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.
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Table of Contents
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.
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.
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).