In my review of the Garmin Nuvi 50 (Essential Series), I stated that Garmin's interface for its entry-level portable navigation devices hasn't changed much over the last decade. So color me surprised when, upon booting up the Garmin Nuvi 2495LMT, I was greeted by a fairly major revision to the tried-and-true Garmin Nuvi interface.
This new Nuvi--the top of Garmin's Advanced Series of navigation devices--features not only more polished graphics, but much more user customization of the map screen, the addition of "apps," and a major overhaul of how the settings menus are organized. Everywhere I looked there were new contextual drop-down option boxes and sidebar submenus. The broad strokes are still undeniably Garmin, but for the first time in a long time, I found myself having to relearn how to use a Nuvi. So, do these new features enhance the navigation experience or needlessly complicate it? I hit the road with the Nuvi 2495LMT to find out.
Built around a 4.3-inch color display with resistive touch sensitivity, the Garmin Nuvi 2495LMT's chassis features a glossy black bezel with a "soft-touch," matte-finish rear panel. Up front, just to the left of the screen, is a pinhole opening for the unit's internal microphone. As you continue to rotate the device, a microSD card slot comes into view on the left edge of the unit followed by the Mini-USB connection on the back panel for charging and syncing. The rear of the unit is also where the half-inch speaker can be found. Finally, a power button located on the top edge of the device is the sole physical input. Unlike on the Nuvi 50, the power button's sole functions are to toggle the unit's standby mode at a single tap, or, if you hold the button down for 3 to 5 seconds, to display a prompt asking if you'd like to fully depower the device, say for storage or packing in luggage.
In the box you'll find the Nuvi 2495LMT itself, a printed quick-start guide, a vehicle suction cup mount, a USB cable for connecting to a PC for data transfer and map updates, and a vehicle power cable. That power cable, by the way, includes a traffic data receiver in-line, and although the Nuvi will operate for about 2 hours on its internal battery, you will have to plug it in to take advantage of the advertised Lifetime Traffic service--which we'll come back to momentarily.
In addition to the old getting-from-point-alpha-to-point-bravo trick that all portable navigation devices (PNDs) should do, the Nuvi 2495LMT has a few more things up its sleeve.
For starters, the device includes Bluetooth wireless technology. The only profile supported is the Hands-Free Profile (HFP), which makes it possible to initiate and receive phone calls with a tap of the touch screen--from the appropriate menu, of course. That menu, appropriately labeled "Phone," includes options for browsing the unit's database of points of interest (POIs), manually dialing numbers using a numerical keypad, viewing call history, and voice dialing. Unfortunately, the Nuvi doesn't include address book syncing. This means voice-command phone calls make use of your phone's dialer instead of the Nuvi's own; names don't appear in the caller ID information for contacts not stored locally on the Nuvi; and the call history doesn't reflect calls made outside of the car. These limitations aren't what I'd call deal breakers, but they do prevent this Nuvi's hands-free system from rivaling even the most moderately feature-stocked standalone Bluetooth speakerphones.
On the Nuvi's home screen, you may notice a new icon located at the bottom of the screen, labeled Apps. This, in my opinion, is a bit of a misnomer, because the menu behind this icon doesn't contain what I'd consider to be apps in the smartphone sense of the word. They're more like extra features that don't really fit under any other menu. Here is where you'll find the Help menu, the settings for the voice command system, options for the Nuvi's EcoRoute calculations (which require the purchase and installation of the EcoRoute HD hardware), and other simple tools such as an alarm clock, calculator, and unit converter.
No, the only function in the Apps menu that even remotely feels like an app is the Audible audiobook player, which makes it possible to listen to audiobooks stored on the Nuvi's internal memory or a microSD card.
I do like Garmin's implementation of voice commands on the Nuvi 2495. In the voice command menu, you can set a custom wake-up command that the PND will continuously listen for--I chose, "Ahoy, matey!" Once it's set, you need only need speak the command and the device will pop into full voice-recognition mode with onscreen and verbal prompts. So I was able to say, "Ahoy, matey; phone; call home" to initiate a call to the phone number associated with my home address, and at no time during that process did I have to physically touch the device. Other available commands include "find intersection," "recently found," "find category," "volume," "brightness," "detour," and dozens more. These commands cover almost every function I commonly access while driving, making it very possible to get into a car and carry out all interactions with the Nuvi without ever removing your hands from the steering wheel.
Additionally, the Nuvi 2495LMT features Lifetime Maps and Traffic. Map updates can be downloaded quarterly for as long as you own the device, using Garmin's updater software on a PC or Mac. Once the updates are downloaded, you connect the Nuvi with the included USB cable to update it. Lifetime Traffic, on the other hand, is beamed directly to the device through the traffic receiver built into the power cable. Once connected, the Nuvi will receive flow and incident updates every 5 minutes that are overlaid on its maps and factored into its calculation of routes and estimated arrival times. Garmin calls this its 3D Traffic system in its marketing, but I'm not sure what's so 3D about flow data on a 2D map.
