January 25, 2007

Garmin Nuvi 680 Full Review


-A Hands on Review by GPSLodge-

The recently announced Garmin Nuvi 680 is a widescreen, bright, flat form factor GPS system that is based on one of the best GPS units out there, if not the best, the Nuvi 660. The key difference is that the Nuvi 680 has the capability to get information updates from the MSN Direct service that provides data feeds over the FM band in many major cities across the US.

"Having the MSN Direct Service onboard the Nuvi 680 is a great addition to an already excellent navigator."
While these data feeds can be seen in gizmos like this Melitta Coffee Maker, these feeds can also be seen in other useful places like on a GPS on my dashboard! (Let's face it the Melitta wouldn't fit on the dashboard anyway.) For the Nuvi 680, it has the ability to pull down information about weather, movies, traffic and gas prices.

For a full list of my own Full Reviews of GPS units; Click - GPSLodge.com Hands On Reviews

MSN Direct - Movies
The MSN Direct system will retrieve movie theater locations and what's playing at those theaters too, allowing you to search by movie or theater. I actually thought that this was great; search for the movie you want to see, and it brings up the theaters that are playing it in a list starting with what's closest, and once you tap on that theater, you get the times for when that movie is showing. Vastly better than scanning through the newspaper, or searching online. Easy enough to change plans half way through dinner and pick a new movie, new theater and still get there with time to spare.


MSN Direct - Weather

When you tap on the weather button you get a forecast for a city or town close to you. As the unit pulls down more weather information, the display will show you the opportunity for a weather forecast at most cities and the option to browse other cities.

You get a list of towns and cities near you and then as you continue to scroll you start to get a list of major cities near you. So here around Boston, I got a dozen or so local cities and towns listed and then got major cities down the east coast like NYC, Washington, Richmond, etc. Nice touch. Another thing that I like is that in many screens a small temperature readout comes up as you drive or search for locations. So, it's informing you about current temperatures here and places you go while navigating regular Nuvi menus.

MSN Direct - Gas Prices
MSN Direct covers about 100,000 gas stations across the country, and after doing a little research I found that the US has 121,000 gas stations, making for about 83% coverage of major gas stations (there are about another 10,000 outlets with no employees, making them, in my mind, so small they may not be worth considering; even if you add those, that's still an impressive coverage number - 75%). I found coverage to be good, and all the national brands in my area were represented, although not all of the gas stations near me were. I used the Nuvi for several days, and the unit continued to pull down information making for a pretty big database of stations around me in Eastern Massachusetts.

So, when I started using the Nuvi 680, my thought was that this feature would not blow me away, but I found out that I was very wrong. I previously felt like a fairly educated consumer, noticing gas prices and never paying too much, right? Well, if you ever get a Nuvi 680 or a StreetPilot 580, drive around your normal area with the gas price screen up all day, and see what the pricing landscape looks like. Here's what I learned.


Cheaper prices come up Green and high prices come up Red. I found out that the gas stations in my local area are about as high priced as you get, and there are a lot of lower priced ones that I should be using. I figured out that with some small detours to normal driving (sometimes less than a mile), I could save a lot on gas; up to $0.20 per gallon for nationally branded gas. Even at half that savings, I could save enough in a year's worth of driving to pay for the MSN Direct service. (I use about 600 gallons per year * $0.10 = $60 in savings. MSN Direct costs about $50 per year.)

Another question in my mind was if the prices would be accurate. While the screen may say that the data is about 2-3 days old, I found that for the most part the data was good.

MSN Direct Traffic on the Nuvi 680
This gets a little messy, and to fully understand the traffic area, you need to understand the suppliers of traffic data. The Nuvi 680 uses MSN Direct Traffic. MSN Direct uses Traffic.com's data (being acquired by NAVTEQ), which relies on road sensors for the most part to gather information about traffic flow and incidents.

The Nuvi 660 and most of the Garmin line uses TMC traffic also supplied over the FM band by ClearChannel communications. The data is fed by Inrix. I have written a lot about Inrix, and their miles of road covered is superior to Traffic.com's from what I can tell. Check out how Inrix collects more information about roads that don't have expensive installed sensors; it's called the Dust Network, and it's pretty innovative.

Don't walk away from the Traffic.com fed MSN traffic yet. The data feed coming from Traffic.com tells you anticipated delays along your route, where speed data is given. So something like: "2 incidents on your route. 15 minute delay." I like this, as it informs me about what is going on and how much trouble I am in for. The trade-off here is coverage, for what is a pretty useful feature in my mind.

