Garmin's pricey HUD moves turn by turn directions from iPhone to windshield

Garmin's HUD keeps you from getting lost - but it'll cost you

Up to now, Heads Up Displays have been limited to luxury cars and jet fighters. Now Garmin's putting a HUD in the reach of anyone with a smartphone running Garmin's navigation software.

When it comes to getting from point A to point B in your car, it's nice to have a phone that knows the way. Garmin, the maker of GPS systems and mapping software, has developed a new Bluetooth accessory that should make it easier to get there: the HUD (short for Heads Up Display). Coming in September, the HUD works with iOS, Android and Window Phone 8 devices alike and gives your automobile a taste of jet fighter technology.

Garmin's HUD rests on your dashboard. It measures 4.25 x 3.46 x .73 inches and weighs 9.77 ounces, making it larger and heftier than an iPhone 5. It's clad in black plastic, and the top of the device houses a Vacuum Fluorescent Display (VFD) that projects a visible image onto your windshield.

The HUD is powered using a cable that plugs into the cigarette lighter or 12 volt power outlet in your vehicle; that adapter has a blue LED to show when it's powered, and includes a USB power adapter that outputs 5 volts at 2.1 amps. Using GPS on a phone is a power-hungry activity, so it's nice to be able to keep the phone's battery topped off.

I tested the HUD with Garmin's Navigon software installed on an iPhone 5 running iOS 6. The HUD synced with the iPhone like any other Bluetooth device, and didn't impair the iPhone from pairing with my car's stereo or other equipment. The HUD works with Garmin's own navigation software - on the iPhone, that includes Garmin StreetPilot Onboard and Navigon. It's worth noting that the HUD does not work with Apple's own Maps software, nor does it work with Google Maps or any other navigational software.

Garmin HUD

The HUD displays its imagery in bright green fluorescent characters - there are some red ones, too - warnings, in particular, to let you know when you're exceeding the speed limit or if there are known traffic cameras ahead, for example (both of these warnings are optional). If you're traveling on a freeway or multilane highway, it'll also show you which lane you should be in.

Garmin rates the HUD's brightness at 7,700 cd/m2. I don't have equipment to verify, but I can tell you the HUD incorporates an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts brightness for day and night. It was easily visible at all times of day, and the only time I had any trouble was if there was excessive glare right on the windshield near the HUD itself.

The images are projected directly onto the windshield and are visible using a transparent reflective film included in the package, which Garmin instructs to install by thoroughly wetting the inside of the windshield, sliding the film around to the right position and pressing out any bubbles in the process (sort of like applying a screen protector to your smartphone, minus the wetting part). I opted not to use the film, since we're a two-car household, and only one film is included. Fortunately, Garmin accommodates by including an angled transparent reflector lens (pictured above) which clips directly on to the HUD. That lens can move around with the HUD.

The HUD's base is flexible - a hinge lets you pivot and twist the HUD to get the best reflected angle on your windshield. The base bends a little and is rubberized and a bit sticky on the bottom, to help keep from slipping on different dashboard surfaces (it's removable without any residue, and restickable - just clean the dashboard before applying).

Garmin made the bizarre decision to make the HUD and the base one integrated unit, so I couldn't just unseat the HUD and toss it in a glove box for security without taking the whole base along with it. That meant needing to line up the HUD again just right the next time I used it.

Garmin HUD closeup

Once the software has a destination set, the HUD will display in green turn-by-turn directions with distance to the next waypoint (turn right in 500 feet; drive straight for 2.1 miles), along with estimated time of arrival, details on speed limit and your speed; and the optional settings I mentioned before. Paired with the Garmin software's voice information, it's reassuring to see and hear where you're supposed to go before you get there.

One important benefit of using the HUD and Garmin's software: Garmin's software is not dependent on a connection to the Internet, unlike Apple Maps. Map data is stored in a built-in database. So as long as the phone's GPS hardware can get a fix on your geographical location, it'll work. If you suffer with spotty cellular data service, as I sometimes do, it's reassuring to know that you'll be able to find your way around regardless.

Unfortunately, the pricing of the HUD doesn't make much sense. Garmin sells the device for $149, and it's functionally useless without the addition of StreetPilot or Navigon software, which on their own can cost $29.99 - $89.99 depending on region (and that's before you get nickeled and dimed for features like traffic and urban guidance).

Comparatively, Garmin's line of nüvi GPS systems for vehicles start at $109, with larger screens and fuller feature sets available for about the same as you'd shell out for the software and HUD after in-app purchases. Sure, it's not as sexy as a HUD - but it's hard to justify when you can buy a complete standalone GPS system for the same money.

The Good

  • VFD display works well regardless of light level
  • Includes film for direct windshield use and reflector lens.
  • Displays ETA, turn by turn directions, speed limit and other useful info.
  • Passthrough USB jack to power up phone.