The price that you pay for a lifetime of traffic updates is that occasionally you will be subjected to "Offers," as Garmin calls them. Periodically small text-based advertisements will appear on the map and menu screens that can be clicked to initiate POI searches--for example, for the nearest Best Western hotels. Some users may find these ads grating, but we noted that the ads never seemed to appear on the map or menu screen when the vehicle was in motion or during navigation, making them about as unobtrusive as possible.
As I stated earlier, this new-generation Nuvi features a plethora of small interface updates that add up to huge changes.
To start with, the Nuvi 2495's home screen features smoother graphics that are more pleasing to the eye, despite the fact that its screen's resolution is similar to that of the Essential Series Nuvi 50.
Digging into the "Where to?" destination selection screen, the Nuvi shuffles most of its major category-selection options into a submenu and downright hides many of usual search methods (city, intersection, GPS coordinate entry) by default. Instead, you're immediately presented with a selection of user-definable shortcuts to favorite destinations or search parameters. So if you find yourself often searching for something as broad as the nearest fast food restaurant or as specific as the nearest Chick-fil-A, you'll be able to add a shortcut for that search to this main search screen. You can also choose to re-add city, intersection, and coordinate entry for destination selection. This new organization requires a bit more initial setup on the part of the user, but can shave seconds off the entry of repetitious searches.
One new interface addition that I'm loving is the addition of a search bar to the top of every POI selection screen that allows instant filtering of whatever category is being viewed. So, though entering "Golden Gate" on the main "Where to?" screen searches for every destination with those words in the title, entering the same phrase while viewing the Attractions category listing will likely only surface POIs related to the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a simple addition that--when combined with the Nuvi keyboard's very Android-like autocomplete feature--simultaneously speeds up and fine-tunes the process of finding what you're actually looking for in a sea of millions of destinations.
The settings menu has also seen some serious tweaking. Gone are the large, chunky, cartoony icons. They've been replaced by a scrollable list of submenus, each complete with a short description of the settings found within. The organization of these menus has not changed dramatically, but the aesthetic does make better use of screen real estate while also making the Nuvi feel less like a child's toy.
One particular item on the settings menu that merits mention is Dashboards. A Dashboard is a way of customizing the information displayed in the lower third of the map screen. Some of the available Dashboards feature graphics that mimic a car's dashboard, while others are more straightforward. Each Dashboard has two to four customizable spaces for displaying data chosen by the user from a range of options such as direction of travel, vehicle speed, time to arrival, time of day or arrival, distance to arrival, and altitude. Likewise, each Dashboard features a shortcut that takes you to a menu where 13 commonly accessed shortcuts can be found, such as Mute, Phone menu, Cancel route, and Detour.
Combined with customizable vehicle icons, color schemes, voice skins, and an option to display the Nuvi's interface in portrait or landscape orientation, being able to adjust the map Dashboard gives you a great deal of flexibility regarding how you look at and interact with your PND.
From a cold start outdoors, the Nuvi 2495LMT was able to lock onto our location in under 2 minutes. Subsequent restarts were assisted by a memory feature and were nearly instantaneous as long as we started it up in the same city that we had stopped in. We weren't able to replicate the indoor positioning trick that the Nuvi 50 pulled off, but, for outdoor navigation, this is pretty much what we've come to expect from Garmin.
Likewise, the Nuvi's chosen routes usually matched with our local knowledge of the San Francisco Bay Area's traffic patterns and shortcuts. This is no doubt due to the 2495LMT's awareness of current data thanks to its in-line receiver. Never during our testing were we confused about where the Nuvi wanted us to go or why. Our confidence was boosted somewhat by the clear and timely voice prompts and graphical lane guidance, which indicated with arrows which lane or lanes were valid for the chosen route.
While the Nuvi 2495LMT's menus and interface were rendered quickly, with smooth transitions, the same can't be said about the device's map screens. Scrolling around the map with a finger was a jerky affair. I was able to observe chunks of the map popping into and out of view as they loaded. It's not particularly offensive during navigation, as most of the time you won't be moving fast enough to outrun the loading. During route planning, however, the slow-loading maps become more of an annoyance. Again, this isn't what I'd call a deal breaker, but I expect more based on Garmin's previous ventures.
For years, one of the Garmin Nuvi line's strongest assets has been ease of use. Fortunately, the update hasn't detracted from this at all. The interface tweaks add a ton of flexibility to the navigation experience. Destination search has been sped up and fine-tuned. The menus have been optimized. Most importantly, Garmin's truly hands-free voice command system makes it possible to quickly and efficiently interact with the Nuvi without even touching it. When you're talking about a device that is designed to be used at highway speeds, it doesn't get much safer or easier than that.
Hopefully, Garmin can figure out some sort of way to provide snappier loading of its maps in a future update, but even if it doesn't I think that most users will be satisfied by the Nuvi 2495LMT's performance.