There are many uses for GPS beyond in-car navigation. After all, there are times you could use some route guidance no matter what mode of transportation. Yet, you don't see too many multiuse GPS on the market, and we're beginning to see why. A while back we took a look at the Magellan CrossoverGPS, an all-in-one portable navigation device for car, boat, and foot. It was fine but limited in what it could offer boaters and hikers; plus, it was a sluggish performer. The newer Garmin Nuvi 500 is also a hybrid GPS, and it offers a better design and user interface than the CrossoverGPS with faster performance to boot. It's not bad for very casual use, but again, the capabilities are a bit limited when you get into other modes aside from the car. If you're a serious hiker, geocacher, or boater, we'd recommend getting a dedicated device. The Garmin Nuvi 500 is available now for $499.99.
The overall design of the Garmin Nuvi 500 fits right in with the rest of the Nuvi series. It sports a compact rectangular shape and comes in a charcoal gray color. Given that it has multiple uses, the device is slightly thicker and heavier than other Nuvi models, but it's still small at 4.2 inches wide by 3.3 inches tall by 0.9 inch deep and weighs 7.6 ounces. Plus, it's sleeker than the Magellan CrossoverGPS, and also features a waterproof casing.
On front, there's a 3.5-inch QVGA touch screen with a 320x240-pixel resolution. Some might complain about the smaller display size, but we understand that some sacrifices had to be made for portability since the Nuvi 500 is also designed for use on foot and on a bicycle. As with other Garmin GPS, the Nuvi 500 has an easy-to-use interface and all the onscreen icons are large and clearly identified. To switch vehicle types, there is an icon at the top of the main page that you can tap to cycle through the various modes. There will be an icon that corresponds to each one; for example, a car for driving, a person for walking, and so forth.
There's a power button on top and a battery release slider key on the left side. Behind the battery, there is a microSD expansion slot where you can add additional maps. A mini USB port is also located on the back.
The Garmin Nuvi 500 comes packaged with a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), a car charger, a USB cable, and reference material. The car mount is easy to install and held the unit securely during our test drives. We do wish, however, a bicycle mount and USB cable were included in the box.
As noted earlier, the Garmin Nuvi 500 is a multiuse GPS with modes for car, pedestrian, bicycle, and boat. The system comes preloaded with City Navigator NT street-level maps of the United States, including Hawaii and Puerto Rico, as well as U.S. topographic maps. If you're a boater, unfortunately, marine maps are not included in the package, but you can load BlueChart g2 Vision and Inland Lakes Vision marine maps via microSD card.
In driving mode, you get the standard trip planning and navigation tools that we've seen in other Nuvi models. To start, you can enter a specific address, pick a point of interest, select a recently entered location, or choose a destination from your Favorites list. In addition, you can search for geocaches and geographic points (lakes, mountains, harbors, and other geographic landmarks). The Nuvi 500 supports multistop destinations so you can add various waypoints along your route. If you don't need specific directions, you can just have the Nuvi track your movements by tapping View Map. The system can generate directions by fastest time, shortest distance, or off road, and you can instruct it to avoid certain road types, such as toll roads and highways.
The planning process is similar in walking and bicycling mode; you can plot courses by address, coordinates, point of interest, and so forth. Of course, you won't get some of the road types (e.g., HOV/car pool lanes) are not available in these modes, but you will be able to choose between on or off road. A compass is also available under the Tools menu. Note that boating options are only available when marine maps are loaded onto the device. For geocachers, you can download geocaches from Geocaching.com or use the Garmin Communicator Plugin. You will need to connect the Nuvi 500 to your computer to get the files on the GPS, and remember that there isn't a USB cable included in the box so you'll need to purchase one if you don't have any extra lying around the house.