Had the device you're peering at above come out just a few months later, it would've taken two full years to go from introduction to on sale. Thankfully, the good folks over at Garmin and ASUS (and Garmin-Asus, as it were) were able to get the nüvifone G60 out to AT&T before the holiday shopping season of 2009, but were they still too late? There's no doubt that this very smartphone had a lot of folks drooling in early 2007, but to say a lot has happened in the mobile realm between then and now would be doing the truth a grave injustice. The iPhone 3G has fallen to $99, a slew of Android handsets have hit the market and dedicated PND (portable navigation devices) have found themselves in the bargain bin. Oh, and some pretty fantastic GPS software has managed to land within Apple's App Store and the Android Market. In other words, competition couldn't possibly be hotter, and considering that the specifications haven't been updated on this $299 device since it was originally announced, you're probably wondering if it even deserves a chance. Read on to find out the answer.
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Garmin-Asus nuvifone G60 unboxing and hands-on
Design wise, the nüvifone G60 is perfectly engineered for what it is. It's light and compact enough to be respected in the world of today's thin and light smartphones, yet it's stocky and hefty enough to be taken seriously as a dedicated navigation device. The non-slip rear surface keeps it in place when laying on your dashboard (or wherever it may end up within your vehicle), and the dark chrome accents give the phone a touch of class. The camera and rear speaker are nicely placed, and the volume rocker is sufficiently large and easy to find. Thankfully, Garmin-Asus decided to use a standard USB port for connectivity, but the 2.5 millimeter headphone jack is decidedly not awesome.
Speaking of the rear speaker, this thing is loud. Really loud. Which, to be honest, is completely expected given that a robotic gal by the name of Lucydroid-4000 will be belting out turn-by-turn directions within your vehicle and reminding you in an all-too-stern tone whenever your ineptness forces her to "recalculate." And then there's the screen. The resistive WQVGA display has an exceptionally unique feel to it; the coating is essentially the exact same coating found on Garmin's nüvi PNDs, and it's easily one of the best resistive screens we've had the pleasure of touching. It reacted to our finger presses remarkably well, and swipes were also registered with impressive accuracy.
Software / user interface
So yeah, the design is just fine and dandy, but it's the software that'll make or break this thing. For $299 on a two-year contract, you'd expect nothing less than Garmin's full-on navigation suite, and that's exactly what you get here. The user interface is beautiful to us, but then again, we've always had a soft spot in our heart for this company's navigators. If you've used a nüvi, you'll be immediately familiar with the nüvifone. The dialer screen, contact list and recent calls tab are all fairly basic, and the threaded text message screen helps you keep track of conversations. The email application had no qualms setting up our Gmail account and downloading our most recent messages onto the phone, but as with the iPhone's native Mail application, many of the more advanced features (stars, labels, etc.) are nowhere to be found. In other words, it's plenty sufficient to check your mail and even reply, but if you're looking for an Android-level Gmail client, you'll be sorely disappointed.
The "extras" that Garmin-Asus throws in (movies, weather, flight status, converter, Yellow Pages, local events, fuel prices and Ciao!, a location-based social networking platform) all seem like half-hearted attempts to add apps to a phone that's really only built to navigate and make calls, and considering that these so-called "Premium Connected Services" will run you $5.99 per month after a 30-day trial, it's even safer to call them worthless. Seriously -- even ancient Windows Mobile phones can get this kind of information for free if attached to a data plan, why should G60 owners be forced to pony up $30 per month plus an extra $5.99?
We should also point out that booting this phone up takes a bit longer than your average iPhone, and waiting for a satellite lock is just as annoying here as it is on a standalone PND. Another curious quirk was the G60's inability to accurately reflect signal strength; for whatever reason, the signal meter was always around 2 to 3 bars lower than reality. When placed beside another AT&T handset, the bars would indicate far worse reception, but when making a call, the connection was fine. We suppose that's better than finding out this thing has awful reception, but still, it's a bit befuddling. Finally, the omission of some sort of "home button" really bothered us; having to manually press a "back" icon each time we wanted to get out of where we were grew tiresome. To each his / her own, but there it is. We should also note that typing on the G60 was a true joy; key presses were recognized instantly, and the word correction feature was surprisingly useful. As far as typing on resistive touchscreens go, this is about as good as it gets.
And then there's the web browsing. As you'd probably expect, it's not stellar. It's bearable, but it's nowhere near exceptional. Sites that aren't optimized for mobile load extremely slowly, and while zooming in and out can be done with "+" and "-" buttons, it's still a laborious task. Mobile optimized sites fare much better, but seriously, a phone ringing up at three bills on contract should be able to surf with more poise than a three year old WinMo 5 device; sadly, it doesn't. Put as simply as possible, the G60's web browser will get the job done on basic sites, but don't expect it to have the browser prowess of a low-end MID, let alone Mobile Safari. Oh, and that music player that's throw in? Yeah, it works, but it's not like you'll be using it much thanks to the 2.5 millimeter headphone socket. Sigh.
