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Hands-on review: Garmin nüviCam

28 Jul 15

In car GPS makers have struggled to compete with smartphones in recent years with GPS capable smartphones making dedicated GPS devices seem increasingly irrelevant. Garmin are hoping that the nüviCam LMT will help turn the tide.

Dashcams rose to prominence thanks to events such as the Russian meteor impact, which was captured by numerous dashcams and posted on social media. In the UK, insurers are also offering discounts for dashcam equipped drivers and are regularly using of dashcam footage for disputed insurance claims.

None of this has escaped Garmin who’ve added a dashcam onto their latest GPS as well as some additional smarts.

Bells and Whistles

The addition of a dashcam in Garmin's nüviCam LMT GPS may initially seem bizarre, but in use, it makes a ton of sense.

The camera continuously records onto a bundled 4GB microSD card, capturing HD 1080p footage. If the nüviCam detects that you’ve had a fender bender (e.g. there’s a sudden increase in G-Forces), it’ll save footage, plus metadata including your speed, location and g-forces for your insurance company.

This makes the nüviCam LMT an infallible eyewitness that can in theory greatly simplify insurance claims.

As with most other in car GPS units, the nüviCam attaches to the windscreen using a suction cup mount. The nüviCam can be removed from the mount thanks to an easy to use magnetic mounting system. This handily means that clipping it on or off doesn’t result in a loud popping noise and a dislocated shoulder.

The nüviCam sports a 6” screen that delivers a crisp hi-res image. Unfortunately the screen sometimes suffered from glare but was mostly readable.

Garmin have also added a voice command capability for hands free use, which in theory is less of a distraction for drivers. It worked surprisingly well but in noisy environments sometimes required multiple commands before it worked.

Drivers who are more vocal with their road rage may also want to turn off the nüviCam's audio recording feature, allowing potty-mouthed expletitives aimed at the idiot in front of you not to be captured along with HD video.

In Use

While there’s little doubt that adding a dashcam greatly enhances the usefulness of the nüviCam GPS, Garmin have taken things to the next level by adding some smarts to the camera.

Most useful of all is what Garmin call FCWS (forward collision warning system) that will alert drivers if they’re not keeping a safe following distance from any traffic in front. It automatically activates when your road speed goes over 48kph. A lane detection feature is also smart enough to know when to warn you if you're veering across the lane.

The Garmin nüviCam LMT can also sync with Garmin's Smartphone app, which in theory means you can send it addresses using the contacts stored on your phone. You can also get traffic updates and take advantage of hands-free calling. Garmin app aside, The nüviCam's UI proved to be fairly intuitive and using it was mostly a no brainer thanks to common sense turning instructions (e.g. “turn left after the MacDonald’s in 150 metres). This was also helped with and lane change graphics that show you how to avoid missing motorway on/off-ramps etc.

Given my previous experiences with voice recognition technologies, I was somewhat dubious about the nüviCam's abilities to interpret my speech. It turns out that under most driving conditions it wasn’t all that bad. In noisier driving environments (gravel roads etc.) it required several frustrating attempts to work but did provide a hands-free means of accessing many of the nüviCam's features.

Verdict

The addition of a dashcam makes a big difference to what is an already feature packed GPS.  The move is a logical one for Garmin, who’re faced with increasingly tough market conditions as Smartphone’s get smarter which impacts their part of the GPS market. I’m quietly hoping that NZ insurance companies will match their UK counterparts to offer discounts for dashcam users. In a nutshell the addition of a dashcam into the nüviCam seals the deal to make it one of the more useful widgets you can add to your car.

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