The Bad

  • Expensive.
  • Cable clutter.
  • Base and HUD are integrated, making removal and reinstallation a pain.

Bottom line

Garmin's HUD is an interesting attempt at extending the safe usage of phone-based navigation software using jet fighter-style technology. Unfortunately, the high price is a killer. Unless you really want a heads up display for your car, you're better off with a dashboard or windshield mount for your phone or a standalone GPS system.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Peter Cohen

Mac Managing Editor of iMore and weekend Apple Product Professional at a local independent Apple reseller. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

More Posts



← Previously

See through government censorship in Blackbar, a new game for iPhone

Next up →

Apps of the week: Readkit, iStat Menus, Pivvot and more!

Reader comments

Garmin's pricey HUD moves turn by turn directions from iPhone to windshield


I don't see this selling well. Most folks will either buy a sep GPS or get a mount for their phone.....IMHO

I don't understand this review: you keep saying how it projects onto the windshield, yet in the photos it seems to only "project" onto the attached piece of glass, like a teleprompter.

The glass piece is optional. You can affix a transparent reflective film to the windshield to project it onto the windshield.

Apparently you missed the paragraph where I explain why I used the optional plastic reflector lens instead of the windshield film. Please feel free to re-read it and let me know if you have any questions.

Apparently I did. I don't think it's necessary to be snarky to your readers. Ay least I was interested enough to read the article, comment on it, and give you pageviews. Since you have such an attitude, I will get my iOS news from one of the dozens of other blogs from now on.

If one were buying all the stuff up front for a personal navigation solution, they likely won't go with the HUD... but for folks that already have the phone and app, this HUD is a nice add on to their "toy box"...

I watched the demo on YouTube. You can use the enclosed glass or use the film that attaches to your windshield like a screen protector. And u have to use the app which in the video the said would be 50 dollars. It's really just a user preference.

My 1998 Pontiac Grand Prix had HUD (no GPS). Cool feature, helpful when it came to my speed. Sadly its about the only thing that didn't break down on that unreliable car.

There are numerous app's available under the Streetpilot and Navigon banners. I originally had Navigon because the Verizon Navigator that I had been used to having on my Blackberry didn't want to activate and at $29.99 (at the time) It looked like a better deal than paying a $4 a month subscription.

Though since Garmin purchased Navigon the price has crept up and it requires numerous in-app purchases to give it better functionality. I spent another $60 in in-app purchases though realistically I could have gotten away with about $40 in purchases since the '3D' terrain view is an insult and it makes the App so slow that it tells you to turn a few blocks after you have passed the turn and would be unnecessary if using the HUD.

It is a cool retro thing but really more of a gimmick. Now if it did the navigation and used an app to merely feed traffic alert data to the GPS and it had its own speaker rather than relying on the iPhone to feed through Bluetooth then it would be worthy of the cost of the HUD hardware but it's hard to justify that $150 (strangely the price also crept up from their initial pricing of $129 months ago, then it was $135 then $139 and now $149 or whatever might be more if they see a demand for it) for what is merely a Retro LED terminal display that connects to an Android or an iPhone and also requires further purchases before it is usable.

It really is fairly expensive compared to their full GPS with their own screen, their own GPS radio, own speaker, own touch screen and in many cases maps for life and Navteq traffic alerts for life (something that both streetpilot and navigon don't have - they rely on what is happening with other Navigon users and requires a $10.99 in app purchase to have access to).

Of course then if you turn off speed alerts it will work rather than turning the feature off on Navgion's software and it continuing to Squawk Caution Caution Caution the moment you are a half mile an hour or more over the speed limit (even though the speed limit was not correct on their 'updated maps' and was 10mph lower than the posted speed limit).

Saying all that, just because I spend a lot of time driving in cities where I just am not familiar and the iPhone screen is just too small and I've spent so much on the in-app purchases that I may purchase one for the sake of having the directions in front of me.

I'm such a hypocrite!


I'm also put off by the focus on unlocking features using IAP - getting Navigon or the StreetPilot software to be full-featured ends up running a lot of money. Doesn't really seem like a great value.

By the time you finish buying all the junk, and playing with all the wires, and getting the way you want it set up... Then doing the "In-App" purchases (because anyone who buys this would), then you could have bought the top line Nuvi from Garmin and it would have all the same features, voice control, traffic, camera locations, speed warnings, Bluetooth integration, backup camera monitor connection... And you can connect your phonebook through it and use as speakerphone... All without tying up your smartphone, and all easily displayed on an equally easy to carry and install suction cup mount.
I do like that they offer the tech though, it is nice to see options from a company that has the best navigation devices and software packages available.

You can project / reflect onto windshield using your smartphone and HUD app. I am using Head-Up Nav ( and it is super simple and integrated into Google Maps navigation.