T-Mobile Garminfone review – is this the best GPS unit ever created?

Three weeks ago, Gadling was one of the first to post a real hands-on with the the upcoming T-Mobile Garminfone. In this full review, you’ll get a closer look at the hardware, software and additional applications of this Android powered GPS navigation device.

If you are in the market for a new (smart) phone, then your timing is good – because the Garminfone will be available on June 9th for $199 (after a $50 mail in rebate and a new 2 year agreement).
The hardware

The Garmin-Asus designed Garminfone is an Android powered smartphone – even if you never plan to use it as a GPS device, you’ll still have yourself a very competent mobile device. Under the hood is Android 1.6 – not the most recent version, but thanks to the hard work of the designers, you’d never know.

The phone itself feels more like a phone than a GPS unit – on the front are four touch sensitive buttons and a D-Pad with center button. On the left side are contacts for the charging cradle, and on the right are buttons for the camera and volume control.

The only other connector on the phone is a MiniUSB jack on the bottom – which also means the designers chose to outfit the phone without a 3.5mm headphone jack – a crime in today’s phone market if you ask me.

The battery cover slides off and provides access to an 1150mAh battery, a MicroSD slot and a SIM card slot. The memory card is “hot swappable”, so you won’t need to remove the battery to change cards. On the back of the unit is also where you’ll find the 3.2 megapixel autofocus camera, but no flash.

Photos from the camera are “OK” – certainly no replacement for a point and shoot camera, but adequate for capturing spur of the moment shots.

Inside the device, is a 600MHz Qualcomm processor, 256MB of ram and 256MB of rom. Connectivity comes from a quadband GSM/GPRS/EDGE radio, 3G HSDPA on 1700 and 2100MHz, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

The phone weighs 4.9 ounces (with battery) and measures 4.57 x .49 x 2.46 inches.

The Garminfone next to the Google Nexus One and Verizon Droid Increidble.

Included with the Garminfone is a 2GB MicroSD card (installed in the phone), a USB car charger, dash mount and active (powered) cradle. This cradle means the unit will switch to landscape mode when plugged in – and makes it very easy to install or remove the unit from your vehicle.

Audio in phone calls is very clear, and callers on the other side of my conversation never complained about the quality. The speakerphone is sufficient for a call at your desk, but I found it lacking volume when used in a noisy car.

UPDATE: The low volume is only an issue when you use the phone as a speakerphone – spoken GPS directions are very loud and clear.


The interface on the Garminfone is probably one of the best designed I’ve seen in a long time. The UI designers managed to make the phone look like a regular Garmin navigation unit, while still keeping some of the look and feel of Android on the device.

Best of all – the interface is perfect for using in your car. Of course, I’d never suggest you use it while driving, but if you happen to press a few buttons when on the road, the large icons won’t distract too much.

The list of features included in the navigation portion of the Garminfone is endless – this goes way beyond what you usually get on a GPS device. Some of the navigation features include:

  • Navigate to Google search location
  • Local gas prices
  • Navigate to events
  • Panoramio local content (photo searches)
  • Store and navigate to saved parking spot

Navigation itself is also very efficient – maps move very smooth and recalculations are swift when you miss a turn.

GPS reception did become an issue when I was driving in an area with tall buildings – in downtown Chicago the unit managed to lose track of me several times – and took a while to lock on to the signal. A Gamin Nuvi next to the Garminfone did not have these issues.

Other features brought over from the regular Garmin devices include the ability to pick a vehicle picture and create your own voice recordings for navigation.

Besides the navigation portion, the Garminfone comes with a very good selection of pre-loaded apps:

  • Movie times
  • Flight status
  • Traffic incident search
  • Facebook
  • Unit converter
  • Garmin voice studio
  • Weather

And of course, you also get access to the >50,000 apps in the Google market.

Final thoughts

I’m just going to say it – this is the best GPS unit I have ever tested. Not just the best connected GPS unit – but the best, period. Yes – the reception issue was rather annoying, but it was rare enough to overlook, and something that could be fixed in the final version, or updated with software. The phone is fast, looks good and the user interface is exceptional.

The price is a little on the high side, especially when it has to go up against the new iPhone 4. Still, when you consider that a GPS unit with these features can cost over $300, the $199 (after $50 rebate) really isn’t all that bad.

To learn more about the Garminfone, or to register your interest in this new device, head on over to the T-Mobile Garminfone site.