Garmin's new 2012 line of GPS devices leads off with what the manufacturer calls its "Essential" series of entry-level navigation devices. By "Essential," Garmin means everything you need to get from point Alpha to Bravo. Things that you need include live GPS positioning with an extremely accurate sensor, turn-by-turn directions with spoken prompts and text-to-speech spoken street names. Things that you don't need (and don't get) include Bluetooth calling, traffic data, or Internet connectivity. If you're looking for a bare-bones navigation experience that still retains Garmin's level of simplicity, perhaps this series (which includes the 3.5-inch Nuvi 30 and the 4.3-inch Nuvi 40) is worth a look. We're taking a look today at the 5-inch Nuvi 50, the largest model in the series.
The Nuvi 50 is built around a 5-inch WQVGA (480x272 pixels) color screen with resistive touch sensitivity.
There's only one physical control to be found on the Nuvi 50's chassis: a lone power button located along the top edge of the unit. Holding this button momentarily toggles the unit's power on and off. Tapping this button when the unit is in use calls up an onscreen menu with screen brightness controls and a virtual button that also depowers the unit.
Flipping the unit over reveals a small 1-inch loudspeaker on the back side. The rear panel is also where you'll find a microSD card slot for quickly adding extra map data and the Mini-USB port for charging and syncing with the downloadable desktop software, which we'll come back to shortly.
In the box, you'll find the 12-volt-to-USB charging cable that you'll use to keep your Nuvi juiced while driving. You'll also find the suction cup mount cradle in the box with the Nuvi 50; the design of which hasn't changed much over the years, either. It's still easy to place and remove the Nuvi from the cradle with one hand and the lever-actuated suction cup holds a clean glass surface quite securely and removes effortlessly when the need arises.
Interestingly, Garmin no longer includes the adhesive dashboard disc or a USB sync cable in the box with the new Nuvis. However, if your local laws forbid windshield mounting, Garmin will mail you the plastic puck at no charge if requested on the manufacturer's Web site.
Garmin's menu structure hasn't changed much in the last decade. Put the Nuvi 50 next to the Nuvi 200 I picked up back in 2007 and you'll notice that most of the buttons and icons are exactly where you expect them to be, for better or worse. As the saying goes, "If it isn't broken, don't fix it." Garmin's simplistic interface has long been one of its strongest assets, and it's definitely working for the 50.
Small upgrades can be found if you pay close enough attention. For example, the menu screens can now be swiped to scroll and display more icons. The onscreen QWERTY keyboard is easier to type with, despite its smallish virtual keys, thanks to a more sensitive resistive touch screen.