Top critical review
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Not a bad little unit, but a few quirks
on July 3, 2008
I purchased the Nuvi for my Jeep Wrangler. I had a factory GPS unit in my Toyota 4Runner that I loved... the Nuvi 255W appealed due the size of the unit and one's ability to remove it from the car and carry it around as a hand held if walking city streets. It was also appealing because it offered 'elevation contours' at higher zoom levels so you got some feeling of the lay of the land rather than the flat depictions you get on a lot of automotive GPS units.
This review is heavily weighted text wise on the negative. That does not mean I think this is a bad unit... it is fine for around town and certainly a good unit to pick for your first GPS. I do have to say, that comparing it to my old GPS (factory unit in my 2004 4Runner), this unit is not as good. My old GPS has more useful mapping features and routes more reliably.
It is, however, good to be aware that no GPS is perfect and understanding going in where the quirks are with this one will lessen any frustration you might feel in finding them later.
The good - it's a cute little unit, simple, easy to operate, easy to install and does... as promised... update and reroute much _more_ quickly than my other GPS (no, I don't know the manufacturer Toyota uses). Have to give Garmin kuddos on that it's pretty awesome in comparison to other units I've tried. Actually real impressed with that. The batteries last a good long time. I haven't actually measured the time, but a guess says that it's close to the 4 hours spec'd.
The bad - My unit only displays elevation contours at zoom levels of 20 miles or higher. Basically, that's a completely useless feature albeit slightly interesting. I had understood that one could view the elevation contours at zoom levels of 5 miles or higher, later read 8 miles or higher - both of which are close to useless but OK... better than not having it at all. Involved in a conversation with Garmin product support at the moment on that. I'm not clear whether my unit is operating correctly or not. The positive, Garmin product support is responsive.
UPDATE ON THIS - It finally turned out that to see the elevation contours at lower zoom levels (you can see them at zoom levels as low as 2 miles) you have to reduce the amount of detail displayed. Go into Tools-Settings-Map-Map Detail and set the level down (it is set to 'more' by default') to normal, less or least and you will start to see the contours at lower zoom levels. This is a fault with their included (and web) documentation.
The text-to-speech (TTS), not so good. It's very tinny sounding... I've got the unit set to American English - Samantha. I can understand it in my 4Runner. I have difficulty understanding it in my Jeep Wrangler (hard top) which is clearly noisier. My understanding is that Garmin really compressed the voice in this unit, far more than in previous units... and yeah, it sounds like it. I like my older unit better - better voice quality and it simply tells you how far to the next turn and what direction to turn.
The TTS is quirky, not really ready for prime time yet. It seems to do well with English sounding street names like 'Questhaven'... does NOT do well with Spanish based street names (which if you live in So Cal as I do, is an issue). San Elijo is pronounced 'san' 'eli-joe' as a simple example. Via de la Valle is both 'SR 6 Via-de-lane-val' (I listened intently, it did pronounce 'la' as lane... then it occurred to me there must be some translation of an abbreviation for lane, which is truly odd but OK I could see that makes some vague sense in software programming land) and then, surprisingly, the actual correct Spanish pronunciation when I got off on the exit. Apparently the street was in the database twice? Who knows!? A programming 'feature'. A street called Olivenhain was pronouced 'O-lee-ven-tian' (it's actually pronounced 'O-lee-van-hain'. The TTS is definitely seeming more of a toy/curiosity to me than a "can't be without it" feature. I'd not be buying a unit thinking this was an critical part of the decision but it's nice.
The routing I am still evaluating - in general, the unit seems to route well and quickly. It does, however, do odd things that I have not encountered in the same areas with my older unit (I've been using them simultaneously to test the Garmin unit)... as I was driving out of my driveway after having set a destination it said 'turn right on (my street) to street y'. The problem was that street y didn't connect to my street, it wasn't even in the same town. So yeah, not sure what was up with that. When I routed to a different destination I knew I needed to take street a, turn right to street b, and turn right on street c. The unit told me 'take street a .3 miles and turn right on street c'. It completely lost the intermediate street, which BTW, does show on its map and which has to be taken (streets a and c do not connect). I live in a _very_ urban area, near the 5 fwy in north county San Diego. There are NO new streets in this area, all has been established for over 10 years. My older unit, with probably a 2003 map database in it, does not make these errors in this area. So, not thrilled with the routing. It's definitely making mistakes in this area it shouldn't be making.
There are quite a few features present in my 4Runner's now 4-5 year old GPS system that are not present in the unit. I deeply miss the 'route overview' feature, the Garmin unit does not have that. This allows you to easily review the route the unit set up to a set destination. With the Nuvi, you have to take your finger and scroll to see where it is going to take you. It also does not offer an option to view the route as a series of turn by turn directions. I use that quite a bit and miss it here. Lastly, it does not allow you to put in a series of destinations. My older unit allows you to keep adding destinations to the route. Not here, you get one. Then you can add another after you get there. I also miss the display of how far you have yet to go on your route. My old unit counts this down for you and provides an estimate of ETA on the map display. Not present here.
The menu system is a bit too deep for my tastes. I have to hit too many buttons to get back to the map display when, for example, I am entering POIs. I can do that in one step in the 4Runner unit.
The 'finger scrolling' is not overly responsive and yes, it does better if you use your fingernail rather than fingertip. I didn't mind that too much, but you might wonder initially if the unit does scroll the map... yes, it does... try with your fingernail. The zoom up/down buttons are kinda in a bad spot. I find that if I want to scroll sideways that I hit them accidentally quite a bit.
You will read complaints about the lack of a USB cable with the unit. Personally, I didn't view that as an issue. Garmin uses a standard connector and the cables for both my (Sony and Canon) digital cameras worked fine as did the one for my ScanDisk MP3 player. I'm fine not having an extra identical cable.
The documentation is light and I received a manual for a 205W series unit with the 255W. Yeah, OK they're similar but nevertheless it's a bit disconcerting at first. I'm sure Garmin was in a hurry to ship the new units.
So... all in all... it's not bad, but there are definitely things to be aware of. I don't hate it, I'm not in love with it either. I wish Garmin would spend more time giving us the rich mapping features instead of integrating stuff that IMHO isn't useful and does run up the cost of the unit - like Bluetooth for your phone (the placement of the unit for this is all wrong, you want your Bluetooth close to your head and your GPS at eye level on your dash), audio books (we have MP3 player jacks in our stereos now guys, you cannot compete with the sound quality) etc. I get the photo navigation (but how many of you will use that? it's a curiousity for most of us), traffic and content updates (but I won't use that either since I'd use it rarely and don't want to pay a monthly fee for it). Those are navigation related, the other stuff is redundant and Garmin cannot provide as good a solution as the vendors that specialize in these areas.
For anyone that is researching GPS units, I highly recommend spending some serious time on [...] It's a very informative site and the forums are active.