First Look: A Deluxe GPS Unit Versus a Lower-Cost Alternative

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At a Glance

The latest GPS devices from Garmin and from Mio Technology--the Nuvi 680 and the DigiWalker C520, respectively--both provide detailed maps, but that's only the beginning of their capabilities. Both products attempt to be all-in-one travel companions, each unit offering an SD Card slot for viewing images and video on its 4.3-inch touch screen, as well as for playing music files while you navigate or view your location on a map.

Garmin's high-end, $675 Nuvi 680 adds the ability to stream directions and other audio through your car's FM stereo. Mio's $350 DigiWalker C520 lacks many of the Nuvi 680's extras, but it's a capable navigator with some nice touches of its own, at a much lower price.

GPS Deluxe

Garmin Nuvi 680
Photograph: Marc Simon
In addition to the features you'd expect from a GPS device--clear on-screen and voiced navigation directions (including the mostly accurate pronunciation of street names), high-quality 3D maps, and a points-of-interest database--the Nuvi 680 offers a basic media player for viewing image and video files and for playing audio, including books downloaded from Audible.com. The device's Travel Kit also contains a language guide that pronounces words and phrases in French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, translated to and from English (you can download other languages and guides for an additional fee).

You also get one free year of the MSN Direct service, which provides traffic and weather information, gas prices, and movie times via a receiver built into the Nuvi 680's 12-volt power adapter. After the first year you can pay a one-time fee of $130, or $50 a year. The traffic information is available in limited areas, and even in those regions you may not be covered.

For example, I selected the northernmost section of the San Francisco region only to find that I was about 10 miles outside the coverage area. It wasn't until I drove into the area that the MSN Direct information could download to the GPS. The initial download can take several hours, according to both Garmin and MSN, but I began receiving reports on traffic conditions along my route after only about an hour. When you encounter traffic the Nuvi 680 offers to route you around it, but I wouldn't have saved much time with the alternates it suggested. Still, this feature could come in handy.

Another nice extra is the Nuvi 680's Garmin Lock security feature, which lets you designate a four-digit PIN as well as a security location (such as your home). You must either enter the code or be at the security location to unlock the device.

On several occasions the Nuvi 680 delivered directions too late for me to follow them, while the Mio was more timely. This disparity occurred on both surface streets and the highway, while I used both products simultaneously.

A More Affordable Option

Mio DigiWalker C520
Photograph: Marc Simon
All the most important features of the Nuvi 680 are available in Mio's less-expensive DigiWalker C520, though without much of the polish. The one major exception is the ability to stream the device's audio through your car's FM radio. Even without this function, however, the C520 measures up fairly well, pronouncing street names as it directs you (although you have to change the default voice to get this option). The device's 3D maps and trip information are easy to see on its wide screen, but the display isn't as bright as that of the Nuvi 680, nor are the maps and other on-screen options as easy to spot. Each unit comes in a slim and light package measuring slightly under 5 by 3 by 1 inches, and weighing about 6.5 ounces.

Both products use the SiRF Star III GPS transceiver for fast and accurate positioning, although the Nuvi 680 generally suggested faster routes than the C520 did. The Mio GPS was also much less inclined than the Garmin product to give up on its first route suggestion and offer a true alternate. For example, both devices directed me into the teeth of morning commute traffic, and both recalculated quickly when I ignored their advice and took faster surface streets. But while the Garmin's first recalculated route was my preferred alternate, the Mio instructed me to turn right at every subsequent intersection for about a half mile in an attempt to return me to the route it had selected originally.

You can sync your Bluetooth headset or phone with either device, but each supports a limited variety of phones. I was able to sync a Motorola Razr V3 with the Nuvi 680 only after I reset the phone's "Find me" option. Repeated attempts to link the phone to the C520 caused the GPS to freeze, requiring a restart. I wasn't able to complete the sync on the C520, even though the Razr is listed as a supported phone on Mio's Web site.

The Mio DigiWalker C520 packs a lot of GPS features in a small, affordable box, but it lacks the polish and the range of features of the more expensive Garmin Nuvi 680. Many people will find such extras as the Garmin Lock security feature, the ability to stream sound through their car stereo, and the free year of traffic, weather, gas price, and other travel information well worth the Nuvi 680's higher cost.

Garmin Nuvi 680


Boasts a bright screen, loads of features, and streaming audio through a car stereo, but the price is hefty.
Price when reviewed: $675
Current prices (if available)

Mio Technology DigiWalker C520


This affordable GPS device is full featured and has an SD Card slot, though it can't play audio via your car stereo.
Price when reviewed: $350
Current prices (if available)
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At a Glance
  • Mio Technology DigiWalker C520

  
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