You can compare the coverage for your area at Inrix or at Traffic.com. At Inrix, just click on your city to see a what roads are covered in your area. At Traffic.com, click on your city and then on the Map tab to show the coverage graphically.

I would imagine (hope) that Inrix could flip a switch on the data format to provide this type of information, but I can't really say. I also can't say what's better for you, as you'll need to check coverage maps at both Inrix and Traffic.com to see if your route is covered on a daily basis. For me, the Inrix based data is better because the roads around me have better coverage by them. I am having a real hard time deciding though if I would want to give up the other MSN direct features......ARGH. Luckily, I don't have to decide right now, but if you are contemplating the Nuvi 660 or the 680, I would urge you to check coverage, and then consider how much you'll use the other MSN features (like the money saving gas finder), and make your decision.

When I was driving up to Boston during one terrible rush hour with the Nuvi 680, it didn't actually warn me about trouble ahead. I was curious why. The highways were all snarled with "RED" colored traffic, and I combed the route to find that it routed me around the trouble spots right from the start. It still took me a bit to get around on the surface roads, but not nearly as long as sitting in the mess on the interstate. Pretty slick.

Getting MSN Direct Signals
As it turns out, it takes a bit of background on the MSN Direct receiver in the Nuvi 680 to understand how it works. The MSN FM receiver is built into the 12 volt plug that then hooks into the suction cup mount, which then clips to the Nuvi 680. You need to plug the Nuvi into the power outlet to charge the onboard Nuvi battery AND the battery in the MSN Direct receiver. So, when your car is powered off, the MSN Direct receiver is working on battery power still pulling down important data (like traffic). With this, the traffic is fairly up to date when you turn the unit on, or shortly thereafter. The same this goes for all of the services. I found that the weather was accurate for the current conditions all of the time, and it took only a few minutes to pull in forecasts for most major towns or cities in the area. The movies seemed to take a couple of minutes to be totally up to date, and overall, gas prices were fairly up to date all of the time.

The Nuvi 680 comes with a 1 year's subscription to MSN direct when you buy the unit, and will cost you about $50 (today's prices) a year after that, or you can pay a one time fee of $130 for "Lifetime" coverage. Find cheap gas and pay for it hands down.

Navigation Functionality of the Nuvi 680
I will say that the Nuvi 680 is almost exactly like the Nuvi 660; read my Review of the Nuvi 660. Its features are the same, its options are generally the same, and it performs equally well in almost every manner. It plays MP3's and can do that over your FM stereo in the car thanks to the FM modulator (through which it can also pipe your navigation commands). One feature that I didn't find on the Nuvi 680 that is on the Nuvi 660 is the ability for the unit to scan the FM dial and tell you the best FM station to send navigation commands and music over. So, instead you'll need to do this manually. This is no big deal in my mind. I have already spent too much time on this minor change, but for what it's worth there you go.

I was able to navigate very easily with the Nuvi 680 in the same manner as I was with the Nuvi 660. Like any computing device I want boot-up in about a millisecond instead of the 10 seconds that it takes. Satellite acquisition was fast with the SiRF star III chipset (just like the entire Nuvi line). Fit and finish is good, just like the Nuvi 660. Again, a noticeable difference is the MSN butterfly and temperature readouts on the main menu, but for the most part, the unit performs like a Nuvi 660. Easy to use, Easy to navigate with, Easy to understand.

Review Summary
The Nuvi 680 builds surprisingly useful features on the Nuvi 660 platform with the inclusion of the MSN Direct service. Garmin has incorporated these additional features in an easy to use way that does not detract from the overall aesthetics of the operating system. The inclusion of temperature readouts in useful areas again shows how the product can help you feel more informed as you go through your day. The ability to pull down weather forecasts for needed regions is a plus, but I would imagine that there is a limit to the MSN system in what it will pull down: i.e. don't be disappointed when it won't give you a forecast for a small town 3,000 miles away. Certainly the traffic data supplier question will be an issue for many who are really into the service. This aspect is one that you are going to have to decide for yourselves. I will finish by saying that having the MSN Direct Service onboard the Nuvi 680 is a great addition to an already excellent navigator.

The latest word is that Nuvi 680 should be available in March - list price is $999 (including a free year of MSN Direct).

More at Garmin and Amazon

  • Live in California or Minneapolis? Don't forget the dash friction mount if you don't want an adhesive disk stuck to your dashboard. At Portable Friction Mount for Garmin GPS

    Get a whole lot more information on the Garmin Nuvi 680.

