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Review: T-Mobile's Travel-centric Garminfone

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Sometimes it's really hard to believe that just a few years ago, in order to get where you had to go—especially on road trips, you needed to bring along one or more large, folding paper maps. Then there came websites like MapQuest, which alleviated people the hassle of having to actually figure out how to get from point A to point B. And now with GPS devices built into cell phones, navigating strange places is a breeze, and there's no need to bring anything you wouldn't have with you anyway.

T-Mobile recently released a new smartphone, the Garminfone (Garmin is one of the leading GPS makers in the world), which was specifically designed for travelers constantly on the go. It looks like any other touch screen smartphone (wait until you see just how smart it is), but as soon as you turn the phone on, you know it's made for travelers: there are three large icons on the homepage; one is labeled "Where To?" and the other, "View Map." (The third is for making phone calls.)

Where To? is pretty much your basic venue search app, with the added bonus that the mapping is all done by Google, so you're working with the best. The feature I really enjoy is, once you've mapped your route, you can actually go down to street view (as long as it's available in the area your in), and see real 360 degree photos of where you are right then. Oh, and did I mention? Not only does it plot your current position on the map, it also indicates the direction you're facing, so you know you're going the right way.

Another cool feature, especially if you're not the type of traveler that over-plans, is the Panoramio app. Panoramio is an image hosting site that tags each photo by it's geographic location. On this phone, Panoramio gives you a list of nearby attractions to consider visiting (with a thumbnail image). Tap the attraction if you want to see the full image; one more tap plots it on a map.

Traffic Search does exactly what you think it does. It's extremely simple, but oh-so-useful. When you open the app, it shows a list of nearby streets and highways, each one with a color status (green, yellow, red). Tap the street you're considering and it will map it, displaying the traffic conditions on surrounding streets.

Converter is a feature that is most handy when abroad. Not only does it convert currencies, but also measures of distance, speed, temperature, volume, and weight. So very handy for anyone living in a country that still hasn't converted to the metric system.

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Another thing I like is that the phone comes with a dashboard mount, so when you're driving, just slap it on the mount and now your phone is a legit GPS device.

Outside the travel apps, however, I have to admit: I'm not entirely in love with the phone. The interface could flow a little smoother, if for nothing else than aesthetics. I'm also not a huge fan of touch screen-only phones; granted, this phone's touch screen is pretty precise, and when I tested it out, it only garbled my spelling a small handful of times, so that shouldn't necessarily be a deterrent, unless you share my feelings on touch screen phones.

I should also point out that when I tested out the camera, the images were on the grainy side. So if you really want to consolidate your equipment and need your phone to double as your primary camera, this is definitely not the phone for you. (It also lacks a flash, so say goodbye to nighttime pics.)

Bottom line: if you're the type that is always on the go, this is definitely a phone you should consider.

Joshua Pramis is an online associate editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photos courtesy of T-Mobile/Garminfone.

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