The Garmin nuvi 3790T (*Est. $250) became an instant critics' choice when it debuted last year. This year, experts recommend it far more than any other auto GPS unit -- even more so now that its price has dropped steeply from its original $450.
The Garmin nuvi 3790T looks remarkably like a smartphone, with its big multitouch screen and slim casing (about half the thickness of cheaper Garmins). Its claim to fame is that it can automatically "learn" when and where traffic is likely to snarl in your neighborhood, as well as which routes you prefer, and adjust its behavior accordingly.
The whole package thrills just about every top critic. "Wow. If sat nav heaven is having Angelina Jolie jump into the passenger seat and asking you where you want to go, then the Garmin nuvi 3790T comes a very, very close second," writes Rob Mead at TechRadar.com.
The nuvi 3790T doesn't connect to the Internet like the pricier Garmin nuLink 1695 (*Est. $320) -- discussed in our Luxury GPS Receivers section -- but it comes loaded with just about every other feature Garmin offers. It has high-resolution, 3D maps that critics say are gorgeous. It understands voice commands (perfectly in some tests, not so well in others). It can switch from a car GPS navigator to a pedestrian/public transportation navigator if you buy special maps Garmin has for major cities worldwide (*Est. $10 to $18 each). It can tell you what lane you need to be in at an upcoming junction (in certain coverage areas), automatically sort all of your errand stops into one efficient route, pair with your mobile phone for hands-free calling and give you free traffic information for the life of the GPS unit.
What do owners think? Most give the Garmin nuvi 3790T high marks -- but a fair number report problems. Some say its fancy, thin casing gets too hot on the windshield, forcing the unit to shut down. Some report that the nuvi 3790T takes longer to lock onto satellites than older Garmin GPS units, and that it's not as good at picking the best routes.
Still, the nuvi 3000 series dominates the midpriced category -- no other brand or model even earns runner-up status in reviews. Critics do recommend the Garmin nuvi 3790LMT (*Est. $280) , which adds free lifetime map updates. The Garmin nuvi 3760T (*Est. $265) is supposed to save money by omitting voice commands and 3D terrain view, but we actually found lower prices for the 3790T.
There's increasingly less reason to spend more than $300 for an auto GPS receiver, according to reviews. Luxury features that cost more than $400 last year, such as the ability to learn local traffic patterns, now appear on midpriced GPS receivers like the Garmin nuvi 3790T (*Est. $250) .
But if you want a GPS unit that can connect to the Internet, experts say the Garmin nuLink 1695 (*Est. $320) is your best bet. It uses its nuLink Internet connection to find virtually unlimited points of interest via Google Local Search, plus traffic alerts and the lowest gas prices along your route. Experts and owners find the Internet search fast, reliable and extremely convenient. Rich Owings at GPSTracklog.com says the nuLink 1695 is "worth it for Google Local search alone."
The Garmin nuLink 1695 comes with one free year of Internet-connected services, but you'll pay $60 per year after that. Other major features include a big 5-inch screen and the ability to learn traffic patterns in your area (streets that tend to get clogged at rush hour, for instance), as well as your personal favorite routes. Owings says this really helps the nuLink 1695 pick more efficient routes, but it slows down the initial route creation.
"There's simply more data to crunch," he says. "A test route for a three hour drive, from my office to Charlotte, N.C., took the 1695 a full 15 seconds to calculate. A nuvi 1300 did it in 3.5 seconds."
It's speedy when it comes to recalculating on the fly after a missed turn, say Owings and experts at Which? magazine, but some owners at Amazon.com disagree. Some of the 15 owners who have posted reviews complain that the nuLink 1695 recalculates slowly or picks bad routes, but most award it 4 or a perfect 5 stars.
Although TomTom also sells Internet-connected GPS units, the only other one that gets recommended often in reviews is the Garmin nuLink 1690 (*Est. $300) , the 1695's predecessor and still a current Garmin model. It has a smaller screen than the 1695 and lacks the traffic-learning feature, but it doesn't cost much less.