Smartphones killed more than the phone booth. Look what they're doing to the navigation-device industry, once ruled by Garmin and TomTom.
Now there's a GPS-enabled app in every smartphone. Worse, no full-featured new car has a dashboard without a built-in navigation system. Garmin still makes stand-alone navigation devices for vehicles, but it's also producing GPS-enabled watches, GPS-equipped computers for bicycles and specialty products for the aviation and marine industries.
Its latest in-vehicle device, the HUD+, is Garmin's second Head-Up Display that beams information from the company's navigation app onto a vehicle's windshield.
There's a specific audience for this mini-movie projector that displays directional information, current speed and estimated time of arrival onto the windshield or, alternately, a pop-on plastic reflector. The owner must have a smartphone, because the HUD+ uses a free companion app (Apple, Android or Windows Phone) that communicates via Bluetooth.
Yet a smartphone's GPS is smarter and more colorful than the HUD+, which cannot display a map. Why spend $179.99 on a HUD+ when a $25 phone mount like the Tackform Universal C-Fit Car Mount model (tackform.com) turns a phone into an even better GPS system with color display? Because some people use their phone while driving for other purposes, like nonstop talking, and don't want to monopolize it as a dedicated GPS.
When I've used my iPhone as an in-car navigator it sits on the adjacent seat, leaving me reliant on the phone's voice directions. Sometimes I want the map, or at least to know when to expect the next turn. It's not ideal.
With the HUD+, and the Garmin app's voice directions, I was almost as well-informed as when I use my ancient TomTom GPS.
But not always. While posing as an ignorant traveler on my way to work one morning, I heard the voice direction request a right turn on an upcoming stretch of highway that forks three ways as it enters the city. The ignorant traveler would probably interpret that command as the extreme right, westward. The proper route, in fact, was the middle "right," eastward.
A quick glance at the app's map, though, revealed the correct route, with full highway identification.
The HUD+ isn't much bigger than a smartphone, though it rests flat on a dashboard's top, adhesive side down. Unlike a movie projector, it displays numbers and letters upside down and backward. The mirror image then projects on a permanent film strip with adhesive backing secured to the windshield or the plastic reflector.
Information displays in blue-green except for a feature that turns an icon red when the car exceeds the speed limit. That proved so distracting that I disabled it.
The plastic reflector, during my tests, presented a clearer, sharper image during both daylight and nighttime use. The plastic strip demands precise placement — and probably an explanation to anyone sitting in the passenger seat for the first time.
Oh, the plastic strip. Yes, it's somewhat awkward, as is the actual HUD+ with its power adapter, and cord, that plugs in a cigarette lighter. The adapter, fortunately, also has a USB charger for your mobile device.
The plus symbol that distinguishes this HUD from the original is apparently a reference to the free app. The original required the purchase of a Navigon app — Garmin purchased Navigon in 2011 — that's still $59.99 at Apple's App Store, $39.95 at Google Play.
The app purchase pushed the total outlay to about $200. So getting both hardware and software now for $179.99 qualifies as a plus, indeed.
But is it still too much? It's not better than a stand-alone navigation system or a mounted smartphone used as a GPS. It frees a smartphone, though, for other in-car uses. For the same price, you could buy Garmin's Nuvi 55LMT GPS navigator with free lifetime map upgrades.
Or would that look too old-fashioned in your car?
Garmin HUD+ Head-Up Display projector for car navigation.
Good: Frees smartphone for other in-car uses, provides basic navigation information while minimizing driver distraction.
Not so good: Expensive, bulky, cannot display a map.