Garmin's nuvi 1690

Auto Navigator with Two-Way Real Time Data

Updated February 28, 2010

By: Sam Penrod

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The Garmin nuvi 1690, is the latest in the popular line of auto navigators by Garmin.  Originally released in the fall of 2009, the 1690 is the first to offer real time two way data to a Garmin unit, using a cell phone type connection.  It offers not only traffic, but weather, movie and Google search, which allows you to search the white pages for residential phone numbers and addresses as well as business.  It also features, "Ciao" a social media application, which allows users to track others with a 1690, if they choose to allow themselves to be followed.  The 1690 hit the market at the same time as the Garmin nuvifone, which has faced highly critical reviews.  However, from our testing of the 1690, it has worked very well.  The 1690 does set itself apart, from what has become an almost impossible task of distinguishing features through the now 50 models of the Garmin nuvi series, (28 actively being sold, 22 discontinued) because of this real time two way data feature which Garmin has branded as "nuLink!" The 1690 retails for $499.  Check discount prices here.

Joe Mehaffey's Comments: Oops!  Garmin updated the routing software in the Nuvi 1690 in Version 3.00. recently released  With that update, the routing accuracy I was bragging about in the rest of this paragraph disappeared and the roouting is now among the WORST of the Nuvis.  I hope I can come back soon and delete this bit of advice, but meanwhile, if you have a nuvi 1690 with version 2.xx software, I recommend that you NOT update it until this problem is fixed..  I drove the Nuvi 1690 will over 1000 miles in my own tests.  In my opinion, this is the BEST Car Navigator GPS I have ever tested.  In addition to the myriad of neat features as described by Sam, the ROUTING was the most consistently good quality of any GPS I have tested.  By this, I mean that the routes were more often the same routes a knowledgable human would have selected and at no time did I experience a route that took me substantially out-of-the-way. Ithe Nuvi 1690 is better in this respect than any other Car Navigator we have tested.   Since this is in part due to map quality, I cannot say  for sue that this trait is universal  in all areas.  I highly recommend this particular Nuvi unit.


Main menu page in the daytime mode, with bluetooth phone connected           Main menu page in nighttime mode.  Note upper right signal meter
                                                                                                                                                 which shows the unit is connected and receiving data.

Pressing the car icon on the top, will prompt you for auto, pedestrian or bicycle mode and current time and temp are given.

Garmin has sent traffic, weather and similar data through MSN Direct, which utilizes the subcarrier signals of commercial FM broadcast stations to deliver the data. However, on October 28, 2009 it was announced MSN direct will end the service in January, 2012, leading us to believe the 1690 connection is the first of many to come.  Read more on MSN Direct here.  The 1690 comes with a two year data subscription and it is priced at $5 a month when it is time to renew.  The one catch, is that like most of the newer Garmin traffic services, there are small pop-up advertisements, which is the price for the low cost service.  All in all, these ads are not too distracting and you can quickly clear them from the screen.


Traffic page, showing pop up advertisement, which clears when pressed                   If you want to see current offers, you can look at all the ads for your area

The 1690 operates like the other newer nuvi series, including text to speech (speaks street names), preloaded maps, bluetooth for cell phone, wide screen and a high sensitive receiver.  It does however not include an MP3 player, (a disappointment for me) FM transmitter to relay audio to your car's stereo or an audio book player. Through our testing, the 1690 performs very well in actual GPS navigation, just as the other nuvi units, so we are focusing this article more on the data service.  

GPS Navigation

The 1690 is preloaded with the latest Navteq map data and in our testing did a perfect job of routing you to your final destination.  It has the same interface as the previous nuvi models, with the easy "Where To?" option.   The settings are mostly identical, but you can customize the data fields on the map page.  The graphics are somewhat improved.  My biggest complaint, would be the inability to turn off the beep, everytime you touch the screen.  Other than that, the features and interface are simple and allow for some customization.


This shows the map routing, including customizable data fields                   This shows the current speed limit as well as my speed.  It turns red when                                                                                                                                                     you are over the speed limit.  It is visual only, no audible alerts are an option.

The unit records a mileage record in Garmin's EcoRoute, which will give you data for each trip you  navigate to.  The unit also creates a tracklog, called a trip log in the unit, which records your location, speed, elevation, direction of travel, etc in the memory.  It also puts a blue line on the map, indicating where you have been.  This feature can be turned off in the settings.

This is the "Where Am I" feature, giving you your lat/long, street address and nearest critical POI's.

Data Service

First of all, we want to make it clear, the1690 does NOT have a web browser, as the nuviphone does, however, you can access travel related data, which is explained below.   The unit automatically connects to the data service and you can see if you have a connection, by looking at the upper right hand corner of the main menu and see if the antenna icon is green.  You can read Garmin's official page on nuLink here

The traffic service worked as well, if not better, than the XM traffic service I use with the Garmin 2820.  To see the traffic, you press the two car icon on the left side of the traffic page.  It will also give you an indication in yellow if there is a delay and a time estimate of what it will add to your trip.  You can switch between the regular map or with
the traffic map.  This will show you green on the freeway or highway if there is no delay, yellow for a minor to moderate delay and red for a major delay.  The traffic service
comes from Navteq, recognized by most as the industry leader.  Be advised, traffic is available for most medium to large size cities.  

    Regular nighttime view, showing traffic delay                                                                      View of traffic map, with icon indicating accident ahead

Traffic map showing green indicator of no incidents or delays ahead          This shows the traffic incidents and gives an estimate of the impact distance

The weather data, will give you the latest outside temperature, on the main menu page.  It is determined, by getting the data from the nearest weather station.  This can sometimes be more than 20 miles away however.  In the dedicated weather section, you can get current condtions and a five day forecast.  The forecast, is generally for the nearest metro area.


