Garmin Nuvifone

Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Apple’s iPhone has yet to be trumped as the ultimate cell phone, even though more than half a year has gone by since it launched in June 2007. While an array of similar-looking competitors have cropped up, none have perfectly nailed the iPhone’s style or capabilities, and its reputation has gone unscathed. But plenty of companies are still looking to undertake the challenge, and the latest models to appear show even more promise, thanks to all the additional time in the R&D incubators.

Garmin recently came out of left field with its own attempt to take on Apple, which it has dubbed the Nuvifone. Having never actually produced a mobile phone before, few expected that Garmin would enter the market at all, much less try to tackle the king of the hill with their first entry. But the company will attempt to do just that with the Nuvifone, a touch-screen multitasker with stats that equal, and in some cases improve upon, those of the iPhone.

Much like the competitor that clearly inspired it, the Nuvifone features a slim rectangular profile with a touch screen covering almost its entire face. Only a top speaker and bottom microphone share the front, while on the right-hand side, the Nuvifone gets a hard up and down scroll button to round out its otherwise Spartan exterior.

GPS Screenshot
Image Courtesy of Garmin

Not surprisingly, a GPS receiver forms the core of many of the Nuvifone’s features. Besides providing basic in-car navigation functionality as Garmin’s other GPS units do, the GPS receiver also ties into the Nuvifone’s functionality in other ways. For instance, pictures taken with the built-in camera are automatically geo-tagged with GPS coordinates to capture the location they were taken in. Users can even mark the location of say, a car in a parking lot, then use the phone to navigate back to it, or press “Where am I?” to instantly display coordinates, plus the nearest address and intersection, and the closest hospitals, police stations and gas stations.

Of course, the phone also provides wireless Internet access – and it will be far faster than the iPhone’s. The Nuvifone sports 3.5G HSDPA Internet access, a standard which supports theoretical download speeds of up to 14.4 megabits per second on capable providers. By contrast, the iPhone’s EDGE access has a theoretical limit of only 236 kilobits per second. While neither are likely to actually hit these speeds in real-life scenarios, the vast disparity between them illustrates the enormous gap between technologies.

Garmin browser screenshot
Image Courtesy of Garmin

To make use of this pumped-up Internet access, the Nuvifone gets a browser and e-mail client, plus Garmin’s own online portal, which offers real-time traffic, fuel prices, stock prices, sport scores, news reports, local events, weather forecasts, and other data. Google Local has also been integrated, allowing users to look up locations on the Web, then have them plotted on Garmin’s own mapping software for finding them from the road. (An automotive dock will be available at launch, to make navigating while driving a practical affair.)

The Nuvifone also gets an ultra-simplistic interface, which is somewhat reminiscent of the iPhone’s. Enormous icons have been designed for easy navigation, even while driving, and the phone’s start-up screen features three initial options: call, search, and view map, with a handful of others on a smaller menu cast off to the side.

Right now, available information about the Nuvifone’s is still incomplete, and arguably the most important factor – price – hasn’t yet been entered into the equation. More details should be forthcoming before the phone’s anticipated launch in the third quarter of 2008. But from what we already know, the Nuvifone appears to hold plenty of promise. For those who dismissed the iPhone because of its sluggish Internet access or lack of practical value, the addition of 3.5G HSDPA and robust GPS navigation may make the Nuvifone a worthy competitor, and a possible successor. Find out more at Garmins website.