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Garmin Nuvi 500 review: Garmin Nuvi 500

Garmin Nuvi 500

Bonnie Cha Former Editor
Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.
Bonnie Cha
6 min read

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.


Garmin Nuvi 500


The Good

The Garmin Nuvi 500 is a multiuse GPS that can be used in the car, on foot, on a bike or a boat. It comes loaded with topographic maps and features a waterproof casing.

The Bad

The Nuvi 500 lacks text-to-speech functionality. Satellite acquisition time was a bit slow. A USB cable is not included in the box, and marine maps are extra.

The Bottom Line

The Garmin Nuvi 500 is a satisfactory multimode GPS, but serious boaters and outdoor enthusiasts should consider dedicated devices.

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.

The Nuvi 500 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, which is a disappointment, especially since the Magellan CrossoverGPS offers this capability. The PND also features automatic route recalculation and includes a detour function if you want to avoid certain part of the given route. There is a "Where am I?" feature, which gives you the coordinates of your location, the nearest address, and intersection. It will also list the closest hospitals, police stations, and gas stations to your position, giving you a bit of peace of mind if you're in unfamiliar territory and need access to any of these services, or if you need to give your location to a tow truck. Finally, the TracBack function lets you review your most recent trip and gives you the opportunity to save it as a Favorite.

Maps are available in 2D and 3D view 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 traveling. As a hybrid GPS, you have the opportunity to choose the icon, depending on what mode you're in (a pair of boots for walking; car or truck for driving, and so forth), to represent your position on the map. A plus and minus icon on the map screen lets you zoom in and out, and there's also a trip information page that displays your speed, direction, trip time, and so forth.

The Garmin Nuvi 500 does come with 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. It also includes Wherigo, which is a geocaching adventure game. To play, however, you need to download cartridges; you can learn more about the game from Wherigo's Web site. Other extras include a picture viewer, a world clock, a calculator, and a unit converter. Unlike some of Nuvi devices, he Nuvi 500 does not include a media player or Bluetooth.

We tested the Garmin Nuvi 500 in San Francisco and from a cold start, it took the receiver about 10 minutes to get a fix on our position under clear skies. This is a bit longer than we're used to and unfortunately, subsequent starts could take up to a few minutes as well. Once locked on, however, the unit did a good job of tracking our location as we drove around the city.

We also plotted our standard trip from the Marina district of San Francisco to CNET's downtown headquarters. The system was quick to return with directions, and more importantly, they were accurate. Once on the road, we took a couple of wrong turns to check the route recalculation rate, which was fast. The Nuvi 500 was able to get us back on track in a timely manner. That said, while the voice-guided directions were loud and clear, we really missed having the text-to-speech functionality, especially when we driving around short city blocks and we'd constantly hear, "Turn right, turn left, turn right" all in a short amount of time.

We also tried out the Nuvi 500 on foot. We didn't go any hikes, but went hunting for a new restaurant in the city. It got us to our destination just fine, but we felt the capabilities were a bit limited so serious hikers and outdoor enthusiasts should probably consider a dedicated device. Our review unit did not come with any marine maps, which is just as well since we don't have access to a boat. As such, we weren't able to test out the boating features of the device, but if anyone would like to volunteer to their marine vessel for testing purposes, who are we to deny a good deed? (Wink.)


Garmin Nuvi 500


Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7


Recommended Use automotiveFeatures 2D / 3D map perspective, Garmin Lock, built-in speaker, calculator, clock, custom POIs, photo viewerNavigation Software & Services MapSource City Navigator North America NT