In the two years it languished as vaporware, the Garmin Nuvifone G60 was hyped by various tech outlets as everything from a smartphone savior to an iPhone killer. (We at get-gadget resisted such sensationalism.) But now the GPS-enabled smartphone is finally for sale — and it’s a Frankenstein, a monstrous creation that almost makes us want to swear off smartphones entirely.
There’s little good to be said about this phone but we’ll try to break it down before ranting about its copious flaws. It does fit neatly in hand and weighs about the same as the iPhone or the Palm Pre. It also has a 3.5-inch touchscreen too and there’s no added bulk of a physical keyboard. The home screen is also fairly practical; it’s divided into two fields with one area featuring icons for making calls and activating navigation, while the other has a sparse amount of apps like e-mail, a web browser and a music player. And then there’s, uh …
Okay, that’s about it for the good points.
Let’s rage against the screen for a moment: Instead of a capacitive touchscreen — like the kind that graces the iPhone, Palm and HTC G1, among others — the Nuvifone uses resistive technology. You have to practically jam your finger into the display to activate an icon. The result: a bumpy, sluggish experience as you navigate through the device’s options. Typing an e-mail or text message? Get ready for an episode of Extreme Typos. There’s no auto-correct option as with the iPhone.
In another puzzling decision, Garmin has adopted an extreme approach to simplicity. The Nuvifone has no buttons, not even a home button. So you are entirely at the mercy of the phone’s software.
That makes us wish Garmin had put more thought into its user interface. In one of the few neat tricks in the phone, Garmin has split the main screen into two. The left half has three major buttons: call, search and applications. A slider on the right provides options such as e-mail, weather, web browser and calendar. It’s a clean interface — as far as it goes.
But a phone that’s dedicated to GPS should be at least good at navigation right? Guess again. While the turn-by-turn directions are fairly accurate for guiding you to a destination, getting data entered into the device is a magnificent pain. Endless menu taps are required to locate the correct fields for entering address information. What’s worse, the maps themselves are graphically ugly: They look like a digital version of cat vomit.
The phone ties the GPS closely to anything that looks like an address. So once I searched for the nearest Target on the browser, I could, with a single click, have the device show directions to the store from my current location.
Unfortunately, the phone’s browser is stunted and terribly difficult to use. Want to type in a web address? There’s no URL bar: Instead, you have to open up a separate window to enter a website URL. No multitouch means no pinching and zooming on web pages. Instead you need to press onscreen + and – buttons to re-size the page.
The phone’s virtual keyboard is also tricky. The QWERTY keyboard only appears in horizontal mode. In the vertical mode, the keys are arranged in an ABCDE pattern, which makes text entry take twice as long. The Nuvifone seems stuck in some sort of space/time bubble that exists somewhere around 2004. The phone comes loaded with just a few apps and there’s no marketplace to download any new ones, so forget about Twitter, Facebook, Yelp or Pandora. Sure, you can get to these sites using the web browser, but that, of course, would require using the web browser.
As if horrible software and hardware wasn’t enough, Garmin adds insult to injury with a mystifying high price tag. Even after the $100 mail-in rebate, the phone costs $300 with a two-year contract on AT&T. That’s $100 more than the latest iPhone and more than the Palm Pre or almost any BlackBerry device. The Nuvifone is not just rough around the edges, it’s a device that seems to have lost its will to live. If you want a decent GPS, we suggest you get a standalone system from Garmin, TomTom — or get an iPhone, or an HTC Hero from Sprint. Any of those options will be easier, more reliable and cheaper than Garmin’s half-baked Nuvifone.