Garmin-Asus Garminfone Review

Introduction and Design
The Garminfone is also available in Europe as the Garmin-Asus nuvifone A50.


It's round two for Garmin-Asus after their first venture into the US smartphone realm proved to be unflattering as their Garmin Nuvifone G60 handset for AT&T fizzled out quickly after being left in the dust by some other devices. It's hard to look back and wonder if that phone was truly considered a smartphone as it didn't offer any of the big name mobile operating platforms, but instead opted to offer its own unique spin with its Linux based platform. T-Mobile has its hands on the second offering as the Garmin-Asus Garminfone is looking to catch a ride on the Android wagon and its growing surge in use among consumers. Always supplanting itself as a top tiered GPS manufacturer, the Garminfone will need to excel over its sour beginnings if it intends on being a force in the smartphone world as it's already crowded with a mix of manufacturers trying to get their piece of the pie. There's already a lot at stake with this launch as this might ultimately prove if Garmin will have a place in this competitive market or just stick to what they do best – making standalone GPS devices which is looking to become a dying business.

The package contains:
  • Garmin-Asus Garminfone
  • miniUSB Cable
  • Stereo Headset with Adapter
  • Dash Mount
  • Wall Charger
  • Car Charger
  • Start Guide


Similar in design to the Nuvifone G60, there's a sense of ruggedness to be found on the Garminfone as it employs a lot of design elements found on some of their line of standalone GPS devices. Although it doesn't exactly sport an innovative design, the slate like look of the handset is fitting as it's constructed mostly out of plastic and highlighted with some chrome-like accents on its sides – while the soft touch coating on the rear provides for that sturdy feel. The average sized device doesn't look or feel too bulky (4.90 oz) in the hand as its plastic exterior does make it feel rather natural and comfortable to hold. When it comes to sheer durability, we'd imagine that the Garminfone can withstand the usual normal wear and tear like scratching thanks to the soft touch coating, but we found the rear cover coming off on some occasions when dropping it onto the carpet from a height of 3 feet.

You can compare the Garmin-Asus Garminfone with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

By no means is it the sharpest display out there, but the Garminfone's 3.5” HVGA (320 x 480) display has support for 262k colors – which does well in producing realistic colors, but lacks the fine detail as text can sometimes have that jagged look to it. Since it doesn't utilize the resistive tech found on the Nuvifone G60 and their line of GPS devices, the capacitive touchscreen is pretty responsive to the touch and works accordingly with Android. Seeing that one would think that it will be primarily used in a car for navigation, it allows for some good viewing angles which enable you to see what's on-screen from almost every angle. Even as we used the handset outside and in direct sunlight, we were still able to see the display without much difficulty.

There's a sizable amount of real-estate found directly below the touchscreen where the d-pad and touch sensitive buttons are located. The latter of which are your typical buttons found with the Android platform – these include the back, call, menu, and home buttons. We're glad to see that there is ample spacing between them and the touchscreen which made accidental presses come in at a minimum. We also found the directional pad to be appropriately sized and responsive while pressing down the middle button accomplishes a selection. The right side of the handset houses the volume rocker and two-level shutter key – both of which are raised, but feel extremely stiff when pressed. There's also  a notch found on both the left and right edges where the included dash mount latches onto it and charges the phone. All by itself on the top edge is the well sized and tactile power button while the miniUSB port for charging/data connection can be found on the bottom. Flipping it over to its rear, we're presented to the 3-megapixel auto-focus camera and speakerphone. Removing the rear cover can be accomplished by sliding it in one direction where it'll provide you access to the battery, microSD card slot, and SIM slot.

Garmin-Asus Garminfone 360 Degrees View:


Now this is where the biggest disconnect can be found on the phone as it can be visibly seen that it was intended to be a GPS device first with some smartphone elements thrown into the mix – as opposed to the opposite way around. It's powered by a 600MHz Qualcomm 7227 ARM 11 processor with 256MB of both ROM and RAM, which does well in navigating about the platform as there are few moments when you begin to see the handset start to crawl. Although it's running Android 1.6, you don't necessarily see it as Garmin's proprietary user interface masks a good deal of things that most people traditionally find appealing about Android. Gone is the standard look of the platform as you're treated to Garmin's interface, however, there are still some elements that can be tied closely with the open platform.

This customized experience is by far the least eye-catching out there as you're initially presented to three rather large sized icons that are familiarly found on the Nuvifone G60 – these are the Call, Where To, and View Map buttons. While to the right of that, there is a scrollable panel that provides some quick access to some common functions without having to open the main app drawer. Of all the ones offered on there, launching widgets will get you into the familiar look of Android as you're able to move about 5 home screens, to which you can add different things – but unfortunately, it doesn't allow you to pick a specific wallpaper. Finally, you can get access and reveal all of the apps by sliding over the panel to the left most position. From there, you can essentially just scroll up and down to see the full listing of apps on the smartphone.


