New GPS: Garmin nuvi 1490LMT

I bought an automotive GPS online on during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and this week I finally received my purchase. This post is just my first impressions on my new GPS and to post some (badly taken) pictures of my brand new gadget.

Front of the nuvi 1490LMT
The front of the nuvi 1490LMT

Ever since I’ve bought my car in March of this year, I have been looking to purchase an automotive GPS unit since my car didn’t have navigation. I usually drive locally and know my way around, but a GPS is nice thing to have when I go on a long road trip. When my parents and I drove to Washington DC in May, we borrowed a GPS from a relative. The GPS was a really basic 3 inch unit with outdated maps, but still it was pretty useful and we didn’t miss too many freeway exits or go the wrong way for 30 miles.

For my own GPS, I wanted a unit with a larger screen and better features than the unit we used on the trip though. I did research online and also checked out products at the local electronic stores, and I decided that I wanted to get a 5 inch Garmin unit with lifetime map updates. The common sizes for car GPS units are 3 inch, 4.3 inch wide screen, and 5 inch wide screen. After looking at the units in the store, I thought 4.3 inch was a little small, so I am going with 5 inch units. As for the brand, my conclusion from looking online was that Garmin is the best overall GPS brand. Garmin has a price premium over Tomtom or Magellan units of comparable size and features, but I am willing to pay the extra 10-20 bucks to get a better overall user experience. As for features, I don’t really care about traffic updates, but I thought lifetime map updates is nice feature to have. Lastly, I was willing to spend up to $150 for the GPS, but I wouldn’t mind paying less.

Since I had no immediate need for the GPS, I waited until Thanksgiving/Black Friday to see if I can score a good deal. There were plenty of models on sale, but I didn’t see any doorbuster type of deals on a 5 inch Garmin with lifetime maps. There was a good deal on the new nuvi 50LM which would fit all my needs… except it didn’t include maps to Canada. I’m from Canada and will probably drive up there sooner or later, so I want Canadian maps. In the end, I ponied up a little more cash and bought a Garmin nuvi 1490LMT. The 1490LMT has the 5 inch screen and lifetime maps plus lifetime traffic, Bluetooth hands free calling and a host of other features, so it definitely fit the bill.

Back of the nuvi 1490LMT
The back side of the 1490LMT. The only thing of interest is the mini-USB connector.

The 1490LMT came with the mounting bracket, the window suction cup mount, a sticky dashboard mounting disk, a short USB cable, the car charger (with traffic receiver), and a bunch of small pamphlets about various things. What’s not included in the box are a manual and a software CD. Any software used to update maps has to be downloaded from Garmin’s website, which I suppose is the way to go in the age of internet. The 1490 series all have a black outer casing which looks nice and well made. There isn’t much else to say about the design since most auto GPS units have the same general shape. The power switch is on the top; the microSD slot is on the right, and the mini-USB data/power plug is on the back. On a side note, you’ll have to excuse the crummy photos since I only have a cellphone to take photos with.

Garmin GPS case
A case to store my GPS when it's not being used

Along with the 1490LMT itself, I also picked up a case for storing the GPS and a dashboard friction mount. The one thing I remember from experience is that window suction cup mounting can be a bit of a pain especially when the GPS isn’t carefully mounted and falls off. So instead, I bought a “sandbag” type dashboard mount that just uses weight and friction to stay on the dashboard and keep the GPS from moving all over the place. The mount has a nice heft to it as expected, and the center of the mount has a smooth surface to attach the Garmin suction cup arm.

Friction mount
The friction mount, with the nuvi's suction cup arm and bracket attached
1490LMT mounted
The 1490LMT attached to the friction dashboard mount

After opening up my new GPS, the first thing I tried to do is update the unit’s software and maps. Registering the product at Garmin’s website was pretty easy, but updating maps is a different matter. First of all, Garmin has a bunch of software programs for updating maps and firmware on the unit, and since the GPS didn’t come with a manual, it took a little while to find out which programs I needed. The second issue lies with the nuvi 1xxx units. Soon after I placed my order, and I looked through customer reviews and found out that people had trouble updating their maps. The issue was that the 1xxx units only have 2GB of onboard memory. Garmin’s maps have grown over time, and now you can’t fit the North American (USA + Canada) maps onto the onboard memory. The workaround for this issue is to split the map and install part of the map onto a microSD card. It was a good thing I found out about this issue early, and so I added an 8GB microSD memory card to my order.

The way to split the maps between the onboard memory and microSD card is to first download and install Garmin’s maps onto the computer, and this can be done with Garmin’s Lifetime Map Updater or the standalone Garmin Map Updater executable. After that is done, the user can then use MapInstall to manually split the North American maps and install them onto the unit and the microSD card. I mostly followed the instructions found in this forum thread, and so the way I did it was that I used MapInstall to install Canada and Alaska onto the memory card, and then use Lifetime Updater to install the lower 49 states into the 1490LMT’s onboard memory. It took me a while to figure out that MapInstall only works when the maps are installed on the computer, but after that it was pretty straight forward. I also downloaded the full Junction View file of the map update and placed it on my microSD card (in the /garmin/JCV/ directory). The 1490LMT has support for the Junction View feature, but it only comes with a cut down version of the file by default due to the lack of memory. There is no reason not to get the full file though now that I have extra storage in the microSD card.

1490LMT in the car
My new GPS on the dashboard of my car.

After doing all the software updates, it was time to bring my new GPS out for a drive. I brought it along on a routine trip to the supermarket, and the 1490LMT worked as expected. The unit calculated the correct route without too much hassle and all the functions seems to be working. The trip involved a little bit of Interstate freeway driving, and several Junction Views appeared during the Interstate segments. I like the large 5 inch screen, and it was readable even under sunlight. The turn by turn voice instructions worked fine, although I thought that the voice sometimes sounded a little garbled. There were no weird problems during the drive, although the unit did unexpectedly shut down once when I was playing around with it at home. The dashboard mount also worked fine and the GPS didn’t move when I was driving, although I didn’t do any sudden maneuvers that would put the mount to the test. I also tested out the Bluetooth, hands-free calling feature of the 1490, and I was able to sync my phone up to the GPS without problems and make/receive calls.

Overall, my first impressions Garmin nuvi 1490LMT are pretty good. However, I only went on some short, local drives, and so it remains to be seen how the GPS will perform on a longer trip. I probably won’t be using the GPS for driving to places that I go to often, but the unit will certainly be useful for a road trip. Hopefully my new GPS won’t suffer any problems and will work for years to come.

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