 1695, even with 2-4 minute delays. But it didn’t appear on my MSNDirect service either. I neglected to check TomTom traffic. But that’s the type of incident that SHOULD be included. It’s not that unusual in most any area for a road to temporarily be closed for utilities work, or have a major local highway slowed for repaving. It can be frustrating and stressful to find a flagman in your way as you try to get to your dentist appointment on time, especially if there’s another way you could have chosen if you’d only known. None of the current traffic services reliably account for these common delays, and Garmin and TomTom traffic are no exception. But based simply on the methods that Garmin and TomTom use to display traffic conditions and present traffic warnings, my vote has to go with Garmin and the 1695. While I don’t consider any traffic incident and flow service I’ve used on any device to be generally dependable, including any smartphone app tried, Garmin’s real-time traffic service is closer to way I want it integrated on my PND. Considering the entire feature and how it’s represented, Garmin’s nuLink traffic service is better than TomTom’s.
At the same time, if you’re buying any connected pnd purely for dependable, accurate and inclusive traffic incident reporting with flow data covering most local secondary roads, forget about it. You are bound to be disappointed as that service doesn’t exist. The best we can currently hope for is fast delivery of traffic reports that are generally right more often than wrong along with a few pretty good hints on current conditions on which to base an educated judgement. I wouldn’t buy any GPS just for the traffic.
I can’t ignore either that Garmin’s real-time traffic subscription still includes small ads that might appear only when stopped or in simulation mode. They’re also more apt to appear on the connected 1695 than other ad-supported models with free traffic. Some have complained about these, while others silently tolerate or ignore them completely. I’ve even seen the rare compliment that an offer saved some money for a user. For me personally I don’t find them intrusive or bothersome, so it’s a non-issue. It’s not unlike the small ads that appear in many smartphone apps. As always “your mileage may vary”.
Google Local Search
I wanted to talk about this in more detail since it’s so nicely integrated on the 1695. When searching for stores, service centers and other commercial/government locations, I’ve usually done so using the Points of Interest menu, then fine-tuning that with Garmin’s very good use of sub-categories. As mentioned earlier, the 1695’s connected feature set includes Google Local Search, helping to find POI’s that may be missing or incorrect in the built-in map data. But it gets even better. Rather than doing a traditional POI category search at all, simply tap the Google Local sub-menu icon and enter the POI name. That takes you to a two tab screen. The top tab shows the Garmin results, and tapping the bottom tab on that same screen brings up the Google finds. From here you can even see user ratings and offer your own. This is really a great time saver and nearly guaranteed to locate even the newest businesses and area attractions. Enter the search term once and see both sets of results on a single screen. Really a smart way to utilize Google Local Search, and unique to Garmin’s connected models. Other than direct address entry, no function is used more than POI searches. Garmin has made it faster, easier and more apt to be successful than any other pnd manufacturer.
This is another feature unique to Garmin, and one I was curious about. According to them, this is how it might be used:
“You’re taking your child to a birthday party, but you forgot the invitation with the address in it. No time to go home now, so you just go to White Pages and enter the name of the people having the party. There’s the address! And get directions right to it. If you’re running late, White Pages also gives you the phone number so you can call and let them know you’re on your way.”
Well, the first time I used it, I really did need it. My office called to have me drop by a potential client in the area. I got the phone number, but either heard the address wrong or the office was to blame (it was them I’m sure). Just entering the clients number got me directions to the business, the need to call them back for a proper address avoided. But a few subsequent searches with other names and/or numbers had mixed success. This is most likely due to many landlines either dropped or moved to non-traditional carriers like cable companies over the past few years. Just as a 411 call to information won’t get you a mobile number, nor do all homes and businesses have landlines, Garmin’s White Pages search may not find what you’re looking for either. So far it’s worked more often than not with my practice searches, but you should be aware of the limitations.
The 1695 comes with Garmin’s newest routing features, first introduced with the 37xx models. Called nuRoute, it actually has two parts. The most talked about is trafficTrends, a predictive traffic model meant to be Garmin’s answer to Tomtom’s IQRoutes. They’ve reportedly has been compiling anonymous travel data from users since the first of the year. Not long enough in my opinion for anything close to the volume of data that Tomtom has collected over the past three years. So not surprisingly I haven’t seen any solid evidence yet of any of my routes being impacted by the time of day. But initial route calculation times have been longer, so it’s definitely consulting some additional database. As I posted in a thread in the forum section, it’s still under a minute to compute a route from Boston to LA, though longer than normal for a nuvi. In local use I haven’t seen unacceptable route calculation times, nor abnormally long missed turn recalculations, perhaps a couple seconds longer than my trustworthy 760. Certainly not enough of an issue to turn off trafficTrends. Consider too that the 1695 reports real-time travel results directly to Garmin over it’s SIM connection rather than when connected to WebUpdater or Dashboard. The more anonymous data they gather, the quicker trafficTrends can show better results in my area. But others in Northeast congested midtowns with tall buildings and less than optimal sat lock report significantly longer route calculations with trafficTrends enabled, enough to cause them to disable it. I also suspect some users are inputting destinations while on the move. Computing routes while the map continues to update your position is going to take longer than doing the same while at a standstill. And it’s safer too. For now I consider the feature a work in progress that I expect to see steady improvements in.
