Garmin and TomTom have been fighting each other for dominance in the sat-nav market for ages now, but with the nüvi 660, Garmin has something that can really challenge its arch-rival.
With integrated Bluetooth, traffic and safety camera alerts and a large, sharp colour screen, you'd expect the nüvi 660 to be massive, but it's one of the slimmest, most lightweight models around, making it easy to take with you for guidance if you have to finish off your car journey by foot. If you don't mind paying a few quid extra, it's well worth consideration.
At 124mm by 74mm by 23mm and 190g, the Garmin nüvi 660 is an ultraportable and sleek device that you can use in and out of the car. The nüvi 660 boasts a larger, 109mm (4.3-inch) display. The touchscreen has an impressive 480x272-pixel resolution that made maps look extra-sharp and colourful. It's also still readable in direct sunlight.
You can access all the nüvi 660's tools and enter information via the touchscreen. The interface is clean and the menus are clearly identified and intuitive, so there isn't a steep learning curve to operate the device. In fact, it's so easy to use that we didn't even have to open the user's manual once. In addition, the icons and on-screen keyboard are large, so we didn't have any problems with pressing the wrong buttons.
With everything handled via the touchscreen, the nüvi 660 has a minimalist design, which we like. There's a sole power on/off button on the top of the unit, and there's an SD expansion slot, a mini USB port and a headphone jack on the right spine. Finally, there is a flip-up patch antenna on the back that stores flush with the unit's surface in its closed state, so it doesn't add any extra bulk. Our only wish would be for external volume controls, but if you give the power button a quick press, it brings up a Quick Settings page where you can adjust the sound and screen brightness.
Garmin packages the nüvi 660 with a vehicle mount (windscreen and dash), an AC adaptor, a car charger with an integrated FM traffic receiver, a USB cable, a carrying case and reference material.
The system has integrated Bluetooth so you can use it hands-free to make and accept phone calls. Once connected, just press the phone icon that appears on the Main Menu page and you can start placing calls with the on-screen dialler or your phone book. If a number is listed for a point of interest, the nüvi 660 can call that business with a press of a button -- perfect if you need to make a last-minute reservation at a restaurant or hotel.
Voice-guided directions are automatically muted during incoming calls. There are also options to send text messages, synchronise your phone's address book and call log, and dial by voice, but these features aren't supported with all mobiles. You can find a list of compatible phones and services on Garmin's Web site, though we were able to successfully pair it with the Sony Ericsson W850i, which wasn't included on the list.
As far as navigation is concerned, the Garmin nüvi 660 is equipped with a WAAS-enabled (wide area augmentation system for better position accuracy) GPS receiver and comes preloaded with maps of all of Europe. You get all the standard GPS features found in the latest systems, including turn-by-turn text- and voice-guided directions, automatic rerouting and text-to-speech functionality, which allows the unit to speak actual street names. The system can generate directions by fastest time, shortest distance or off road, if you're the adventurous type. The nüvi 660 isn't just limited to use in the car, either -- there are settings for pedestrian, bicycle, lorry and bus modes.
The nüvi 660 has a detour function for avoiding certain portions of your prescribed route, but the system also now comes with an FM traffic receiver that's integrated into the cigarette lighter adaptor, so you don't have to pay extra for an optional accessory. Traffic information is provided for free.
You get an audible warning every time you approach a speed camera, which changes in pitch if you're speeding. To keep the database up to date, you'll need to buy a subscription at £39 per year.
Maps are available in 2D and 3D view with day and night colours, and you can change your view so that either north or the direction in which you're driving is always at the top of your screen. Plus and minus icons on the map screen allow you to zoom in and out, and there's also a trip information page that displays your speed, direction, trip time and so forth. Finally, the nüvi 660 has a comprehensive POI database with all the major categories and more specific ones -- you can search for restaurants by type of cuisine, for example.
Among the greatest perks and differentiators on the Garmin nüvi 660 are its travel features. Like the nüvi 350, it has an onboard Travel Kit that includes an MP3 player, an Audible book player, a JPEG picture viewer with a slide-show function, a world clock, currency and measurement converters and a calculator. You can expand the device's capabilities with Garmin's software packages such as a Travel Guide to Europe (£65).
We took the Garmin nüvi 660 out for a test-drive around town and it performed wonderfully. The unit impressed us by acquiring a satellite fix in less than a minute, and subsequent starts were much faster. The system precisely tracked our location as we drove around running routine errands. We also entered a specific destination and the nüvi 660 quickly returned with a route. The directions were accurate and automatic route recalculation was also prompt after we got off track.
The multimedia experience was as expected for a portable navigation device -- it wasn't great, but it was fine for when you're in an absolute pinch. Music sounded okay through the system's speakers, though it was slightly muffled and soft -- we plugged in a pair of Shure E3cs, which improved the sound quality.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Kate Macefield