By default, you're only presented to the stock Android keyboard for inputting text, but there's also a compact keypad for those who prefer to sticking to the usual layout of a regular phone. Although the 3.5” display might look roomy enough for the on-screen QWERTY, we found some evidence of lag when typing speedily. It's especially more prominent when predictive text is enabled as the phone is probably trying to keep up in what you're trying to type out. Thankfully though, we didn't find ourselves making too many mistakes when going at a normal pace – that's unless you're speed typing away. Switching over to landscape will present the most spacious offering, but there's still the dilemma of some slowdown plaguing the experience when typing fast.

Setting up email on the Garminfone is typical of other Android smartphones as you'll only need to provide relevant information like an email address and password to quickly set it up. However, it may require some additional pieces of information if it's not with one of the big name email providers out there. We managed to set our custom email without any hiccups though. Once you've got everything situated, you'll be able to look at each of your accounts separately as it lacks a combined inbox function. Still, the core elements are all there plus the Gmail experience is well integrated into the handset as it should.

Connectivity & Internet:

Fortunately the web browsing experience is drastically better than what was experienced on the Nuvifone G60 as it follows similarly to its Android brethren. At first glance, everything is pretty much what you expect in this category out of an Android powered smartphone as it has support for pinching gestures to zoom in and out, however, it irks us to find the lack of support for double pressing to accomplish the same task. Pages loaded fairly decently over T-Mobile's 3G network and it accurately rendered our site, but upon closer inspection, it blatantly doesn't re-size text to specific zoom levels – so that means there will be a lot of horizontal scrolling needed when reading long passages of text. When it came down to scrolling, there is a slight delay that can be seen sometimes, but at least it does feel rather responsive. Yeah it's nice to see the improved web browsing experience over the Nuvifone G60, but we find the overall experience to be lacking and not living up to the standards set by other Android smartphones.

International travelers won't have problems placing phone calls around the world as it's a quad-band (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) GSM device, but 3G speeds can be accomplished stateside through T-Mobile seeing that it has dual-band (1700/2100 MHz) UMTS connectivity. Additionally, there are other wireless connections on the handset such as 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1.


For something that's mostly concerned about navigation, we were surely impressed by the photos produced by the Garminfone's 3-megapixel auto-focus camera. The interface is pretty generic with barely any icons cluttering up the display – the only ones to stand out are the zoom functions. The Garminfone lacks touch focus, and you'll have to rely on using the two-level shutter key which we found to be considerably stiff. Luckily, photos are snapped almost instantaneously as you fully press down the shutter key. Outdoor shots in good lighting came out pretty good as there was a fair amount of detail in the scenery while colors were on the darker side. However, you'll need to have a steady hand when it comes down to taking images indoors with poor lighting – they tended to look fuzzy with washed out colors. As for closeup shots, we were impressed by the level of detail it was about to capture – even beating out some devices that boast 5-megapixel and up cameras.

You're not going to want to save some candid moments with the Garminfone – especially when it captures them at QVGA resolution (320 x 240). Even though videos recorded looked pretty smooth, thanks to a capture rate of 29fps, there were still some jerky movements every now and then. Audio captured on the handset was pretty accurate without any noticeable static or background noise heard. All in all, you can take videos if you like with the phone, but don't expect them to look like works of art with their fuzzy looking detail.

Garmin-Asus Garminfone sample video at 320x240 pixels resolution.


Both photo and video content can be found in the Gallery app on the phone which doesn't provide for any graphical enhancements to the experience – it's more intent on functioning properly as opposed to offering eye catching visuals. Displayed on a grid-like view, content loaded up slowly one by one until everything is properly on-screen – which at that point, you can begin to scroll fluidly between them all. There are minimal editing functions to be found as you'll only have access to basic things like rotating, cropping, and renaming images.

Watching videos on the 3.5” display might not be as awe-inspiring when compared to the larger than life displays seen on some high-end devices, but nonetheless more than acceptable for anyone thanks to its smooth playback. We were able to play a movie trailer coded in H.263 720 x 304 resolution without evidence of choppiness or slowdown witnessed during its entire playback. There's an ample amount of detail to make the experience more than sufficient for just about anyone as colors looked natural and audio more than distinguishable to the ear with its popping and full bodied sounds. We found the experience to be more than satisfying as it impressed us with its level of accomplishment.

