Heads-up displays (HUDs) have been around for decades, but they've generally been either the province of the terribly specialised, notably military displays, or the terribly high-end luxury vehicle market. That's a pity because there's little doubt that keeping your eyes on the road is something that everyone should be doing as much of the time as possible. It's simple safety.
It's that simple safety market that Garmin pitches its HUD product to. It's a simple black box with a reflective projector built into it, sending an image up at roughly 45 degrees to your windscreen. The idea behind the HUD is that it's meant to tie into a smartphone GPS so that you don't have to screen mount your phone, but also so you're not staring at it rather than the road. The HUD itself has no brains at all, so it doesn't handle GPS work or even spoken directions itself.
The HUD does this by displaying the next turn direction, distance, current speed and estimated time of arrival on an overlay over your field of vision. It has two methods for doing this. Firstly, in the box is a small transparent but reflective sticker that you affix to your windscreen for permanent usage, or if that isn't to your taste, you can use the reflective screen that clips on to the HUD device itself. Power comes via a standard car cigarette lighter adaptor, but with an eye to the fact that you'll be using your smartphone as well, the adaptor has a 5v USB socket built into it.
Unlike a traditional GPS suction cup arrangement, the HUD is designed to sit on your dashboard. In order to make it fit any dashboard, the base is highly flexible so you can shape it to the contours of your dash. It's also sticky, and thankfully washable to renew its adhesion, to keep it nicely in place even if you're making a modest speed turn or hit a pothole.
Installing the HUD is an interesting experience because it's not quite like your regular screen-mounted GPS offering. Instead, what you've got to do is pick your projection method. If it's the clip-on screen, that best works when as flush up against your windscreen as possible, but if it's the reflective see-through sticker you prefer — and it does offer a wider field of vision and the possibility of a larger display by placing the HUD device a little further back on your dashboard — then you've got a bit of work to do.
Clean your windscreen with a lint-free cloth. Then wet it or the sticker will be ruined.
Then gently place the sticker in the spot you'd like the HUD to go or the sticker will be ruined.
Then use the cardboard sleeve it came in to smooth out any bubbles or grit or the sticker will be ruined.
Then gently remove the front cover of the sticker and line up the HUD. It's impossible to do this while the car is in motion, which means the HUD should be off. You then have to work out the angle between the HUD and sticker. If you get it wrong for the way you sit in the car, you'll have to quickly shift the sticker — and it'll almost certainly be ruined.
No prizes for guessing what happened to our review sticker.
Ruined isn't entirely accurate because it retains reflectivity, but the issue is that the reflection warps very easily, making it hard to read and distracting rather than informative.
When good stickers go bad.
(Credit: CNET/Alex Kidman)
It's especially annoying because you only get one reflective sticker in the HUD box. A few more would not only allow for accidents and learning curves but also allow you to use the HUD across multiple vehicles quickly and easily.
The HUD also only currently works with two GPS apps. There's Garmin's Navigator app, which is exclusively available to Telstra customers, and there's Navigon, which is owned by Garmin.
That's probably not coincidental, but it would be a whole lot more appealing if it worked across multiple navigation applications. It's also somewhat annoying that it doesn't seem to work with the free version of Navigon that you get with Samsung's Galaxy smartphones. We could pair up a Note 3 just fine, but the HUD merely sat there cheekily telling us it was "OK" instead of letting us know where the next corner was, so we tested with the iPhone version of Navigon instead.
Essentially speaking, unless you happen to own the Navigon app already, be willing to fork out another AU$50 or so for it on top of the price of the HUD. Given the HUD is useless without the app, it's a pity it's not a bundled inclusion.
That being said, once you get the HUD up and running with the smaller clip on-screen, the effect is brilliant. It seems a little 80s-action-show kitsch at first because it's a projected LED display, but once that shock wears off, it quickly becomes both commonplace and exceptionally useful indeed.
There's genuine and obvious utility in something as simple as not having to look down at your dashboard in order to check your current speed or glance at a bright screen-mounted phone or GPS device for directions.
You only ever get the next turn, along with clear or filled arrows, to indicate acceptable lanes to be in, but for everyday navigation, it's very useful indeed. During the test period, I started simply leaving the HUD running so I could keep an on-screen speedometer at a glance, which again is nicely safety minded.
One word of final caution, however. The Garmin HUD is black, and black surfaces soak up heat like crazy. Australia isn't exactly known for being a frozen continent, especially in summer. It would be a bad idea to leave the Garmin HUD on permanent display in your car, but be careful when moving it around, as it heats up very quickly indeed, especially on its projection screen. More than once I was lightly toasted by a scorching screen when putting it away after a drive.
Garmin's HUD is every part a "first-generation" product, and that means that for everything that it does brilliantly, there are still kinks to be ironed out. It needs more reflective stickers in the box. It would be improved by hooking into other GPS applications or having its own on-board GPS in order to work simply as a speedometer. It pairs via Bluetooth, but there's no speaker, so if you want spoken road names out of your GPS, you'll have to separately pair to an audio source or turn your smartphone volume way up.
Garmin's taken a bold step with the HUD, and that's laudable. The HUD offers the kind of safe navigation options that have previously only been the remit of true luxury vehicles. If you can live within its limitations, it's a good product — but I'd be willing to bet that HUD v2 will be even better.