When it comes to GPS devices, Garmin is a very recognizable name, so much in fact that some customers would pay a premium over similarly-featured competing products. We’ve received the Nuvi 660 and eagerly installed it to take it for a ride. The Nuvi 660 has an elegant design that is widely copied in the GPS world – that’s always a good sign. It is relatively thin and has a classy silver color (not my favorite, because it reflects on the windshield). On the right side, there are a few ports: SD card, mini-USB and a stereo jack. On the back of the unit, there’s a foldable antenna that also covers a docking port. The 660 packs features like traffic alerts, hands-free calling and FM transmission (for MP3 files). The installation on the windshield took less than 2 minutes and right after starting the vehicle, the unit turned on, displaying a warning message telling us to keep our eyes on the road. So, how does the Nuvi 660 performs?

Road Test
The Nuvi 660 has a very decent cold-start GPS fix time: about 2 minutes (A cold start means that the GPS hasn’t been used for a day or so and has to retrieve for information about the GPS satellites). The big screen is a real asset and the maps are very readable. The font is set at an appropriate size and the user can select how much detail should be displayed (only key street names or all street names). The 3D option is interesting, but the angle is too steep for my taste, so I quickly switched back to 2D mode. I’m using the heading-up mode and it means that the top of the screen shows the road that is in front of me. As manufacturers switch to wider displays, I can see a lot more stuff on my left/right, while the thing that I really care about is what’s in front of me – argh.

Garmin did a lot of things right with the user interface: The map is clear, the street names are legible and important information such as the next crossing street or the next turn is displayed clearly at the top of the screen. I can say that the basics are well covered and the rest is mainly a matter of personal preferences. My personal opinion is that Garmin could do better when it comes to graphic design.

As I drove around, I was disappointed by how slow the map refreshed. It’s not slow to the point where it’s no usable, it is, but a fast frame rate augments the comfort of using a real-time application like GPS mapping.

Entering a route is done in a very classic way ( state, spell city, spell street, enter house number…) and could be improved by keeping a list of previously visited cities. The virtual keyboard would also gain to use a QWERTY layout instead of the alphabetical one.

The directions were in general better than competing products but quite frankly I haven’t seen any computer routing that will give you the “easiest” route – that’s because “easy” for humans is sometimes hard to quantify for a machine. But at the end of the day, even if the directions are sometimes convoluted, they will (eventually) get you there.

Traffic info
I’ve tested the traffic info on several GPS units. The Nuvi 660 was actually pretty good at telling me where traffic jams were. However, there was little that I could do about it most of the time. While this feature is a good idea in general, it brought only little value to my daily use. That’s certainly not an option that I would recommend anyone to put money into. The traffic info is a paid service, but the GPS comes with a 3 months trial period.

Garmin has a good database of points of interests (POI) but I don’t think that the competition will have anything less as they probably share the same suppliers. Anyhow, it’s not a function that one uses very often, even if it is sometimes useful. If you regularly go to the same places, it is very easy to save a custom location in the list of favorites.

Advanced features and bonuses
The Garmin Nuvi 660 has been designed to be more than a “simple GPS”. It is also a multimedia device (aren’t they all nowadays?), but it is also a travel companion featuring optional modules like language guides, travel guide, savers guide, currency and unit converters. The unit could also be used to serve as a hands-free unit for your Bluetooth phone (function that I don’t use because it bugs me to turn Bluetooth on each time I get in the car. And my phone dies quickly if I leave Bluetooth on all the time).

The Nuvi 660 is a very good GPS unit, but given its relatively high price, you should consider whether or not you will use features like Bluetooth or Traffic Alerts, because that’s why you’re paying a premium. In my opinion, these are superfluous for most users, feel free to comment below to discuss this.

A good reason for paying more is the wide availability of maps (check Garmin’s site). A lot of competitors don’t offer such a variety of maps and Garmin can therefore command higher prices. If you don’t plan to use your GPS outside of the USA/Canada, there are really good (and cheaper) alternatives.

The Nuvi 660 gets the job done efficiently but Garmin should be weary that competing models might have better, faster graphics at lower prices.

What’s in the box?

  • Nuvi 660 GPS unit
  • Windshield succion mount
  • USB wall charger
  • USB sync cable
  • Proprietary car charger
  • CD and manual
  • Protective case

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