The Garmin nüvi 255W GPS has been on the market for some time now, but I just got one (upgraded from my nüvi 205), so here’s the scoop on it. I’ll be concentrating on what matters most to the PCMech audience (and if I miss anything you want to know about it, chime in with a comment as I’m very familiar with the nüvi line of products.)
In addition I’ll be talking about the things you can do with Garmin GPSes now that you couldn’t do before.
All nüvi models that start with 2 and end with 5 (even if there are letters after it) have the same core GPS functionality. There is no distinct advantage signal-wise between them. And yes, this does mean the 205 has the exact same GPS performance as a 265WT. What differentiates one model from the next is features and nothing more.
For example, what the 265WT has that the 205 doesn’t is:
- Widescreen 480×272 pixel display instead of 320×240
- Full North American map data set (includes Canada and not just lower 48 US states)
- SD card slot instead of microSD
- Speaks street names (i.e. "Turn right on Smith Street" instead of "Turn right")
- Has receiver for FM traffic reporting built-in
- Available QWERTY layout for on-screen keyboard instead of ABCDE
Is widescreen really worth it?
There is only one thing that determines whether or not you want a widescreen model, and that’s the QWERTY layout.
This is what it looks like when punching in an address:
Standard screen models use an ABCDE layout.
If you absolutely gotta-gotta-gotta have QWERTY, then yes, the widescreen is absolutely worth it.
If not, then there really is no reason to have it. The map information displayed on-screen truly does not give you anything the standard screen wouldn’t. The extra 160 pixels horizontal and 32 pixels vertical really don’t accommodate for much extra map information, which is what counts most.
Is map updating getting better?
Yes. The way in which Garmin does map updates is far superior compared to yesteryear.
The first map upgrade is free within first 90 days of use. It’s a huge download (somewhere in the neighborhood of 2GB). Before running it you must close out all your other apps to ensure the transfer goes smoothly. This update takes a very long time because all the data is being transferred via a USB 2.0 connection to the GPS. And as anybody who uses USB drives is aware, sending that amount of data over USB isn’t exactly fast.
Successive map updates used to cost $75 each and were mailed to you in the form of a DVD. You can still opt to do this if you want. However the difference now is an optional nuMaps Lifetime subscription. For $119.99 you get map updates for the life of the device.
What does this exactly mean?
- It will only work for one registered Garmin device. You can’t transfer a subscription from nüvi to nüvi.
- It’s a one-time cost.
- It is a cost on top of the price of the GPS itself.
Bear in mind you are not required to buy nuMaps Lifetime, and your first map update is free, so you can mull it over and decide whether to go with it or not. If you do, the one-time cost covers map updates for as long as the nüvi lasts (which is a pretty long time as they have excellent build quality).
How often are map updates available?
Garmin labels map updates as "seasonal". In plain English, that means around 3 to 4 updates per year. Considering it cost $75 for each update before, nuMaps Lifetime pays for itself in less than six months.
And for those of you who would say, "RIP OFF!", it would only be a rip off if you were required to buy the subscription. You’re not. It’s completely optional. And even without it, you’ve still got a fully functional GPS.
Is firmware updating getting better?
Yes. Previously what you had to do is download WebUpdater to update the firmware on a nüvi.
That’s not required any longer, although you could still optionally use it if you wanted to.
Garmin has it in such a way where a nüvi can now be updated right from the browser (and yes it works in Firefox as well as IE).
What you need to do is register your GPS with my.garmin.com, then click the myDashboard link once logged in. The web site will prompt you to plug in your GPS via USB and will check for updates from there. If it finds any, it will ask whether or not you want to update.
I performed updates on my 255W via this method and it worked fine. No hassles at all.
How does the 255W perform compared to older Garmin GPSes?
Two things make the nüvi 2×5 series better than older nüvis and StreetPilots:
- Garmin Hotfix
SiRF is an enhanced positional technology that allows the nüvi to get a GPS signal faster than models without it. This first appeared in the StreetPilot c5xx series.
