Garmin’s free Smartphone Link app combines your smartphone and compatible navigation device into one functional unit to provide accurate, mobile network-based live traffic updates every minute. Even better, it achieves this for a fraction of the data spend typically associated with the popular smartphone navigator apps many of us rely on to get around town. Here’s why, if you’re a Garmin vehicle GPS user, downloading the nav giant’s Smartphone Link app makes a whole lot of sense.

Traffic congestion in urban areas can be a real time killer. We’re all familiar with the knock-on effects getting stuck in traffic brings; missed business opportunities, or stranded kids left kicking their heels after school. You just need a few traffic lights to be out, or a bad accident to occur en route and your schedule’s toast. No wonder online smartphone navigation apps, with their real-time traffic updates, have become so popular.

Smartphone Link benefits

That said, Garmin’s vehicle GPS units have come bundled with Live Traffic functionality for a while now, and will continue to do so. However, the company’s free Smartphone Link app – available for iOS and Android devices – uses your smartphone’s mobile signal to up the ante in two significant ways. First, by providing traffic updates at a much faster rate than their stand-alone nav units can handle on their own. And secondly, by increasing the effective data reach to encompass smaller, more outlying urban areas. Simply put, what the app does is bring their “unconnected” devices up to speed with modern user expectations – giving drivers the solid reliability of a dedicated navigation unit, coupled with the no-fuss functionality of a smartphone.

Mathys Thompson, product manager for Garmin SA, explains: “When not connected to the app, our units automatically pick up traffic data transmitted over FM radio. However, this technology has limitations. Traffic update cycle times typically take anything between 7 and 15 minutes. It also relies on radio towers to broadcast the data, which limits its footprint to only the major urban centres. Instead, our Smartphone Link app uses the mobile network. Not only does this newer technology allow traffic updates to be broadcast every minute, but it also significantly extends our data reach to encompass much wider areas.”

Here’s how Garmin’s Smartphone Link app works: Once the two devices are paired via Bluetooth, real-time Live Traffic updates are fed directly from your phone to your nav unit every minute – providing useful travel information such as congestion warnings (with proposed alternate routes where possible), roadworks and accidents. Just like you’d see on a regular smartphone navigation app.

The main difference between the two is cost. Because your phone’s now only downloading small traffic files (all the required mapping is already stored on your navigation device), data usage is virtually non-existent. Thompson elaborates: “I use the Smartphone Link app everyday. My commute to work and back totals about four hours driving, even then I only consume between 30 and 50 MB each month. This amount of data usage doesn’t break the bank at all.”

To put Thompson’s data usage while on the road into perspective, if he’d been using an online navigation app on his phone, his data consumption would exceed 200 MB per month, easy.

Other cool features

Another really practical feature is the app’s ability to send destinations to your navigation device – allowing you (or a passenger) to conveniently search POIs on Google Maps and Foursquare via your phone, then use your navigator to get there.

The Last Mile feature remembers your parking spot and shows your destination – helping you to find your way on foot and, once you’re done, get back to your vehicle again. LiveTrack lets you share your location so friends and family can track your whereabouts – whether you’re running errands around town or in it for the long haul. And, while you’re at it, localised weather forecasts let you know what to expect while on the road.

On the battery front, the app scores too. Using a smartphone to navigate is one of the most effective ways to drain your handset’s battery fast. Not so with Smartphone Link. Says Thompson: “If I leave the office for my two hour drive home with a 50 percent charge on my phone, when I get to my gate I’ll still have 46 percent left. The amount of power the app draws is insignificant.”

Safety camera alerts are also available for those who hate getting recriminating letters from traffic officials in the post. This feature provides warnings whenever approaching red light and speed camera locations, as well as when you’re driving too fast. However, this feature doesn’t come free, according to Thompson it’ll set you back about R300 per year.

Compatible devices

Here’s a list of Garmin’s vehicle GPS units that “play nicely” with their free Smartphone Link app:

If you have any further queries, please don’t hesitate to contact NavWorld’s in-house tech team. – (c) 2017 NavWorld

 

About The Author

Sean Woods

Originally a photographer for the Star newspaper in the bad old days, Sean Woods turned to writing after the first democratic elections in '94. The career shift paid serious dividends, culminating in him becoming associate editor for Popular Mechanics magazine with a number of technology writing awards under his belt. His interests include anything to do with boats, motorcycles and all those fancy tech gadgets that help the modern world go around.

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