At the launch of the Nuvi 3700 series, the team from Garmin Australia brought a StreetPilot III model from 2001 for show and tell. Its roast beef-sized body, natty colour screen, scattershot approach to button placement and the new-found ability to discern roads from, well, everything else sat in stark contrast from the lithe and lovely Nuvi 3790T.
We thought that the Navman MY500XT and the S300t before that were good-looking portable nav units, but the 3790T and its identical twin the 3760 socks it to them like a 29th second knock-out punch. The body is made from machined metal and not only feels fantastic to touch and hold but, weighing just 113g, somehow marries both lightness and rock-solid sturdiness.
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(Credit: Garmin and Derek Fung/CNET Australia)
With its 4.3-inch touchscreen, the 3790T is wider and taller than popular smartphones, such as the HTC Desire and Apple iPhone 4 — designs which, in many ways, it resembles. Without any cellular technology on-board, though, the 3790T is waif thin at 8.95mm.
As the 3790T's touchscreen is capacitive in nature, it responds accurately to both presses and swipes, as well as multi-touch zoom. Graced with almost triple the number of pixels of a standard 4.3-inch GPS unit, the 800x480-pixel screen is not left wanting for sharpness and clarity, making it the second portable nav we've used that almost justifies itself inclusion of a picture viewing app. While its glossy glass screen makes colours pop, it is a magnet for both reflections and fingerprints, requiring both care with viewing angle and the cleaning cloth.
An accelerometer allows the unit to flip the screen between portrait and landscape modes, so you could conceivably use it on foot. There's a suitably loud but tinny speaker on the unit itself, as well as a powered speaker on the windscreen mount that's both loud and clear. It's a shame that although the mount does its job well, it's pretty much a standard ball-jointed Garmin affair and lacks the flair of the device itself.
Garmin's simple-to-use interface is largely unchanged: two large icons (Where To? and View Map) dominate the main menu and are underscored by smaller icons for settings, volume, Bluetooth phone connectivity and route modification. The map screen is clear and crisp, and thanks to a more powerful than usual brain animations are smooth and the map redraws quickly in nice little chunks. Neatly, the unit zooms out and changes perspective for distant manoeuvres and zooms back in for nearby turns.
As Garmin's flagship GPS units for 2010, the Nuvi 3760 and 3790T come well specified. Common features include text-to-speech for spoken street names, lane guidance, junction view, Bluetooth hands-free, speed and red-light camera alerts, lane guidance, speed limit display, historical traffic information, and maps for both Australia (Whereis) and New Zealand.
The extra AU$100 investment required for the Nuvi 3790T nets the owner lifetime traffic information via the Suna network, voice control and activation, 3D buildings and terrain view. Neither unit comes equipped with an FM transmitter, MP3 playback or internet connectivity.
Bluetooth hands-free worked without a hitch on a number of phones, including the hot-to-trot Apple iPhone 4 and HTC Desire. However, on several Apple iPhone 3GS handsets running either iOS 4 and 3.1.3 our calls would disappear into the ether whenever we used the voice command system to dial a number.
Like most recent Garmins, the 3790T features ecoRoute that attempts to get you to drive more economically via a host of visual aids, such as an on-map score and leaf display. At the time of writing, though, it doesn't support the ecoRoute HD Bluetooth dongle that plugs in a car's OBD-II port. On Garmin GPS units that support ecoRoute HD, drivers can view car diagnostic data and a wealth of sensor information, as well as more accurate fuel economy readings.
Talk to me
The voice recognition feature works brilliantly, but only if you're endowed with an Australian or neutral accent; unfortunately, the system can't be trained. Unlike some other voice recognition systems, no buttons need to be pressed to activate it, just utter a customisable set phrase — for example, "voice command", "Shelly sells shells" or "Randy rumbles Rambo".
Once activated, the voice recognition system shows a list of available commands, saving users from the hassle of scratching at the corners of their minds for suitable commands. The system allows you to search for street addresses, points of interest, recent destinations and even phone-book entries via spoken whole words — no need to spell each word out letter by letter. So long as you're in a modern, quiet vehicle with the windows up and the music off, it works perfectly a vast majority of the time.
The list of verbal commands covers most everyday functions, so much so that we were able to keep our dirty mitts from smearing the 3790T's lovely screen from a majority of the time. It does somehow manage to omit a few key functions, such as access to detailed traffic information, as well as the ability to dismiss dialog boxes or enter an intersection as a destination.
Check out the Nuvi 3790T's voice recognition system in action in our video review above.
Equipped with Whereis' latest maps of Australia, there's lane guidance for most multi-lane roads and a junction view mechanism that primarily uses real-world photos, as opposed to somewhat unrealistic graphic renders.
Nuvi 3790T owners also get to enjoy 3D landmarks and buildings, which while nice to look at, do get in the way of route display. To our eyes terrain view is more useful and adds a greater sense of reality to the maps.
By default historical traffic information, supplied by Suna and dubbed TrafficTrends by Garmin, is enabled. Routes generated with TrafficTrends are a mix of genius and sheer breathtaking stupidity; on the one hand it will avoid known bottlenecks, but on the other it will route you in circuitous routes, down unfriendly back alleys and across busy intersections without the aid of a set of traffic lights.
With TrafficTrends off (go to Tool > Settings > Navigation > Car > NuRoute) route calculation is at least 20 per cent faster on the 3790T/3760 than other Garmins and routing reverts back to the GPS norm of main roads, main roads and a few more main roads. Unlike many prior Garmins, tapping the power button puts the 3790T into sleep mode from which it can wake instantaneously.
GPS reception is fine in the suburbs and beyond, with the occasional drop out or confused position when surrounded by buildings that scrape the sky. The Nuvi's text-to-speech engine handles Australian pronunciation, as well as Aboriginal street names, pretty well.
A lifetime Suna subscription is included with the Nuvi 3790T and like other units that feature traffic information is — let's get out that scratched record out again — nice to have, but quite frequently we ran into displayed delays that had already cleared or incidents that had yet to be registered by the system. As always the traffic-receiving FM antenna is wrapped in a thick charger cable with a rectangular section that bangs and scrapes the dash.
It's not quite as smart as it claims to be, but the Nuvi 3790T is the first high-end portable GPS we've been able to whole-heartedly recommend in a long time. Once TrafficTrends was switched off, its mix of alluring design, responsive screen and almost hands-free operation, not to mention its ability to get us from A to B, proved to be a winning combination.