Your source for GPS info in everyday terms
GPS devices are wonderfully capable but also complicated for the new user. GPS Primer provides GPS info explained in simple, everyday terms to get you started on the right foot in your travels.
GPS Info Articles
I recently completed a five-day driving vacation with the Garmin nuvi 1300LM 4.3-Inch Portable GPS Navigator with Lifetime Map Updates. The model has been replaced with the Garmin nuvi 40LM, but the 1300LM is still widely available for purchase new, refurbished and used. I previously owned the Garmin nüvi 255. I upgraded mainly for the lifetime maps feature of the 1300LM, which did not come with the 255. During holiday sales a refurbished 1300LM was cheaper than updating the 255 map. I also gained a larger screen. However, there were some tradeoffs, and one was particularly annoying.
First, the advantages of the 1300LM. Obviously, the lifetime maps is a plus. Well, it's supposed to be, but frankly after two months and one major trip, I haven't gotten around to updating it. Garmin must be using dialup because the download of an update file is glacial. It took me four hours on a DSL connection. So long, in fact, that I left it downloading for the night, and never got back to using it.
Another advantage is the wider screen. I found the square aspect of the 255 to be adequate. However, the wider screen allows me to put the numerical information (time, miles to destination, etc.) in a tidy stack on the side. Placed here, there is more room for data points, and that's part of the fun of a gps.
A small loss was the alternative voices. The 1300LM comes with one installed voice, a rather flat female. The 255 came with several accents. I found the basic female on the 255 to be more pleasant than that on the 1300, but this in not a deal breaker, as the one voice does the job. However, I was a little surprised because the 255 was a bottom of the line unit, as is the 1300. I'm used to new models of electronic gadgets in the 21st century adding features, not taking them away, even at the entry level.
While the voice thing was minor for me, I was very disappointed to discover the 1300LM will not display speed limits. This one ticked me off. Again, I'm used to new generations of gear at least keeping the basic features of previous models. And I know the 1300LM knows the speed limits because it needs them to accurately calculate arrival times. Garmin has deliberately crippled the unit to not display the speed limit. Voices take data space and time to develop, so I can accept them as a premium item. But to simply turn off the display of a data point that the gps unit must be accessing to in order to function is insulting to the customer.
A further quibble that may be a settings item, but still confuses me, is how the unit chooses optimal routes among choices that are similar in time but dissimilar in miles traveled. On my recent long trip, I chose "fastest time." The unit favored a quicker route while ignoring a shortcut that added a few minutes, but cut off 25 miles. This short cut also eliminated traveling the Washington D.C. beltway, certainly an experience worth avoiding even at the cost of a few minutes. Fortunately, I knew of the shortcut previously. If I relied on the gps, I would have missed it. Using the gps, if I choose "shortest distance," I end up on strings of back roads and city streets that add lots of time. I am looking for a "smart" route that can balance time and distance better. I simply may be asking more than my entry level 1300 can handle, so I will not count it against the 1300LM.
The 1300LM otherwise works as expected. But I still think it should have the speed limit display even if it is the bottom of the line. Deliberately crippling common features that are in essence mere software flags really, really bugs me.
The Garmin nüvi 255 3.5-Inch Portable GPS Navigator is my first foray into vehicle GPS. I purchased it for a vacation driving from Pennsylvania to Florida. The nuvi 255 is a very basic model. The full-color, almost-square touch screen is about 3.5 inches diagonally. There are larger models, but this one takes a minimum of windshield real estate. I found the screen size to be fine. I have not used larger models, so I may not know what I am missing. My nuvi 255 was not bundled with lifetime maps, but it does come with one free map update. Lifetime maps are available as an upgrade from the the Garmin website. It does not have traffic. It will find gas stations and other services.
We had a stop on our trip that was a personal residence in a development, and here's where it really shone. Residential developments can be confusing for a stranger. Rather than following a set of multiple-turn directions hand written or printed from google, the Garmin nuvi 255 took us straight there with a minimum of stress.
My pros and cons are as follows. This is my first vehicle GPS, so some comments may not be specific to the model, but rather the brand or simply the state of technology at this time. And there's a strong chance some of my cons will be addressed with a read of the manual, but when it comes to gadgets, I'm in the school of "If the feature I want is there, but isn't obvious, it's a design flaw."
- Small screen size is unobtrusive yet gave me all the information I needed. I know others like the bigger screens, but I did not feel limited
- Several accents to choose from, if you want an Aussie or a Brit to lead you
- Many languages built-in, though we used only the English
- Directions were mostly accurate, with a few exceptions
- Displays speed limits
- GPS calculated speed is very nice. Our vehicle odometer showed us to be 2 mph faster than we really were.
- Real-time destination arrival time.
- Security pin option
- Inexpensive. I found a refurb from Amazon for under $70
- Windshield mount was secure, easy to use and remove
- Remembers a list of recently entered addresses, even if not officially saved
- Detour function worked quickly
- Satellite acquisition took a few minutes after being off for a few days, as any GPS must do. But for daily use during our trip it never needed time to acquire them.
- Voice accents were pretty weak. Basically the same male or female computer voice faking a different accent. The female Brit's "Boulevarrrrrrrrggghd" had a little too much Pirate.
- When we went off course, the unit suggested returning to the route by going the wrong way on a one way street.
- At one point, the unit somehow failed to track our location as we approached a turn, and we missed the turn, thinking the unit knew something we did not. It caught up in a few seconds, and got us back to the right path, but that could be a big problem on an interstate with few exits or turn-arounds.
- I'd like an option to show the destination arrival time as a countdown.
- I'd like the option to quickly display the time on the GPS unit main navigation screen.
- Overhead view requires a lot of zooming out to be useful, and did not remember previous settings
- I'd like to be able to instantly zoom out to, say, a 100 mile view to see the big picture, like a paper map can provide. I could get there, but after a lot of zooming out, which is not a safe task while driving
- The security pin if wrongly entered throws up a large, unhelpful warning window that is difficult to clear in order to retry
- Battery life is very short, maybe 15 minutes. I'd like more time so that I can enter addresses and such in a comfortable seat or at a picnic table away from the car, particularly with multiple destinations planned. EDIT: The battery life was 15 minutes when I was using it actively, entering address or previewing routes. When I used unplugged it to navigate with minimal interaction, the battery life stretched to two hours.
- Speed limits accuracy was so-so. On interstates and other four-lanes, it was accurate 90% of the time; on secondary highways, it was somewhat less. It appeared to me that some limits had been recently changed and the maps had not caught up.
- I'm not sure, but I may have burned my free map update prematurely. It may actually have come with the most recent maps, but I did not know how to be sure.
- The map update software for Mac frequently crashed. I'm still not sure I have actually completed the update to the unit, but I do know I have exhausted my one free map download from the Garmin website. As a newbie, my opinion of the map update procedure is unresolved until I have more time to sort it out.
- The estimated time of arrival seems too optimistic when a route has a lot of stop lights. We'd have to hit nearly every light green in order to keep up with the original estimates.
There you have it, a newbie's guide to the Garmin nuvi 255. I really enjoyed using the unit, and look forward to future trips with it.