Editors' note: The following review is of the Garmin Nuvi 200 series. As part of the 200 series, the 260 has the same design, functions, and features as the unit reviewed below, but adds a text-to-speech function that reads street and POI names aloud. As a result, the Nuvi 260 gets an extra point in the features rating category.
The Garmin Nuvi series of GPS devices enjoys a fair number of fans. The Nuvi 660 and the Nuvi 350 have earned an average of 7.5 and 8.6 user ratings, respectively. And it's not hard to see why. These ultraportable gadgets not only serve as navigation aids but also offer travel-friendly features, such as travel guides and foreign language dictionaries--all while delivering solid performance and ease of use. However, we've always winced at the jaw-dropping price tags.
Well, it seems Garmin heard our cries, as the company has released a new family of Nuvi devices that are more wallet-friendly. The Garmin Nuvi 200 series includes three models: the Nuvi 200 ($428.56) with preloaded maps of the United States and Puerto Rico; the Nuvi 250 ($482.16), which adds maps of Canada; and the Nuvi 270 ($599.99), which comes preinstalled with maps of the United States, Canada, and more than 30 European countries. For our review, we took a look at the Nuvi 200. This entry-level model boasts an even sleeker design and continues to deliver the same intuitive interface and accurate directions. It strips out some of the more advanced travel and multimedia tools to cut costs, but even so, we wish the price was slightly lower--more in the $300 range. Still, with a little shopping around, you can probably find a deal and, for the money, you'll get a solid portable navigation system.
At 3.8 inches wide by 2.8 inches high by 0.8 inch deep and 5.2 ounces, the Garmin Nuvi 200 isn't that much bigger than today's latest smartphones or PDAs; in other words, it's pretty compact. It helps that the GPS antenna is now integrated into the device, unlike older Nuvi models like the Garmin Nuvi 350, which had a flip-up antenna. And while the Nuvi 200 is probably a little too bulky to fit into a pants pocket comfortably, you'll have no problem carrying it in a bag, using it on foot, or transporting it between vehicles.
A 3.5-inch (diagonal) QVGA touch screen dominates the face of the Nuvi 200. The display is bright and sharp, with a 320x240 pixel resolution and an antiglare coating. Unlike the Mio C220, we had absolutely no problems viewing the Nuvi's display in various lighting conditions, including bright sunlight.
Aside from a power/lock slider switch on top of the device, there are no other external controls, so all commands are registered via the responsive touch screen. While we like the minimalist design, we think a volume dial on the side would've been nice. There is an SD card expansion slot on the left side, and the speaker and power connector/Mini-USB port are on the back.
The Garmin Nuvi 200 comes packaged with a car charger, a vehicle mount (dash and windshield), and reference material. The vehicle mount has a no-fuss design and is very easy to install in your car. It securely held the Nuvi in place, and there's a lock mechanism at the base of the apparatus to reinforce the connection between the suction cup and windshield.
As the entry-level model of the Nuvi series, the Garmin Nuvi 200 has a very basic feature set. It does come preloaded with maps of the United States, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, though it misses detailed maps of Alaska and Canada. You can start planning a trip in a number of ways, including entering a specific address, picking a point of interest (POI), selecting a recently entered location, or choosing a destination from your Favorites list. Of course, if you don't need guidance, 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. And don't think you're restricted to using the system only in the car, as there are settings for pedestrian, bicycle, truck, and bus modes.
The Nuvi 200 offers turn-by-turn, text- and voice-guided directions, but it doesn't support text-to-speech functionality. This means the system won't speak actual street names; instead, it will give you more generic directions like, "Turn right in 500 feet." The Nuvi 200 also supports automatic route recalculation and includes a detour function if you want to avoid certain part of the given route. Maps are available in 2D and 3D views with day and night colors, and you can change it so north is always at the top of your screen or the direction in which you are driving. Plus and minus icons on the map screen allow you to zoom in and out, and there's also a trip information page that displays your speed, direction, trip time, and so forth.
The Nuvi 200 has a comprehensive POI database with all the major categories (gas stations, lodging, ATMs, and so forth) and more specific ones; you can even search for restaurants by type of cuisine. On top of the preloaded entries, you can add custom POI, such as safety cameras and school zones.
Of course, part of the allure of the Nuvi series is its travel features. Again, as an entry-level device, the number of travel tools is more limited than other models in the family. You get a world clock, currency and measurement converters, and a calculator. You can purchase additional travel guides preloaded on an SD card through Garmin; prices range from $49.99 to $160.70. Other goodies on the Nuvi 200 include a picture viewer and the Garmin Lock security feature, which prevents the unit from performing any functions until you enter a user-defined four-digit PIN or take it to a predetermined location.
We tested the Garmin Nuvi 200 in San Francisco, and from a cold start, it took the unit less than two minutes to get a GPS fix under clear skies, while subsequent starts were almost instantaneous. If the system is having any problems acquiring a fix, a pop-up message will appear onscreen and ask you if it should continue searching for satellites. If you're indoors and tap no, you can still plan trips and get a running demo of your route.
During free drives around the city, the Nuvi 200 accurately tracked our location. We also planned a specific trip from the Marina district of San Francisco to CNET's downtown headquarters, and the system quickly returned with a route. We also missed several turns to test the route recalculation rate, and after a few seconds, the Nuvi gave us new directions, always before our next maneuver.