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Guide: Garmin nuvi 255W And Other GPS Stuff
The Garmin nüvi 255W GPS has been on the market for a while, but I just got one (upgraded from my nüvi 205), so here’s the scoop. I’ll focus on what’s most important to the PCMech audience (and if I’m missing anything you want to know about it, join in with a comment as I’m very familiar with the nüvi product line.)
In addition, I’ll talk about the things you can do with Garmin GPS, now that you couldn’t before.
All nüvi models starting with 2 and ending with 5 (even with letters after them) have the same core GPS functionality. There is no apparent advantage between them signal-wise. And yes, this means the 205 has the exact same GPS performance as a 265WT. What distinguishes one model from another is features and nothing more.
For example, what the 265WT has and the 205 doesn’t is:
- Widescreen 480 × 272 pixels instead of 320 × 240
- Full North American map dataset (including Canada and not just the lower 48 US states)
- SD card slot instead of microSD
- Speaks street names (e.g., ‘Turn right on Smith Street’ instead of ‘Turn right’)
- Has a built-in receiver for FM traffic reporting
- Available QWERTY layout for on-screen keyboard instead of ABCDE
Everything else between the two is the same. Both include 1,000 favorites, have the same battery life, have ecoRoute, etc.
Is widescreen really worth it?
There is only one thing that determines whether you want a widescreen model and that is the QWERTY layout.
This is what it looks like when entering an address:
Standard screen models use an ABCDE format.
If you absolutely must have QWERTY, then the widescreen is definitely worth it.
If not, there really is no reason to have it. The map information displayed on the screen really doesn’t give you anything that the default screen wouldn’t. The extra 160 pixels horizontally and 32 pixels vertically really aren’t suitable for a lot of extra map information, which is what matters most.
Will updating maps getting better?
Yes. The way Garmin does map updates is much better than it used to be.
The first map upgrade is free within the first 90 days of use. It’s a massive download (somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 GB). Before launching it, make sure to quit all your other apps to make sure the transfer goes smoothly. This update takes a long time because all data is transferred to the GPS via a USB 2.0 connection. And as anyone who uses USB drives knows, sending that amount of data over USB isn’t exactly fast.
Successive map updates cost $ 75 each and were emailed to you in the form of a DVD. You can still choose to do this if you wish. However, the difference now is an optional nuMaps Lifetime subscription. For $ 119.99 you get map updates for the life of the device.
What exactly does this mean?
- It only works for one registered Garmin device. You cannot transfer a subscription from nüvi to nüvi.
- It is a one-time cost.
- It’s a cost on top of the price of the GPS itself.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to buy nuMaps Lifetime and your first map update is free, so you can think about it and decide whether to work with it or not. If you do, the one-time cost will cover map updates for as long as the nüvi lasts (which is quite a 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 about 3 to 4 updates per year. Since it cost $ 75 for each update, 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 had to buy the subscription. You’re not. It’s completely optional. And even without it, you still have a fully functional GPS.
Does updating the firmware get better?
Yes. Previously, you had to download WebUpdater to update the firmware on a nüvi.
You don’t have to anymore, although you can still use it if you want.
Garmin has made it so that a nüvi can now be updated directly from the browser (and yes, it works in both Firefox and IE).
What you need to do is register your GPS with my.garmin.com and then click on the myDashboard link once you are logged in. The website will ask you to connect your GPS via USB and will check for updates from there. If it finds one, it will ask if you want to update.
I updated my 255W through this method and it worked fine. No hassle at all.
How does the 255W perform compared to older Garmin GPSs?
Two things make the nüvi 2 × 5 series better than older nüvis and StreetPilots:
- Garmin Hotfix
SiRF is an improved positional technology that allows the nüvi to receive a GPS signal faster than models without. It first appeared in the StreetPilot c5xx series.
In plain English: SiRF is the difference between 30 seconds to a signal acquisition and 3 minutes. And while 3 minutes might not sound like a long time, if you’re in the car waiting for the signal to go… you get the idea.
Garmin Hotfix technology allows the nüvi to estimate where the GPS satellites are in relation to the rotation of the earth to receive a signal more quickly.
Example: you arrive home from work at 7:00 pm and turn off the nüvi. At 7 AM the next morning, turn on the nüvi. The nüvi guesses which satellites will be in range at that time of day and searches for them purposefully. This causes the nüvi to receive a GPS signal much more quickly.
Plain English: Garmin nüvi 2 × 5 GPSs get a signal really fast compared to older models. In fact, I’ve seen it get a signal in less than 10 seconds from a cold start. That’s fast.
Does it still take you on “weird” routes to get to places?
Yes. But again, no GPS has been made to route perfectly. After all, it is a computer.
There will be times when the nüvi suggests a route, and you will think to yourself, “Okay, the way he tells me to go is stupid. I know a better way. “Chances are you are right.
In addition, even with SiRF and Garmin Hotfix, there will be cases where the signal gets weak (such as near skyscrapers and dense foliage). No GPS has been able to fix this – yet.
Does the text-to-speech voice sound better?
Garmin had television commercials in which the text-to-speech voices sounded perfect, but users of the devices were very disappointed when they first heard the voice. Each had a tone that sounded “digitally grating” for all intents and purposes.
The old female American voice was Jill; the old British woman’s voice was called Emily. The new voices are Samantha (US) and Serena (UK). Both are huge improvements over their predecessors. Using both sounds decidedly less “computer-like”.
These voices sound like the TV commercials they portray.
Is there room for improvement?
But in all seriousness, Garmin tends to “pull a Microsoft” by offering way too many versions of the same thing.
These are all 2 × 5 models:
Seven models. There only has to be one. A widescreen display with all features and “world” maps instead of seven different models which are watered down versions of the “best” model.
This is one of my few complaints about Garmin as a company. Few people want to take the time and effort to research seven different versions of the same thing to decide which one is best for them. This is not one of those “choice is right” scenarios. What it does is confuse consumers and, in addition, disappoint the brand as a whole – even if it is a good quality product.
As 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.
No GPS is available in any cell phone that can compete with Garmin’s NAVTEQ map dataset (unless directly by Garmin / NAVTEQ), SiRF and Hotfix technology.
The only time GPS is available on a cell phone is worth paying for is when you can connect your position to other data media, such as brightkite.
Strictly speaking as a navigator versus navigator, the standalone will always do better as a navigator.
Is Garmin still the king of the hill in GPS?
In the United States they are. They have the best phone support; warranty issues (should they arise) are always handled properly. My standard advice for anyone who has a problem with a Garmin GPS is not to go back to the seller, but to West Marine. Why? Because they are an authorized Garmin reseller and can easily resolve warranty issues even if you didn’t originally buy from them. And there is usually no line when you leave and no need to call before you go. Big plus.
The Garmin GPSes route way is still the best of its kind, even when there is no other super fast attack features other GPS makers have.
I know this: when someone in the US uses GPS for the first time and it’s not Garmin, the overall experience is usually disappointing. But when they experience how a Garmin routes, that’s the sale of the technology.
The reason I said above “in the United States” is because Garmin with its NAVTEQ map data has the best routes here in the United States, not so much in the UK. TomTom with its TeleAtlas map set seems to be doing much better all over the pond, but is not performing as well in the US.
This is not to say that Garmin GPSes do not work in the UK and TomTom GPSes do not work in the US. Both work great for what they do. But in the US (and Canada) Garmin will do better.
Have a question about the 255W or other nüvi? Questions!
I’ll also ask about MapSource if you happen to be using that Garmin software, as it’s not the most user-friendly in the world. ?
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