Garmin Nuvi 880 Voice-Controlled GPS Lightning ReviewS

The Gadget: One of Garmin's flagship Nuvis, the 880 responds to commands from your voice, triggered by a little remote control you attach to your steering wheel.

The Price: Garmin says $800, but you can find it online for $690.

The Verdict: It's the best all-around GPS on the market, but there are too many halfway decent Garmin models for less than half the price.

Garmin Nuvi 880 Voice-Controlled GPS Lightning ReviewS

The 880 isn't the first GPS with voice command, but it's definitely the best. The remote button that you strap to your steering wheel makes activating it easy, and being able to dictate addresses including obscure street names is only part of the fun. When you're in POI search, you can name popular locations ("Starbucks") or categories (it actually understands synonyms like "Fuel" and "Gas"). Most importantly, you can tap the button and say things like "Cancel Route" or "Volume Up," commands most likely to be issued while driving, ensuring you stay safer than if you were to try to do these things with your fingers while keeping your wheels on the road. The only problem with voice command is that, to function, it requires the remote (pictured above). If somehow you break off the remote or lose it, you will forever lose the ability to talk to your 880, so be careful.

As you can see in the video, with the exception of its inability to understand "Cancel" or "Exit" while performing certain functions, it responds extremely well to natural speech:

We've said repeatedly that Garmin is the best bet for anyone shopping for GPS, and the 880 demonstrates this to be the case. It doesn't mean it's perfect, it's just by far the least infuriating navigator on the road today. Garmin often adds features later than others, but this only strengthens its predominance, since those like TomTom and Magellan—not to mention the innovative but ailing Dash—rush revolutionary features without spending time on core interface issues, and fail because of it.

Some of the 880's perks do not get me excited: I have yet to meet a Bluetooth speakerphone that doesn't result in people yelling that they can't hear me, a problem having as much to do with every different phone's cheap-o Bluetooth chip, no doubt. I also am very underwhelmed by the MSN Direct service that the 880 offers ("free" for 3 months). Its main feature is the traffic reporting but that information, even in massive metro areas, has proven to me to be absolutely useless. The 880 is as dumb as the lowliest GPS when it comes to awareness, and my hope is that historic traffic trends will soon be better integrated at the map database level—i.e. with Navteq and Tele Atlas—in order to make routing more smart even without the need for connectivity or any kind of realtime guesswork.

Some of you may realize that this review is long overdue. One reason is that, when I first got the 880, it had some bugginess that I'm glad to say has been fixed with a firmware update. Another reason for the delay is that I wanted to see how long it would take to stop using the voice commands. Sadly, it didn't take very long, but in prepping for this review, I started using the voice commands more, and realized that it's an asset I shouldn't so readily overlook. Just don't lose the remote, or you lose the feature. [Product Page]