    One more screen shot for the weather data use. This shows you weather for another location when you want to navigate there:



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    Posted by Scott Martin at January 25, 2007 6:30 AM

    Recent Comments

    to Ken with the lost manual. you have to go back to your 'home spot' and then turn it on and it will by pass the security screen and I assume at that time you can reset the pin.

    Posted by: mike at October 26, 2009 9:30 AM

    I have had a Nuvi 680 and the screen froze - does not respond when touched. Anyone else seen this? I went through the Garmin web site and updated the firm ware, did the reset and still no response. Speaking of no response - I have sent Garmin support two emails and just like my Nuvi there has been NO response. It's just over a year old and I have to say my experience with Garmin and their idea of support as anything but positive.
    Any ideas?
    Thanks all!
    Mike - lost in NC

    Posted by: mike at October 26, 2009 9:28 AM

    Garmin ford Nuvi 680 NA I dont have my manual and I forgot my PIN - can anyone HELP??!?

    Posted by: James at November 8, 2008 2:48 PM

    I just got a 650 and it seems to have a bug. Maybe someone else who has one can confirm. When driving or simulation a route, hit the green banner across the top to bring up the list of turns, then hit the first turn to bring up the split screen that shows a small map on the left and the turn instruction on the right. Now, wait until you get to the next turn, the text instruction updates but the map goes blank. I have tried this on a nuvi 350 and it works properly but on my 650 it does not.
    Anyone else seen this?

    Posted by: Ken at December 11, 2007 3:43 PM

    Great Review

    I have written 2 reviews of the Nuvi 680 and provided screenshots of it in action.

    Both can be read here:

    Posted by: Tad Anderson at November 30, 2007 5:11 AM

    I traded in my 2610 for a nuvi 680, couldn't resist the msn traffic feature. However, I travel long distances at times and the Nuvi does not have very much in the way of routing preferences. On the old unit I could favor major highways and avoid local roads. Each time I travel long distance the unit constantantly tries to bring me onto local roads, heavily traffic- lighted roads or tries to take me through a city. All this to save a few seconds of travel. I am thinking of selling my Nuvi if I can't find a solution. This newer model doesn't have flexibilty and as a result its routing leaves much to be desired.


    Posted by: David at November 7, 2007 11:57 AM

    I traded in my 2610 for a nuvi 680, couldn't resist the msn traffic feature. However, I travel long distances at times and the Nuvi does not have very much in the way of routing preferences. On the old unit I could favor major highways and avoid local roads. Each time I travel long distance the unit constantantly tries to bring me onto local roads, heavily traffic- lighted roads or tries to take me through a city. All this to save a few seconds of travel. I am thinking of selling my Nuvi if I can't find a solution. This newer model doesn't have flexibilty and as a result its routing leaves much to be desired.


    Posted by: David at November 7, 2007 11:56 AM

    The 680 is a very slick unit. I drive truck over-the-road, and was interested in the 680 because of the "truck" setting. On my very first trip out (to a truck depot in Aurora, IL), the 680 tried repeatedly to route me under over-passes which were too short for my standard height truck (13' 6"). When I tried to find my own way around the over-passes, the unit then decided to route me through a residential area.

    GLITCH - I found one error in the database. When westbound on I-80 near Iowa City, if you continue heading west on I-80, the 680 will announce you're heading south on US Hwy 218. The moving map was 100% accurate.

    I would love to see this unit be more accurate with the "truck" settings. Otherwise, I love my 680 - I've just trained myself to keep reading the height restrictions on the signs.

    Posted by: Les at September 15, 2007 8:59 AM

    The "FMS Transmitter" function is useless around any major city. Unless you can find an FM frequency that is completely clear, the feature will not work. FM congestion in all large cities and I would guess even medium/small ones renders this feature unusable. I confirmed this with a friend of mine who lives in another major city and talked to Garmin support who admitted this is true.

    Posted by: geoff at September 5, 2007 12:02 PM

    I have very bad experience with nuvi680, just after one month it is not working and error "Loading Maps" is continuously existing but further customer support is not good, I am trying to contact but no response

    This is surprising, I have had great customer support from Garmin via email and phone.


    Posted by: Athar at September 4, 2007 10:11 PM

    Thanks for the info. I know nothing about stuff like this but getting it as a gift for my husband. Who needs it bad! So thanks for helping me make my decision.

    Posted by: nicole at July 29, 2007 2:48 PM

    I am considering buying a Garmin 680 however, based on experience with my friend that has one, 2 things are holding me up:
    1. I have not found a one/two touch solution to show me the whole route - I have to use the zoom several times
    2. to change routes I need to change preferences instead of indicating a waypoint or an address or something.
    Have I missed something?

