First impressions: Garmin Dezl 780

The new 7” Garmin truck navigation unit, the Dezl 780, is being released some time this month according to Garmin’s website; you can buy it through Amazon now. I got mine last Sunday after pre-ordering it in April (and was initially told it would be with me on 26th April, but when that day dawned without the item having been dispatched, Amazon finally admitted that they didn’t have it in stock then after all) and have been using it to navigate this week. A truck sat-nav allows you to enter the dimensions of the vehicle so that it can route you around weight, height and width limits so that you don’t get stuck down a narrow lane or rip the top of your trailer off by hitting a bridge. I had been using its predecessor, the Dezl 770, since it came out in 2015 and had used a Dezl 560 before that. I still have both (there was also a Dezl 570 and the 580 has been out for a few months now). The unit costs £429 (in the USA, it costs $399); there is also a version with a built-in dashcam which costs an extra £50. I was expecting an updated and improved version of its predecessor, but this is quite different from both its predecessor and the 580 and not always in a good way.

The biggest difference is that this is now an Android device and a lot of the new functionality is based on Android. It’s based on Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) which is rather puzzling since there have been two major versions of Android (Nougat and Oreo) and another new version, version ‘P’ (Pancake?), is due out this year some time. It provides a few basic open-source Android apps such as the email client, a music player and a web browser (not Chrome) but none of the proprietary Google apps such as the Play Store, GMail or YouTube. All the configuration and some of the truck-related apps, such as the tachograph manager (which seems to be only relevant to the USA), are on the Android part of the software, while navigation still uses the familiar Garmin user interface. This means the interface is rather inconsistent, with the setting screens using stock Android icons and fonts, which are much less readable on a non-Retina screen at any distance (e.g. between you and your dashboard on some trucks). The curious thing is that, although some of the screenshots give it away, there is no mention of Android in any of Garmin’s publicity; you’d have thought they would have emphasised this given that it opens up many avenues of functionality for the device beyond navigation. But no.

The navigation screens have had a bit of a facelift; the graded colours on the old unit have been flattened (i.e. a panel of a solid colour rather than a rounded effect as on the 770) which has been the trend in graphical user interfaces for a few years now, and the new colours look a bit brighter although perhaps that’s partly because it’s a new screen with less dirt on it. It’s a bit more responsive than the old one and some of the annoying bugs in the old one (e.g. the one where it worked out alternative routes but did not display the second until after the third, if there was one, had been worked out) have been ironed out. Still, there have been some odd routing decisions; on a trip from Basingstoke to Telford, it tried to route me round the south side of Birmingham (sometimes a quicker route, because the route is further from the centre of Birmingham and less busy) despite the fact that (i) it’s a longer distance, (ii) there are some long-term roadworks on the M5 with a 30mph speed limit and lane closures which always cause major delays and (iii) the northern route was clear. The old device came up with a southern route using A-roads via Kidderminster and Bridgnorth, which might be worth considering if the M6 is seriously congested, but this one did not. On the same trip, like the 770, it tried to take me a round-about route to a site when a very direct one was available, and when I took the more direct route, the estimated journey time was reduced, as one would expect. It has locations that are of particular use to truckers such as truck stops and industrial estates, but (like the TomTom) fuel card coverage seems to be limited to the main fuel vendors and DKV, which is not used much in the UK and seems to correspond to a subset of Esso garages.

A clip from a screenshot of the Amazon listing for this item, showing the words "Incoming Call: Joe" and buttons that say Accept and Reject, and underneath, a blurb that says "The benefits of Bluetooth" and a claim that you can "enjoy the benefit of hands-free calling without diverting your attention from the road".A major omission from this device is the ability to control the phone through the voice command interface, which was a big advantage to the old 770 model and meant you could safely make calls without touching either the unit or your phone (call history and phone book dialling were reliable; voice dialling with numbers wasn’t). That’s gone in this unit and I’ve asked Garmin why, both through email and Twitter, and they have not answered my question yet. The publicity states that it offers hands-free calling but the “Phone” command is missing from the voice command list and if you say “phone” it will mistake it for “volume” which is what the 770 did when the phone was not connected. I am presuming that this is an error, or maybe there is another way of doing it on this unit, but as the manual is not available for download (it results in a “file not found” error when you follow the links on their website), I have no way of knowing. It also offers “smart notifications” whereby the sat-nav will tell you if you have a text message, but this requires the use of their “smartphone link” app which should not be necessary; there are some car and truck radios that offer this functionality without a special app.

So, this unit isn’t what I’d been expecting, and I would have been satisfied with an updated 770 in much the same way as the 580 is an updated 570 which does retain the voice dialling feature. It feels like the old Garmin navigation features are crudely tacked on to a lacklustre stock Android operating system, with nothing having been done to ‘skin’ the Android features to make them look in place on a Garmin sat-nav; skinning is something every Android device manufacturer does and it should not have been impossible for Garmin either to apply its own fonts and other visual features. I suspect that finding Android developers to develop new apps such as the American tachograph feature is easier than finding someone capable of writing for Garmin’s own OS, but it does not justify the lazy approach to the look and feel. I had been expecting this device to clearly outperform the new TomTom truck sat-nav I bought and then sent back in disgust last September, but sadly that isn’t the case until they restore voice dialling and bring out a serious update which remedies the user interface deficits — TomTom have left them an open goal but the ball still hit the post. If you have a 770 and it’s working fine, this is not an essential upgrade.

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