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On the road, and off with the Garmin USA nav app

Mel Martin

Garmin has finally joined the ranks of GPS nav app providers that include maps on your device rather than requiring you to download them. I have tried a previous incarnation of the Garmin app on a trip to Northern Arizona, but I only saw a blue dot and no roads since I was in a place with no cellphone reception. No data, no map.

As a result, I was pleased to make another trip up north for some landscape photography and try this latest version with full maps on board. It's a big difference. The maps seemed up to date and even had quite a few dirt roads. Even better, during a boat trip at Lake Powell the app was able to show me where I was and provide the boat speed. Although I couldn't really use the app for navigation because it could only give me a straight line route to my destination, it did show the buttes and mesas around me accurately, and if I zoomed out enough I could pretty much get where I wanted to go.

As a traveling companion, the Garmin was just fine, and it mostly matched the capabilities of the Garmin stand-alone nuvi line. A built-in points of interest database worked pretty well when I was away from cell service, but when I had access to cellular data I could rely on the built-in Google services. I liked the ability to place a call directly from the points of interest screen, and the detailed and realistic graphics when exiting a freeway were helpful. When driving through Phoenix the larger buildings were rendered in 3D, and while I was more interested in looking at the road, the feature could be nice if you are stuck in traffic.

Navigation continued during phone calls, and the voices provided were intelligible, although I always wish the iPhone speaker had a few more decibels.

I only had one serious glitch. After getting back in the car and launching the app, it could never acquire a satellite signal. After ten minutes I gave up and tried again, but it still wouldn't lock on. I completely re-booted the iPhone, and the app quickly grabbed its location. It could have been a bug in the app, or something in iOS; I only saw it once. Traffic information is US$19.99 a year, while my preferred Navigon app offers a lifetime traffic subscription for the same price. On the other hand, the Navigon USA app is $49.99 while Garmin USA is $39.99.

The Navigon series of GPS apps have been my long-time favorites. This new Garmin app is finally competitive, especially since the maps are on-board. Of course Garmin has recently purchased Navigon, and it will be interesting to see how the product lines merge and mix. I have no hesitation recommending the Garmin USA app if your travels take you out of the city and to places where data networks are sparse or non-existent. These apps also don't drain your data plan, unless you opt to use the built in Google services, optional gas price directory or traffic features.

Gallery: Garmin USA screen shots | 5 Photos

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