Portable navigator talks to you

The Baltimore Sun

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Coming soon to a GPS near you: just about everything but the kitchen sink.

Garmin International Inc. unveiled a new portable navigator with speech recognition last week, allowing users to get travel directions by simply asking for them.

The Nuvi 880 also ties into new services offered by Microsoft Corp., allowing users to get stock quotes, news, movie listings, traffic conditions, fuel prices and other information through their portable navigator.

The unit is Garmin's first Global Positioning System device with speech recognition. Garmin contends the device works straight out of the box without "training" the navigator to recognize voice commands.

"Now it's possible to keep both hands on the wheel, tell Nuvi what to do and where to go, and you're on your way to stress-free travel," said Dan Bartel, Garmin's worldwide vice president of sales.

The device, which retails for $1,000, also is one of two new Garmin navigators that can link up with advanced services available wirelessly through Microsoft's MSN Direct.

In addition, the 880 has built-in stereo speakers, can link wirelessly with a Bluetooth-enabled phone, has a built-in MP3 player and photo viewers, and includes onboard games and other features. It also includes a new Garmin feature that "marks" the location of the device when it's removed from the windshield, and then can guide users carrying the device back to a car in a crowded parking lot.

Garmin also is introducing another portable navigator with voice recognition, the Nuvi 850. The $800 model doesn't offer access to MSN Direct.

Voice recognition is the latest in a growing list of applications available for portable navigation devices.

Competitor Magellan Navigation Inc. began offering its Maestro 4050 with some voice recognition features last summer.

While the Magellan's commands were limited to a half-dozen preprogrammed commands, Garmin contends the 880, and lower-cost 850, let users use any words that correspond to on-screen buttons on the touch-screen display.

For instance, according to Garmin's engineers, users can tell the device to drive to a street address, instead of keying in the address using an on-screen keypad. Or users can say "find nearest Italian restaurant" or "find nearest Starbucks" to get directions.

Garmin has also introduced three other Nuvi portable navigators, including the large-screen Nuvi 5000. The device, which retails for $800, has a 5.2-inch widescreen display.

"The Nuvi 5000 is ideal for those with larger vehicles that need navigation on a big screen," Bartel said.

Another new Nuvi, the 780, is a lower-cost model that also hooks up to advanced features of MSN Direct. The $800 model also will be offered in rental cars from Avis Rent A Car under the Where2 brand.

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