    Posted by: frank at June 22, 2007 9:00 AM

    You can enter custom POI (points of interest) in the whole nuvi line. Those POI can have lots of data associated with them (such as the TourGuides) but can handle the addresses as needed. What is needed is for someone (maybe you, if you are inclined) gather the data needed for military installations (although I can imagine that some of this may be sensitive) and create a custom POI. Because POI information can be added without permissions, you can redistribute what you did with other nuvi owners.

    Alternatively, I have seen utilities to modify the map data that probably would also do the trick. Just need address blocking information associated with the streets that are already in the map data... problem is that you need to alter something that is licensed to you, so you need to check the license restrictions, get permission, etc. as well as understand how that information works with your nav system. When you are done, I doubt that you could redistribute what you did because of the license restrictions. I have played with the editing software and it is possible to do make many interesting changes. For instance, the roads all have a metric that identifies the trafficability (throughput) of each road. Garmin software will almost never create routes on roads with low metrics, unless you specify shortest route or the road is at the beginning or end of your trip. I changed a road that flowed though a neigborhood to a higher metric so Garmin would poick that road even when I specify fastest route.

    One final thought, can you use intersections of roads instead of street addresses?

    Posted by: Matt at June 15, 2007 7:34 AM

    I have used the Street Pilot III since it was fist put our. I now have a Nuvi 680. I am/was pleased with both products. There is one big drawback for members of the military, active duty, reserve, retired, and guard. Neither product allows the entering of addresses on military installations even though street names and addresses are available. To "navigate" to a military base address it is necessary to locate the installation by "zooming" and "dragging" to the address and then enter it into your "favorites".


    Posted by: Robert at June 14, 2007 2:20 PM

    Question, does anyone know if the Garmin NUVI 680 will charge our IPOD while we are motoring along the highway or will we still need a seperate DC charger to do that???


    Posted by: Terry at May 26, 2007 8:23 PM

    On the FM transmission subject, can you listen to regular radio stations or cd and the unit will interupt you when theres a turn or phone call or do you have to stay on the transmitted channel through out the drive?


    Posted by: David at April 30, 2007 11:34 AM

    The 680 looks really good, but I am disappointed to hear that the FM station has to be manually selected. One wonders why the 680 with its FM receiver can't not only select the best station for transmission (and tell you what to set your radio station to), but also change it when it detects poor reception further down the road and notify you to move the dial on the radio??? I use an external FM transmitter with my 360 and this is the one hassle. Was looking forward to getting a 680, but now may wait...

    Posted by: Michael at March 31, 2007 10:34 AM

    In my personal experience with a nuvi 350 and the TMC antenna over the last six months, I am regularly disappointed with the reliablity of the traffic data received. Very much looking forward to the 680 coming down in price for the specific purpose of getting data from Traffic.com.

    Posted by: TxTxYeHa at February 8, 2007 4:32 PM

    this is from the Garmin email response:

    "FM traffic receiver which is going to send a silent FM transmission to the
    Garmin with indicator icons. These icons display the traffic incident and
    offer alternative routing to avoid delay if possible. With the FM traffic
    NO there are not traffic flow maps."

    Posted by: Jim at January 30, 2007 12:08 PM

    I wonder if it has diesel prices aswll?

    Posted by: Mike Richman at January 29, 2007 12:29 PM


    On the Nuvi 660 and all TMC based Garmin GPS products, flow data is interpreted as colors on the roads, Red, Yellow, Green as an indication of severity of traffic. There also may be other areas that have ONLY incident data.

    There are some markets that TODAY may get some flow and a lot of incident data, or ONLY incident data might be what Garmin referenced in that email.

    But in general the TMC based service does offer Flow data on about 5,000 miles of roads; again right now.


    Posted by: Scott Martin at January 27, 2007 11:03 AM

    Thanks for the great review! I was just about to pull the trigger on the nuvi 660 but wanted to get the dash because it had these features provided by msn direct. But now I think I'll grab the 680 when prices drop to around the $700 mark like the 660 currently is.

    Posted by: Tommy at January 27, 2007 10:35 AM

    Traffic.com provides incident data on major roads in addition to their sensor data. It is also my understanding (verified by Garmin via email) that the c550 and Nuvi 660 do not have traffic flow data just incident data. The XM traffic (provided by Navteq traffic) data used by some of their products does provide traffic flow data.

    Posted by: Jim at January 25, 2007 6:08 PM
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