Garmin Nüvi 350
Veteran navigation manufacturer Garmin International breaks new ground with its Garmin Nüvi 350. This ultraportable device aims to be the ultimate travel companion, acting as a GPS navigator, a personal traveling assistant, and a digital entertainment center. Unfortunately, you'll pay a premium for all these features. Its retail price of $969 may be more than you're willing to spend on a pocket-size GPS system, and if you want to take advantage of any of the travel tools, such as the language translator, you'll have to shell out even more money. That said, if you crave the latest technology and a big wow factor, the high-performance Garmin Nüvi 350 should be at the top of your list. No bigger than a deck of cards (3.8 by 2.0 by 0.8 inches; 5.1 ounces), the Garmin Nüvi 350 is small and light enough to fit comfortably in your pocket. The unit's centerpiece is a bright 3.5-inch color touch screen, framed by a thin silver bezel. The 320x240-resolution screen is daylight readable and has five backlight-timer settings. Other than a power switch located on the upper bezel, the Nüvi is devoid of function buttons. Instead, all commands are entered via the responsive touch screen and the user-friendly menu system, although you can use the power button as a shortcut to jump from screen to screen. While the lack of buttons gives the unit a sleek, uncluttered look, a dedicated volume control would be welcome; instead, you have to switch to a settings page to adjust the volume.
A flip-up antenna folds into the back of the case, right above the internal speaker and grille. Along the right side of the Garmin Nüvi 350 are an SD (Secure Digital) card slot, a USB port, and a headphone jack. The Nüvi has 2GB of internal flash memory, half of which is dedicated to the user interface and detailed maps of North America. That leaves about 1GB of storage for digital photos, music, and Audible Book files. The Nüvi is recognized as a removal drive when connected to your PC's USB port, so you can drag and drop files easily into the unit's folders. Included with this Garmin GPS is a suction-cup mount that attaches to your car's windshield and a disc for mounting it on your dashboard; a 12-volt power adapter; a USB cable; and a small carrying case. You can charge the internal lithium-ion battery in your car with the 12-volt adapter or by plugging it into your PC's USB port.The Garmin Nüvi 350 is based on the SiRFstarIII GPS chip, which boasts fast satellite-acquisition times and improved GPS-signal reception in areas where the view of the sky may be partially blocked by dense foliage or tall buildings. In addition to voice-guided, turn-by-turn driving directions, this Garmin GPS offers all the usual features we've come to expect from today's crop of in-car navigation systems, including automatic routing, the ability to save your favorite locations, a detour function that recalculates your route when you veer off course, and 2D and 3D map views. It also has text-to-speech directions through which the actual street name is spoken, and you can hook up an optional FM traffic receiver to obtain real-time traffic alerts. Unfortunately, the receiver will set you back another $214 for the hardware, and there's a $60-per-year subscription fee.
Using the Garmin Nüvi 350 is a snap. The main screen consists of three selections: Where To, View Map, and Travel Kit. The Where To page lets you search for destinations from a massive points-of-interest (POI) database, including food, lodging, and transit establishments. You can also enter an address, spell a name, and select a specific intersection, or you can simply tap a point on the map to create a route from your current position. The View Map page displays your location on the map, as well as your heading, speed, and estimated time of arrival to your destination. Two touch buttons let you zoom in and out of the current map view, and a text bar along the top of the screen displays upcoming street names and turns. Touching the text bar brings up a written list of upcoming turns along your route. Likewise, the ETA/speed box opens up a trip-information page that displays an odometer, distance traveled, total travel time, maximum speed, and current speed.
The Travel Kit feature is what separates the Garmin Nüvi 350 from virtually every other GPS system out there, but be prepared to shell out even more money to take full advantage of it. For an additional $75, you can purchase the Language Guide SD card, which lets you translate words and entire phrases in nine different languages. Phrases can be translated from a list of categories such as recreation, food and drink, accommodations, and transportation. You can even have the Nüvi translate common problem phrases such as "Can you get me to a doctor?" and "Have you got anything for a hangover?" The language translations, which include two English dialects, two Portuguese dialects, two Spanish dialects, French, German, and Italian, are displayed in text form and can be spoken by the Nüvi's text-to-speech interface.
Also part of the Travel Kit is an optional European Marco Polo Travel Guide SD card ($160) that offers detailed information on tourist destinations, including restaurants, hotels, shopping, and other attractions. The Travel Guide lets you create routes to each destination and provides reviews and recommendations for each location.
Garmin's SaversGuide is an electronic coupon book for the Nüvi 350, providing more than 45,000 discounts at participating North American FV Entertainment establishments such as restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, automotive repair shops, and more. The SaversGuide SD card is $50 and includes a membership card.
If all these additional costs have your head reeling, there is some relief in that the Travel Kit offers some great free features, including an MP3 player; a JPEG picture viewer with a slide-show function; a world clock; currency and measurement converters; a calculator; and an Audible Book player. The integrated speaker is adequate for voice commands and audiobooks, but if you want to listen to music, we suggest a good set of headphones.We were very impressed with the Garmin Nüvi 350's performance. The first time we powered up the system, it took less than 30 seconds to obtain a 3D fix (four satellites). After that, the system was ready to navigate in a matter of seconds. Most impressive was the receiver's ability to maintain a satellite lock when our view of the sky was obscured. For example, we held a strong GPS signal throughout a walking tour of lower Manhattan, where most GPS receivers fall victim to the towering skyscrapers. We even managed to monitor our progress on a 45-minute Long Island Railroad train ride without having to hold the unit up to the window--a testament to the receiver's superior signal-tracking abilities. In the car, the Nüvi worked equally as well. The voice-guided driving directions were easy to comprehend and were spot on in terms of accuracy, and the receiver did an excellent job of pinpointing our location on the map. Route calculations were fast, as were recalculations when we purposefully strayed from our original route.
Garmin claims 4 to 8 hours of battery life, depending on factors such as backlighting and MP3 playback. We managed a solid 6.5 hours of battery time with the GPS antenna active and backlighting set to time out after 2 minutes.