Sat-navs aren’t renowned for their curves or design flair. But at just 9mm thick and clad in a mix of glass and alloy, Garmin’s 3790T has all the allure of a certain smartphone we could mention. It makes other sat-navs look chunky and childish by comparison.
The 3790T is a response to the advance of GPS-equipped smartphones and cut-price apps like Ovi or Google Maps. Other manufacturers have dealt with this threat in different ways. TomTom's Go Live 1000 has up-to-the-minute traffic information and the voice of Yoda; Navigon has turned its top of the line 8450 Live into an entertainment tablet.
Garmin is taking on the phones on in a more direct manner. Its nuviphone M10, for example, isn't just like a smartphone – it is a smartphone. And there's more to the 3970T than a standard sat-nav that's been given the design treatment, too.
Sat-navs like the 3970T redeem the standalone GPS from irrelevance in the age of the smartphone app.
The problem isn't that smartphones are cheaper, although that doesn't help. It's the fact that running CoPilot on an iPhone 3G S is faster and sometimes has more features than a dedicated device costing 10 times the download price. What sat-navs have been lacking is the speed to make the extra outlay worthwhile.
Everything about the 3970T in this respect is superlative. Whether locking onto satellites, moving through menus, searching the database for postcodes or POIs; it's one of the quickest and most convenient GPS around, matched only by the TomTom Go Live 1000.
Even the capacitive multitouch beats most smartphones in terms of size, resolution and responsiveness.
If there's an area of contention, it's that the nuvi 3970T relies on FM-based TMC updates for its traffic information, and is thus some way behind the accuracy and timeliness of the TomTom Go Live 1000's mobile data Traffic HD system. Updates are free for the 3970T, however.
No built-in SIM card also means you miss out on features like Google Local search, but this is less of a sacrifice. A lot of the internet-enabled parts of other sat-navs can feel like gimmicky add-ons, and the POI menu on the 3970T has links to local restaurants and shops that are often missing from other systems even without online access.
And while the mapping interface isn't quite as straightforward as TomTom's, it's still easy to follow. The ability to change the cursor from the standard arrowhead to a small car or even a seabird is a cheesy but human touch.
Throw in best-in-class battery life, an accelerometer to detect landscape or portrait orientation and a usable voice recognition system, and the nuvi 3970T is just about the only sat-nav smartphone owners might be persuaded to switch to.