GPS units are pretty much commodity items these days, so it's rather pleasing to see Garmin bucking the trend towards cheapest-possible design when it comes to its entry-level GPS units. The Nuvi 52 won't exactly turn heads, but equally, it won't make people think you're a complete cheapskate when they look at it. Mind you, with an asking price of around AU$115, you won't be; Garmin's pitch for entry-level GPS buyers is pitched a bit higher than competitors Navman and TomTom.
That additional cost does buy you a little more than just slight aesthetics, however. The Nuvi 52 comes with a 5-inch display screen that has good visibility characteristics; even in bright direct sunshine, we could make it out by pumping up the brightness to around 80 per cent.
Garmin hasn't changed its map style in years and years. Map data is provided by Navteq, at least according to our review unit, which presumably means nobody at Garmin got the message about that company changing its name to Here on the behest of corporate overlords Nokia.
You get a car symbol that you can change to a variety of objects — including, for some reason, a Pokeball — if that takes your fancy. Route colours tend towards the garish, although that does make them stand out at a quick glance.
Garmin does keep things simple when it comes to actual navigation. The main menu simply offers to show you the map and asks you “Where to?”, which keeps things clean and easy. Address entry starts with towns, although it doesn't intelligently block out choices as you type, flicking over to a list once it's narrowed down your options instead. It then asks for street number ahead of name, which could be problematic if you're after an intersection.
Unlike competitors, Garmin doesn't offer you a variety of route choices when entering a destination; instead, you've got to decide whether your general preference is towards faster times, shorter distances or off-road driving in the general settings. That's slightly annoying because having that kind of information available for each trip, especially longer journeys, is quite a powerful thing.
The basic map layout simply shows you direction, next turn and current speed, although if you don't need the actual map, you can easily flick over to a more dashboard-style view with a single tap.
The Nuvi 52 by default only draws in the route you're meant to travel and few of the side streets along the way. This might not seem like much of a problem, unless you suddenly have to turn down them. More than once during testing we diverted — sometimes to test and sometimes because there was a genuine detour — and the Nuvi 52 simply presumed we'd driven into open space for a few seconds, missing a few detour turn options on the way.
The Nuvi 52 isn't a bad GPS, but it doesn't do a whole lot to justify its asking price. For not a whole lot more money, you could buy a far more "premium" device, including some from Garmin's own range, and if you were particularly fiscally pinched, you could buy a cheaper GPS that does much the same as the Nuvi 52 itself.