Editors' note: The following review is of the Garmin Nuvi 205W. The 255W is identical to the 205W in nearly every way, except that the 255W features a text-to-speech function that reads street and points of interest (POI) names aloud and is preloaded with full map data instead of regional data. As a result, the 255W gets an extra point in the features rating category.
When most people think of a GPS device, the first name that pops into mind is Garmin Nuvi. Garmin's Nuvi 200 line of navigators was an excellent blend of ease of use and value. The new Nuvi 2x5 line of GPS navigation devices seeks to build on that reputation with a few new features, while still keeping the price relatively low. The Garmin Nuvi 205W is one of two entry-level models in the 2x5 line, and features only the most basic navigation features.
The standout feature in this new model is the "Where am I?" option that can come in handy during an emergency; but mostly the 205W represents a significant performance boost over the older Nuvis. Buyers who like what they see in the Nuvi 205W can choose to step down to the 205, which features a smaller screen, to save a few bucks, or up to the 255W, which adds text-to-speech to the feature set.
The Nuvi 205W's chassis will be immediately familiar to anyone who has ever used a Garmin PND. The unit measures 4.8 inches wide by 2.9 inches tall by 0.8 inch deep and features a color touch screen that takes up almost the entirety of the front panel. The screen measures 4.3 inches diagonally and displays full-color imagery at a WQVGA resolution of 480x272 pixels.
Along the top edge of the unit is the power/lock slider. Pushing this slider toward the power icon powers the unit on and off. Moving the slider toward the lock icon will lock the touch screen. The left edge of the unit houses an SD card slot, while the back panel is home to the speaker and mini-USB charging/connecting port.
The unit ships with a 12-volt power cable, a suction cup windshield mount and cradle, an adhesive disk for dashboard mounting, and a quick start manual. The cradle features a good amount of articulation from its ball-jointed neck and better adhesion than the TomTom EasyPort mount. However, the Garmin's mount is much bulkier than the TomTom's, and less portable.
After powering on the Garmin, the user is taken first to the Nuvi's main menu screen. Two large options are displayed for "Where to?" and "View map." Along the bottom edge are smaller icons for volume, tools, and--if a destination has been chosen--stop or detour route.
Choosing "Where to?" takes users to the destination entry screen where they are given the choice between entering an address, searching points of entry, or browsing stored favorites.
The Nuvi's interface is a bit more primary than the competition from TomTom, but at the same time, is slightly easier to navigate and understand.
The Nuvi 205W and its smaller sibling, the 205, are Garmin's entry-level models in the Nuvi 2x5 line, and predictably the units are not feature-packed powerhouses. However, the Nuvi 205W has a few tricks.
The unit comes preloaded with City Navigator NT map data for the contiguous United States, Canada, or one European region, depending on where the unit was purchased. (Our tester was loaded with maps for the lower 48 states, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.) For major roads and highways, the Garmin displays a speed limit icon as a warning for drivers approaching or exceeding the limit.
"Where Am I?" is a feature tucked in the Tools menu that displays your current GPS coordinates/elevation, the nearest address, and the nearest intersection, all of which can come in handy when relaying your location to emergency services or roadside assistance. The feature also provides quick links to the closest hospitals, and police and gas stations.
The unit comes preloaded with seven vehicle icons, with dozens more available for download on Garmin's Web site.
While the 205W doesn't support traffic updates out of the box, it can be upgraded to support lifetime FM traffic updates or subscription-based enhanced MSN direct service with add-on antennas and/or cradles.
In addition to navigation-based features, the Nuvi 205W also features a picture viewer (which displays photos stored on the internal memory or an inserted SD card), a world clock, a calculator, and a unit converter.
Cold boot time for the Nuvi 205W was noticeably faster than for the Nuvi 200 that it replaces, with a much faster satellite-lock time, which means less waiting between flipping the power switch and hitting the road.
Powered up and locked on, we searched for a few well-known points of interest. Nearby POIs are loaded quickly. The Nuvi doesn't support any sort of predictive text entry or autocomplete, but inputting a POI name or address is painless thanks to the Nuvi's responsive onscreen keyboard and fast search. The screen seems to buffer inputs, so you can quickly type a name without waiting for the Nuvi to register your inputs.
Our destination chosen, we hit the road and found the Garmin's routing of our test trips to be quick and, in most cases, identical to those chosen by the TomTom XL 340. Because the Garmin doesn't have to process IQ Routes or MapShare data, routing on the move and rerouting after missing turns is noticeably faster on the Nuvi 205W. (On the other hand, the Garmin doesn't benefit from learning better routes or free map micro-updates.)
Most users in the market for the Garmin Nuvi 205W should probably cross-shop the TomTom XL 340, which stacks up almost feature-for-feature with the Garmin. The TomTom unit's IQ Routes and MapShare features potentially give it a slight edge over the Garmin in the long run. However, the Garmin is a much faster, simpler, and easier-to-use device right out of the box, making it a better choice for nontechnophiles.
We gave the Nuvi 205W high design marks for its intuitive interface and big, bright screen. Its feature set is limited, but adequate for an entry-level device, resulting in an OK feature score. Finally, the Garmin's speedy booting, routing, and data entry earned it a good performance score.