The stock Android music player is all that you're be treated to on the handset as its level of presentation might pale in comparison to the glitzy looking ones seen on some fantastic interfaces. You'll have access to certain functions like pause, reverse, forward, repeat, and shuffle, while it'll display suitable information about the song with its album cover taking prominence among everything. Now what we're impressed about was the powerful tones emitted by the phone's speaker – which was nothing short of deafening when placed on the loudest setting. You'll easily be able to wake up anyone with its strong tones, but it can definitely sound extremely sharp on the highest volume.

GPS & Software:

This is where the smartphone focuses its prowess as it tastefully replicates the Garmin experience seen on their line of standalone GPS devices. For anyone adjusted to playing around with them, you'll fit right in as you're presented with the same exact interface. You can search for a myriad of points of interest if you're unsure about the address or just input a specific one to get started with your travel. You'll be switched to a 3D bird's eye view of a map with a car indicating your exact location while other important pieces of information are displayed alongside it such as your speed and arrival time. Maps are color coded to highlight your overall route and what specific turns need to be made ahead of time in order to keep you on a steady course. If you happen to make a wrong turn, the handset does a good job in quickly recalculating an alternate route to get you back on track. In addition, we found that driving on the highway will present additional views such as the specific lane you'll need to traverse into to keep on course – it's definitely a nice touch and lessens the stress of having to figure out what turn to make. There's also street view enabled on the handset to offer you an insight of a specific area so you'll know ahead of time what the location will look like when you arrive. In the end, there's no denying the level of experience that the Garminfone attains in location based services – it will especially come in handy in situations where a data connection to the network is not present as maps are stored locally on the phone.

Yes, it's Android and it will offer all the things we know and love about Google Maps – it will enable you to either find local points of interests or turn-by-turn voice guided directions to a specific address via Google Maps Navigation. Without a doubt, the two applications are painstakingly different, but at least you'll have your choice of which one to side with.

Seeing this is the Garminfone, there are some other location based applications found on the handset which may not necessarily come to be too useful for the broad range of consumers out there. There are things like Flight Status which will give you detailed information about specific flights, the weather app which is integrated with the native calendar app to provide daily weather information, and Ciao! which basically allows you to see GPS locations of friends on a map – similar to Google Latitude. Naturally you'll have the Android Market at your disposal to download and install additional apps onto the phone.


Calling quality on the Garminfone was good as the earpiece had some seriously powerful tones that made conversations more than audible – plus voices did sound rather natural, but there was some noticeable static sounds. On our callers end, they did state that our voice was perfectly clear with no audible noises in the background. When using the speaker phone, there were no shortages of issues thanks to its more than capable distinct tones that made every word uttered pack some power to it – making even the faint of voices sound even overbearing. Nevertheless, we were more than satisfied with the Garminfone's calling quality.

During our time using the handset, we did not experience any pronounced sudden spikes in signal strength in the greater Philadelphia area. Overall, it looked like it had a solid connection to the network with no instances of any dropped calls.

Fortunately the smartphone packs a car charger for all those times you'll be using it for turn-by-turn directions. Without using the phone for that specific purpose, we had it set to automatic brightness and used it normally during our testing. We were able to achieve at least one solid day of usage before requiring a recharge – so it should be more than ample in lasting you a good 8 hours of work without the need of connecting it to a power source. However, this can evidently be increased by managing some functions on the handset – such as the amount of running apps in the background, GPS, and manually setting the brightness to a lower option.


Hardcore Garmin GPS owners will truly find pleasure in the versatile offerings included with the Garmin-Asus Garminfone, as it's able to replicate the experience to a teeth. For them, they will undoubtedly benefit the most as the rich GPS experience is supplemented with smartphone functions that will keep the busy traveler always in-sync with their daily lives. However, when viewing it from the complete and opposite side, traditional smartphone users will find the Garminfone somewhat lackluster in key areas that essentially make this Android powered smartphone in a level below some of its contemporary counterparts. Gone is the traditional Android look and feel as every single nook and cranny of its existence is hidden deep below Garmin's custom interface running on top of everything. Some may not care about it, but for any experienced Android user out there, this will surely prove to be one sour note for them. Additionally, the web browsing experience is also baffling as it doesn't cater to the specific needs of a smartphone user – which is remarkably surprising when you consider how well other Android handsets excel in this category. However, now that the handset has been reduced in price to $129.99, it may have a chance in proving itself to be a compelling offering on T-Mobile's lineup. With so many handsets available to customers though, there are some recent high-end ones, like the Samsung Vibrant, that can steal the show with their superior performance in all aspects.

Garmin-Asus Garminfone Video Review:


  • Superior GPS software
  • Good photos


  • Laggy typing experience
  • Personalization is not cool
  • Stiff buttons
  • Android 1.6

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