Garmin nüvi 3597LMTHD review

Garmin has done it again with the nüvi 3597LMTHD, a high-end portable GPS device that continues to set the bar for the genre. The question is whether there's a market for pricey in-car navigation systems these days.

The Garmin nüvi 3597LMTHD ($379.99 direct) is the best automotive GPS navigation device you can buy today. While the market for standalone devices has stagnated and even contracted in recent years, there’s still plenty of demand—especially at bargain prices. That’s not the 3597LMTHD’s mission; instead, it advances the state of the art with its magnetic mount, glass capactive screen, and beautiful 3D lane assistance, so it’s our Editors’ Choice for high-end GPS devices. If you’re willing to shell out the cash, the nüvi 3597LMTHD is the best add-on car navigation device you’ll find. 

Design and Screen
The nüvi 3597LMTHD measures 5.4 by 3.1 by 0.5 inches (HWD) and weighs 6.8 ounces. The housing is a little thinner and more tapered than last year’s 3590LMT, and is nicely finished in a textured silver aluminum. The package contains the device itself, a vehicle suction cup mount, a combination power cable and traffic receiver, a USB cable, and a Quick Start manual.

The new magnetic mount is one of the best things about the 3597LMTHD; it grabs strongly enough to hold the device in place on the windshield or dashboard, but it also lets go easily for when you want to take the unit with you after parking the car. Unlike other devices, you don’t have to snap it in and out of a holder with a clasp, or line it up with a docking connector; you just place it on, and pull it away when you’re done. Plus, the power cable plugs into the mount, not the device, so you can leave the mount wired up and ready to go in the car.

The big 5-inch glass capacitive display supports multi-touch, so you can pinch and zoom map graphics and other data. It features a sharp 800-by-480-pixel resolution and is bright and colorful. Unfortunately, the glass shows plenty of reflections, especially with the top down on the Mini Cooper convertible I tested with; it was very difficult to see from certain angles. There’s also a built-in accelerometer for using the 3597LMTHD in either horizontal or vertical orientation, which is an unusual and welcome feature in a standalone GPS.

You get free lifetime map updates, which include routes, POIs, and navigation info up to four times per year for the life of the device. Garmin used to charge a lot of money for map updates, but with the advent of always-updated GPS apps on cell phones, the company ended the practice.

Performance, Other Features, and Conclusions
The user interface is a little different than before; Garmin has increased the size of the upcoming turn and distance icon on the top left, which is a good move. You still see a large speed limit sign, plus your speed, ETA, and current road along the bottom, while the top right features an oversize bar for the next turnoff road. The unit warns you of upcoming school zones and other road hazards, and you can display nearby gas stations, ATMs, and restaurants, and navigate to them with a single tap.

In the menu system, there’s an Apps subcategory that lets you hook into Garmin’s ecoRoute HD dongle, among other things, and you can run voice-activated searches, which were hit-or-miss in my testing, as is often the case with this feature.

Map graphics look great; the 3597LMTHD inherits the terrain renderings of the prior 3590LMT and 3790T models, and also displays many buildings in Manhattan in 3D. You also get split-screen, photorealistic 3D lane assistance, which shows you how to exit up ahead on the right, while continuing to update the standard 3D map on the left. Both views are a little small as a result, but it’s a very useful feature to have.

In my tests, voice prompts sounded smooth, clear, and full, and were loud enough to compensate for the top being down on the convertible. The 3597LMTHD also uses natural language processing when possible, so that it says “turn left at the light” instead of the name of the next street.

Real-time traffic software also gets a boost; you can now bring up a large display on the right that indicates an upcoming delay, how far along in the trip it is, how long the delay is, and how much time a suggested reroute would save. Garmin says you’ll get roughly two hours of battery life out of the 3597LMTHD. That’s basically only good for taking it out of the DC jack in order to use it for an emergency cell phone charge, but that’s fine.  The nüvi 2597LMT also offers voice-activated Bluetooth hands-free calling.

Unfortunately, while the 3597LMTHD showcases many recent advances on Garmin’s part, it’s still $380, and is limited by the current state of consumer GPS technology. The 3597LMTHD lost position a few times, particularly in Manhattan, thanks to the well-documented “urban canyons” problem with GPS location. Sometimes, the 3597LMTHD thinks you’re in one lane about to follow its directions, when you’re in fact in an adjacent lane—say, a service road, or after a major split, where half the traffic will turn off and head somewhere else. I would follow the unit’s directions, only to later miss a turn it wanted me to take, because it never indicated which side of the median I should be on. In addition, real-time traffic works fairly well on major highways, but it’s still not perfect, and the 3597LMTHD missed some congestion on secondary roads and New York city streets during my test period.

Having said all of that, the Garmin nüvi 3597LMTHD is a top pick, as long as you are willing to pay a premium for the best, and as long as you understand that even the best consumer GPS devices have yet to solve certain issues while on the road. The Garmin nüvi 2597LMT swaps the capacitive touch screen for a plastic resistive one that isn’t as sharp, the casing is made of plastic instead of aluminum, and it switches to a standard. non-magnetic mount, but otherwise it has the same features and performs very similarly to the 3597LMTHD, but for $130 less. Finally, the Magellan SmartGPS, offers smartphone data connectivity, a cloud-based account, and a similar glass capacitive touch screen also for $130 less, although its interface is far more cluttered and complex.

Specifications
3D Lane Assistance Yes
Display Type Capacitive Touch
Screen Resolution 800 x 480 pixels
Dimensions 5.4 x 3.1 x 0.5 inches
Weight 6.8 oz
Multi Segment Routing Yes
Terrain Modeling Yes
Speed Limit Display Yes
Free Lifetime Maps Yes
Bluetooth Hands-Free Calling Yes
Free Lifetime Traffic Yes
Power to Device No
Power to Mount Yes
Display Size 5 inches

Verdict
Garmin has done it again with the nüvi 3597LMTHD, a high-end portable GPS device that continues to set the bar for the genre. The question is whether there's a market for pricey in-car navigation systems these days.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc