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With Google and Apple Maps and numerous third-party iOS navigation apps, a standalone GPS device may seem redundant for many users today. However, safety and ergonomic issues (and, of course, laws) come into play when trying to use a phone and navigate at the same time. Garmin is looking to bridge that gap with its new heads-up display (HUD) as a standalone accessory for its navigation apps.
I was able to take it for a test drive.
How it works
The $129.99 Garmin HUD device measures 4.25 inches wide by 3.46 inches long, is 0.73 inches thick and weighs 9.7 ounces, which is consistent with a standalone GPS. The bottom of the device has a pliable and tacky surface and doesn’t directly mount in your vehicle, making it easy to move.
It communicates with your iPhone or iPad (it also works with Windows Phone 8 and Android) via Bluetooth but the device must be plugged into your cigarette lighter adapter to work. (I was disappointed with that fact, but fortunately the plug also has a USB 2.1A charger allowing you to charge your phone at the same time.)
The device only works with Garmin’s mobile navigation apps: Navigon and Garmin Street Pilot. You have to buy these apps separately from the HUD; they’re available on iOS,(s AAPL) Android(s GOOG) as well as Windows Phone(s MSFT) devices. The HUD does not work with Apple Maps or any other non-Garmin mapping software.
To get the heads-up effect you must either stick a special transparent yet reflective square on your windshield or use a plastic reflector as seen in the picture. Using the plastic reflector was easy, but I did have trouble placing the film in a comfortable location on the windshield without bubbles appearing in the plastic (it’s similar to an iPhone screen protector). I tried the HUD with both the plastic reflector and the mounted film and I was easily able to place it in my car in such a way I could see the HUD while driving and still keep my eyes 100 percent trained on the road.
If you don’t have a specific destination set, the HUD tells you which direction you are heading as well as your current speed and the speed limit; it will warn you if you go over posted speeds or encounter a traffic or safety camera by pulling the data from the Garmin App (Navigon or Garmin USA). While actually navigating to a destination, the HUD also shows you what your next turn will be (left, right); which lane to be in to make the next turn if applicable; how far away your next turn will be; and your estimated ETA along with potential traffic delays.
Note that the HUD does not offer the full view of the map that the app shows on a smartphone. The HUD will continue to provide information even if other apps are running or if you are on a call pulling info from its map database installed on your phone or tablet. Unlike Apple Maps, Garmin apps store mapping info on your phone and therefore won’t run into potential problems for CDMA iOS users (Sprint/Verizon), who can’t talk on the phone and download map data at the same time.
Up until now, I’ve continued to rely on a standalone GPS even in this age of smartphones. There are several reasons for this, and the new Garmin HUD tackles them head-on. While most navigation apps will give you auditory cues of where to turn, you can’t safely see the screen and keep your eyes on the road without special mounts. Since I’m often on the phone in the car or listening to an audiobook, I have to turn off those auditory cues, making navigation very difficult. With the HUD that problem was completely eliminated.
The Garmin HUD’s automatic brightness worked well in day and night. I could keep my eyes on the road and safely navigate, something even my standalone GPS can’t even do. Although I can place my standalone GPS at a location on my dash so I don’t have to take my eyes off the road, my focus will temporarily switch to the GPS and away from my windshield. Even with Siri’s EyesFree in-car feature you still have to take your eyes off the road occasionally to see where you are going.
How it didn’t work
I do wish the Garmin HUD used its own power source, however, like my iPhone or standalone GPS, so I wouldn’t have wires on my dash and so I could charge it via USB when not in use. I wish it were smaller and lighter (and a bit less expensive). But it’s a great start, and since technology tends to get smaller, lighter and cheaper as time moves forward, in a couple years this may become and even better deal.
Of course what I really want is to have this technology embedded in my car. One complaint I’ve always had with auto manufacturer-provided GPS is that I have to pay for updates to the mapping software and the navigation screen in often in the dash, requiring me to completely take my eyes off the road to see it. Siri’s Eyes Free
is a great step forward but do get visual information about where to turn and lane information, you must still look down at your phone.
Garmin’s HUD brings a truly Eyes Free experience to mobile devices today. If you use your iPad or iPhone for more than just the occasional driving directions, the Garmin HUD is a safer way to drive for a $129 (plus app purchase). For those considering a standalone GPS or an upgrade, you can probably get a decent unit for the price of the Garmin HUD and the Garmin app, but you won’t get the added features of the HUD as well as the flexibility of using a easily upgraded software solution that travels with your iOS device.
The Garmin HUD creates a great third option for those debating between using an iOS based navigation solution or going standalone.