The other half of nuRoute is myTrends, a bit more mysterious so far. Garmin says it should work this way: “When you save your regular destinations in your ‘Favorites,’ your nuvi will, over time, begin to figure out where you’re going even without you telling it. Your nuvi will provide a predicted route which will display in the information bar at the top of the map screen. myTrends provides time of arrival and relevant traffic information in the information bar.” But the devil is in the details. First, your destination must be a favorite. Then a daily pattern takes at least three days, And a weekly pattern might take 2-3 weeks to register. And your daily commute should be within a regular three hour timeframe. None of this applies to me yet, so we’ll see if it takes affect in coming days and weeks. For a regular long-distance commuter it could certainly be helpful if it works. So far I haven’t seen much mention of it from other nuRoute users.
This and That
I’ve seen Safety Cameras in action, and it does work. You get an audible chime warning and pop up screen icon whenever you approach 1/10th of a mile from a listed camera location. The data comes from Coyote, a British-based company with a good reputation for it’s traffic camera database. I’ve been warned when nearing every local redlight camera that I know for a fact exists, and notified of two others in Tampa that I wasn’t aware of. It’s an extra $35/year to subscribe to this optional service, but with a single improper right on red resulting in a $158 fine here in Florida, I think I just may use it. With local and state governments looking for any revenue sources they can find, traffic cameras are only going to get worse.
The 1695 also has the oft-requested option of modifying map colors yourself, or choosing from 11 different built-in Map Themes. A feature first introduced on the nuvi 3700’s, these could be particularly helpful for users with various degrees of color blindness, surprisingly common for men. While I don’t think I suffer from it (my wife would argue that when I dress to go out) I found I preferred the Denmark theme to the traditional color choices. Actually a more useful feature than I originally thought, and something offered by TomTom for some time. Nice to see it finally come to Garmin.
I like the option of prompted route choices thru the settings menu. What that means is when a route is requested, the 1695 will show you up to three different route choices, with map details and travel times, for Fastest, Shortest and Less Fuel. I’ve seldom wanted anything other than fastest, but having the chance to easily look at my options is a nice idea. Junction View images aren’t as common as on my previous Tomtom. Personally the Lane Assist arrows interest me more anyway, but a graphic image of some of the more congested interchanges could help travelers in unfamiliar territory. If Garmin (Navteq) is going to offer the feature, it wouldn’t hurt for them to include more intersections a little faster, as well as offer a way to turn them off for those that consider them a nuisance.
Map browsing is not a pleasant task. I find it hard to scroll to a specific point, with the screen seemingly having a mind of its own. Very poorly done compared to my much older 760, and apparently an issue common to all the 1xxx models. Map detail in 2D appears to be an improvement over the older 1xxx models, and on-screen favorites with icons has returned.
No unexpected reboots so far, but I did have one instance of it not shutting off after an application update. Holding the power button to force a shutdown was successful with no ill effects AFAIK. The over the air data connection has been rock-solid, fast to download results and no loss of service in any area yet. . . fingers crossed. This was a recurring problem with my old TomTom 740. The 1695’s immediate wakeup from a snooze helps get me out on the road just a little quicker. I still can’t say enough good things about the way Garmin uses Google Local Search. Or grit my teeth harder when I have to browse the map, a fortunately seldom event.
I really like most of what I’ve seen from Garmin’s nuLink 1695. It’s fast to get connected search results, includes a very good selection of nuLink services, a pretty good feature set carried over from the other 1xxx models, and with Garmin’s latest nuRoute technology and the return of on-screen favorites. It hasn’t failed to get a data connection in 30 seconds or less yet, and has shown the expected Garmin OS stability. But I want to be clear on one major point: This is not the ideal choice for most users. No currently available Live/connected pnd is. There’s Garmin models that are faster to compute a route, or cheaper to purchase; with more added value like lifetime maps, or sporting faster processors and more hi-resolution displays. Where Garmin has positioned their connected 1695 is as a single portable solution for serious commuters who depend heavily on their GPS device for more than the typical A-B routing. The value to a casual or occasional user just isn’t there in my opinion. If that’s you, my advice is look elsewhere in the Garmin line. Consider too that, with preplanning, a smartphone or computer user could get the same information on weather, traffic and hard-to-find Points of Interest, then plot their route accordingly. Or you could just use a smartphone and it’s wide availability of location and navigation apps as your primary navigation device. Not as simple and straightforward as using a connected pnd for serious road warrior’s, but still workable. And the 5″ screen of the 1695 is undoubtedly easier to check at a glance than a smallish smartphone display.
If you’ve already decided that potentially better real-time traffic reporting, Google Local Search or up-to-date gas prices is the way to go, then the Garmin 1695 is the best solution in North America and should be your first choice for a standalone pnd. No question in my mind. It includes more services at a lower on-going cost than anything TomTom has to offer. The Motorola Motonav 765 tries to compete as a connected pnd, but awkwardly. I think TeleNav’s Shotgun has been abandoned. And though there’s a couple other rumored devices that may offer some level of over-the-air services, including one from Magellan, who knows if they follow thru nor how long they last.
For me personally, I’ve decided the 1695 is a keeper, and for all the wrong reasons. I’m not the type of buyer Garmin probably has in mind. But there’s at least a few of you out there that will find value in the connected services. And a few more that just like the idea of having over-the-air info literally at their fingertips if needed. You know who you are. For you special few, Garmin’s nuLink 1695 is at the head of the connected class and carrying a solid B+. Even comparing as an overall navigator, considering the current hardware, I’d still give it a B. But with a little display work, multi-touch, another year of trafficTrends data and banishment of it’s irritating map browsing jitters, I could see an “A” in Garmin’s connected future.