In plain English: SiRF is the difference between 30 seconds until a signal acquisition and 3 minutes. And while 3 minutes may not sound like a long time, when sitting in the car waiting for the signal so you can go… you get the idea.
Garmin Hotfix technology allows the nüvi to guesstimate where GPS satellites are in relation to the Earth’s rotation in order to acquire a signal faster.
Example: You arrive home from work at 7pm and turn the nüvi off. The next morning at 7am you turn the nüvi on. The nüvi will guess what satellites will be in range at that time of day and purposely seek them out. This results in the nüvi acquiring a GPS signal much quicker.
Plain English: Garmin nüvi 2×5 GPSes acquire a signal really, really fast compared to older models. I have even seen it get a signal in less than 10 seconds after a cold boot. That’s fast.
Does it still take you on "weird" routes to get to places?
Yes. But then again there isn’t any GPS made that routes perfectly. It is a computer, after all.
There will be times when the nüvi will suggest a route, and you’ll think to yourself, "Okay, the way it’s telling me to go is stupid. I know a better way." Chances are you’re correct.
In addition, even with SiRF and Garmin Hotfix, there will be instances where signal will get weak (such as near skyscrapers and dense foliage). No GPS has been able to overcome this – yet.
Does the text-to-speech voice sound any better?
Garmin had television commercials in which the text-to-speech voices sounded perfect but users of the devices were sorely disappointed when they heard the voice for the first time. Each had a tone that for all intents and purposes sounded "digitally raspy".
The old female US voice was Jill; the old UK female voice was called Emily. The new voices are Samantha (US) and Serena (UK). Both are humongous improvements over their predecessors. Using either sounds decidedly less "computery".
These voices do sound like the television commercials portray them to be.
Is there room for improvement?
But in all seriousness, Garmin does tend to "pull a Microsoft" by offering way too many versions of the same thing.
These are all the 2×5 models:
Seven models. There only needs to be one. A widescreen with all the features and "World" maps instead of seven different models that are watered down versions of the "best" model.
This is one of my very few gripes about Garmin as a company. Few people want to take the time and effort to examine seven different versions of the same thing just to decide which one is best for them. This is not one of those "choice is good" scenarios. What it does is confuse the crap out of consumers and moreover disenchants the brand as a whole – even if it is a good quality product.
Like I said, there should only be one 2×5 "global" model.
Is a standalone GPS still better than a cell phone GPS?
It always was.
There is no GPS available on any cell phone that can compete with Garmin’s NAVTEQ map data set (unless by Garmin/NAVTEQ directly), SiRF and Hotfix technology.
The only time GPS availability on a cell phone is worth paying for is when you can connect your position other data mediums, such as brightkite.
Strictly speaking as navigator vs. navigator, the standalone will always do a better job as a navigator.
Is Garmin still king of the hill in GPS?
In the United States they are. They have the best phone support; warranty issues (should any occur) are always handled well. My standard advice for anybody that has any problem with a Garmin GPS is not to go back to the vendor but rather West Marine. Why? Because they’re an authorized Garmin seller and can take in warranty issues easily – even if you didn’t buy from them originally. And there’s usually no line when you go and you don’t have to call before going. Big plus.
The way Garmin GPSes route is still best-of-breed even if it lacks other whiz-bang features other GPS makers have.
This I know: When somebody uses GPS for the first time in the US and it’s not a Garmin, the overall experience is usually disappointing. But when they experience the way a Garmin routes, that’s the sell on the technology.
The reason I said "in the United States" above is because while Garmin with its NAVTEQ map data set routes best here stateside, in the UK not-so much. TomTom with its TeleAtlas map set seems to do much better across the pond, but doesn’t perform as well in the US.
This is not to say Garmin GPSes don’t work in the UK and TomTom GPSes don’t work in the US. Both work fine for what they do. But in the US (and Canada), Garmin will do a better job.
Got a question about the 255W or other nüvi? Ask!
I’ll also field questions about MapSource if you happen to use that Garmin software as it is not the most user-friendly thing in the world.