Usage / navigating
Switching from panel to panel and application to application was shockingly quick; we never experienced any major software lag anywhere within the G60. By and large, it seems the code was well written to run on this hardware, and given just how aged the internal components are at this point, that was a delightful surprise. Onto the mapping aspect, we were initially (and still are, actually) perturbed by the inability to enter an address from within the map. As you can see in the screencap below, your in-map navigation options consist of "Go!" (which directs you to the most recently entered address), "Save" and "Send Location." Sadly, there's no "Go to..." option, which is a glaring oversight in our humble opinion. It's logical to think that users would want to enter an address from a map screen, and regrettably, no such option exists.
Instead, you're forced to manually hit a "back" icon, tap an ambiguously named "Search" icon, and then tap an "Address" icon. Nothing about the word "search" leads us to believe an "Enter An Address" option will be behind it, yet -- for whatever reason -- that's where it's hidden alongside Home, Points of Interest, Favorites, Recently Found, Cities, etc. Once you finally get to enter an address, the screen looks essentially like the one found on standard Garmin PNDs, and we never had any issues getting the G60 to find the places we were looking for.
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Garmin-Asus nuvifone G60 in action
Once an address was selected, the G60 was mounted on our windshield (the mount is included, by the way) and we were tuned in to the gal blurting out directions, the experience was top-notch. For all intents and purposes, the nüvifone G60 transforms into a dedicated PND once it's mounted in the car and given an address. The turn-by-turn guidance was spot-on, reminders were timely and recalculations were handled promptly. Garmin-Asus smartly instructed the phone to dim its screen when you're on a stretch of road, and it automatically brightens when it reminds you of an upcoming turn. The volume of the lady's voice is easily adjustable with the top-mounted (when the G60 is turned horizontally) rocker, and zooming is easily handled via two soft buttons that remain on the right side of the display whilst navigating. You're also shown your current speed, direction and the posted speed limit in the area you're in -- all very handy tidbits that are elegantly displayed as you cruise. Have a look at a 3 minute romp through town below, and please -- forgive the pothole-induced shaking. Clearly, Obama's road construction bonanza has yet to hit our locale.
Best of all, the nüvifone G60 fully supports multi-tasking between calls and routing; if you receive a call while it's routing you, you don't have to exit your guidance to answer. Of course, we'd still recommend holding off on non-critical calls while you try to navigate, but for those with focus levels on par with Professor Xavier, it's simple to handle both on this device. When a call comes in, a new screen emerges to show you who's calling and two options are provided: answer or ignore. If you answer, you're returned to your map and allowed to converse, with a simple (and diminutive) red phone icon on the left to let you know you're connected to a caller. If you ignore, the same happens save for the omission of the red phone icon.
All in all, it's exceedingly simple to describe the nüvifone G60. If you're looking for a bona fide smartphone first and foremost that can do a bit of navigating every now and then, this phone isn't for you. The lack of an app market, the monthly cost attached to the lackluster apps that are included and the subpar web browser all contribute to making this phone less attractive than the iPhone or any of the existing Android phones in terms of actual functionality. Straight-up, you'll be entirely more productive with an Apple or Google-powered handset than the G60, and you'll have a lot more access to web-based applications and a web browser that's actually functional. It may hurt, but it's the truth.
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Garmin-Asus nuvifone G60 screencaps
However, if you're scouting a PND that just so happens to make phone calls, you won't find a superior option to the nüvifone G60. Without qualification, this is the best navigation experience you'll find on a phone. That TomTom app on the iPhone? Fuhgetaboutit. Frankly, that's not even in the same class. Garmin-Asus has managed to shove a bona fide nüvi into a phone, and when you're on the road, you'll never notice that you're not using an honest-to-goodness nüvi GPS unit. Though, we have to take this opportunity to point out just how badly you'll need to keep a powered cable connected to this thing. In short, battery life is just dreadful. A couple of hours on the road, and you'll be lucky to have enough life to check your email and respond to a few text messages. Even when it's not navigating, the G60 goes downhill in a hurry; count on charging it each and every night, and if you use it heavily during the day, don't be shocked to see it keel over by quittin' time. We didn't bust out the stopwatch during our testing, but based on the amount of low battery indicators that we saw during average day-to-day use, we feel frightened enough to make mention of it.
Honestly, you probably know already if the nüvifone G60 is right for you or not. At $299 on contract, you've got a lot of smartphone options, and unless navigation is your number one priority, almost any of them are superior to this. This phone just isn't a smartphone; it's an amazing navigation machine that makes calls and attempts to browse the web / dabble in integrated apps. That said, AT&T's still going to ding you for $30 per month as it sucks down data whilst routing -- even though the maps are all installed on the unit's internal storage. At the end of the day, it's hard to recommend the G60 due to the simple economics of the situation. For $299, you can pick up an iPhone 3G or HTC Hero (amongst other options) and a darn good nüvi PND that operates sans a monthly contract. Heck, you might even come out with a few bucks to spare. If you just have to have your GPS device and phone in one, the G60 is bound to impress the hardcore road warriors -- just don't expect that glee to come cheaply.