Google Search
Instead of relying on the preloaded Points of Interest, for businesses in other Garmin units, the 1690 actually does a live search for them, from your current or other designated location.  What this means, is that new restaurants for example, will show up, even though they may not be in the map data.  It will offer you address, phone and even a rating of the business.  You can also rate the business yourself, and that data will be uploaded the system, to average out the rating.  How reliable these ratings are, would seem to be similar to online customer ratings, but at least you can get an idea of what to expect.  (You can also use the preloaded POI data, to search for business listings.)


Options showing you the categories you can search live for.                           Shows you the lodging option and will route you there, and has phone number                                                                                                                                                so you can call ahead for reservations

Shows you the nearest food options.  3 1/2 stars reflects user ratings.

White Pages
This may be the best feature of the 1690.  Now, you can search for a phone number and address of someone.  You can search by name and we found it is just as good as an old fashioned phone book.  The 1690 will also bring up the address and you have the option of automatically routing to this location.  A big issue here however, is that the location on the map of the home, is not always accurate.  I have noticed numerous discrepancies and it appears related to the data, not to the GPS unit itself.  A work around for this is to take the address given to you by the White Pages and then manually input this into the nuvi.  You can see on the map if the White Page listing is accurate, but beware as you can be routed away from where you intend to go.


Gas Prices
You are able to easily shop for the best gas prices.  When selecting it, the unit searches from your current location and will bring up the location of the gas stations and the prices.  (These prices can be up to 24-48 hours old)  You can compare brands and prices and then select a gas station and be routed to it.  The higher prices are displayed in red.

Airline Flight Status
If you are someone who frequently flies or the one who is always picking someone up at the airport, this is a great feature for you.  You can select from nearby commercial airports and find both the arrival and departure times.  It is sorted by airline and you can look at specific flights, get the scheduled time, the actual estimate and in most cases, even the gate information, to help you know where you need to be.

Movie Times
Instead of having to go to the theater and look at what is showing, you can look at your 1690 and see the titles and showtimes.  I am not a big moviegoer, so I haven't used this a lot, but at times believe it will come in handy.

In my mind, the jury is still out on this feature.  A form of social networking, where you can track other users.  I am only forwarding on what Garmin says about this feature for now.  Read more here.

Send To GPS
This is an interesting feature.  With it, you can be at your computer and have a location you search at your desktop using Google Maps, be automatically sent to the 1690 in your car.  When you go to leave for the destination, you simply find the location in the favorites and hit "GO"  and you are on your way.  This feature requires you to set it up in your account and adjust the settings.  I think this could be a nice feature.  For example, you could send the location of a restaurant or friend's home to your spouse's GPS and they would automatically find it in the 1690 and be routed to it.

my Garmin
The 1690 will automatically receive a new message, if there is a firmware upgrade or map update for the 1690 and alert you.  This is a great feature, to make sure you have the latest software.  The update is not done through the connected feature, you must still connect to a  computer to get the actual firmware upgrade.

City xPlorer
The 1690 supports Garmin's new pedestrian friendly maps, of major cities and allows use for public transit, such as buses and subways in the unit's pedestrian or bicycle mode.  I haven't actually been to a city yet to personally try it out, but you can download most cities for about $10.  Read more from here.

Coverage Area
Garmin isn't advertising the carrier, but it is believed to be AT&T, also the carrier for the nuviphone.  Service is only available in the United States, excluding Alaska.  There is no service available in Canada.  Click here for a coverage map from Garmin.  In major metro areas, you can expect continuous coverage.  In rural areas, expect it to be spotty at times.  This does not affect the GPS navigation, only the ability to get or send the data.

Picture Viewer

You can view digital pictures you add to the 1690 and select one for the opening page when the unit starts up.  You can also download photos from Garmin Connect Photos and automatically navigate to that location, if the photos are geotagged.  You can't geotag your own photos and load them in this unit, as it will not recognize the location data.

Other Observations

1.    The 1690 not only receives cell signals, but does transmit them and I did encounter an interference problem with the GPS getting into the car radio.  It was mostly intermittent and is the same sound as a cell phone too close to the stereo.  I could minimize this by moving the GPS around, however it was a little distracting.  This does not mean it will interfere with all car radios, but it did with mine.  

2.    The internal memory is 1.75 GB.  There is about 180 MB of available memory for photos, Custom POI's, vehicle icons, etc.  There is also a microSD slot, so you can add additional memory.  The mount is specific to the 1690.  

For the first time, I have seen Garmin issue a disclaimer in the manual, that in some European countries, the safety cameras warnings, or red light cameras, are illegal to have in the unit and are disabled in certain countries.

4.    There is a satellite display page on the Nuvi 1690, but perhaps the button is too obvious.  To view the satellite page,   you press and hold the satellite bars on the MAIN screen.  Also, you can access your current lat/long location, by selecting Coordinates in the "Where To?" option or the "Where Am I" option.


The 1690 is likely the first step in bringing two way data to more Garmin units.  The navigation works well and having the data, is valuable, if you travel frequently.  The only negative we found, was the White Pages bug of routing you to the wrong place at times.  You can download the official 1690 manual here.  You can find all of the specs from the product page here.  Battery life in my testing was okay.  You can expect a good couple of hours, which is acceptable for pedestrian or mass transit travel.  The data connection likely reduces the battery life, as compared to other nuvi models.   The fact the 1690 is self contained, with no external data receiver is a plus, especially when you use it on foot. 
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