Thursday, July 1, 2010

Garmin Nuvi 265WT - nice portable GPS with traffic

Even since I replaced my Palm Treo smartphone with an iPhone, I have been looking for a new car GPS system.  For years I had used a Palm based GPS system with TomTom software.  It worked great and came with a two device license.   Also, I don't have a data plan with my cell phone and am not interested in paying for monthly fees to use a GPS.

Just before our recent vacation, we scored a deal on a new Garmin Nuvi 265WT and I've been playing with it quite a bit.  I'm glad I waited because GPS systems have really improved over the last few years.

First of all, it does just about everything I want in a GPS:

  1. Clear, turn-by-turn voice directions with street name pronunciation
  2. Free traffic reporting and avoidance
  3. Shows local speed limits (VERY NICE!)
  4. Functions as a BlueTooth hands free speakerphone
  5. Includes maps for US and Canada (I'm sure there are international versions)
  6. Portable (suitable for walking, biking or car use).
  7. Large, colorful, easy to read screen

Best of all, it is cheap!  You can even get a factory refurbished model for $130.

The Nuvi 265WT (note the 'T' is for traffic), isn't Garmin's most expensive model.  Specifically, it is lacking some of their more 'advanced' features.  These include:
  1. No MP3 player
  2. No lane assist
  3. No 3d building visualizations
  4. No FM transmitter to use your own stereo. 
  5. No Multi-point routing
Since I can live without these features, I was fine with the cheaper 265WT model.  Also, I've read that several of these features don't really work that well.  While the lane assist feature looks really cool, there appears to be not a lot of intersection data available so it may not be that useful in practice.

What is in the box
  1. Nuvi 265
  2. Dashboard mounting kit
  3. USB cable for charging & computer sync
  4. Car charger with FM traffic receiver
Note that if you plan on moving the GPS from car to car, you might want to get a couple of extra dashboard discs.  You can order them from Garmin here.

First Step: UPDATE IT!

Okay, I'll admit it.  I didn't read the manual, or any of the included directions before starting to play with it.  Hey, the battery was even fully charged!  Besides, I don't need directions (pun intended)   However, after my first test trip, I was ready to throw the thing out the window.  It seemed to constantly lose the satellites, had a unfamiliar UI, and the traffic feature was nowhere to be found.

So, I plugged in the USB cable and started looking for online updates.  It seemed to take a few steps (and time) to get all of the map and software updates loaded, but I finally got everything up to date.  If you don't run the latest updates, it may complain about needing activation for traffic updates (it doesn't), and other problems.  Needless to say, it worked much better after the updates.

Here is a quick run down of some of the features I liked:

Simple menus

Menu navigation is pretty simple and really doesn't require any explanation.  However, one gotcha that bit me was that the device remembers your city.  If you search for a destination in another city, make sure you change the city first.  That had me pretty frustrated at first!  Once I got used to the order in which the GPS wanted the information, entering new locations was pretty easy.

Local Speed Limits

Shown circled in red at the left is the local speed limit.  This is really handy when on vacation and you aren't sure how fast you should be driving.  I don't know how accurate this data is, but I haven't seen an error yet.

What would be even cooler would be an option to nag you if you are speeding.  I'm sure this could get annoying, but a speeding ticket would be worse.

Text to Speech, and clear directions

If you select one of the TTS voices, the GPS will pronounce street names.  I have to admit that I'm really impressed with this feature.  Unlike my old GPS, I no longer have to look at the device to know which street it is referring to.   Also, the directions are now very specific (ex:  Turn left in .2 miles, on left).  That extra bit about "on left" is really helpful.

The directions aren't perfect of course.  A couple of times I've come to a Y intersection and the GPS was silent.  I had to glance at the screen to know if I should go left or right.  Not a big deal, and could be a bug in the maps.

For fun, I played with the different accents in English.  The Australian English was fun for a while, but I soon got bored at went back to regular American English.  The kids thought it was funny anyway.

Photo viewer

Although you can view photos stored on the GPS (or on a SD card), I don't imagine many people will be doing this.  It is slow and there is only primitive navigation features.  I couldn't browse by folders which makes this feature next to useless.  Maybe a future update will improve this as it would be nice to look at my camera's photos on the GPS's larger screen.

USB and car cables

Besides allowing you to update your Nuvi, the USB cable turns your the GPS into a flash drive.  Just plug it into your computer and you can see your files / photos just like a flash drive.  Too bad my iPhone doesn't work this way!

The 265WT includes a SD card slot which will also be accessible from your computer via the USB cable (nice).

I've read that you can send google addresses directly to the Nuvi if it is attached via USB cabled (but I haven't tried this).

Note: the Car charger includes the FM traffic receiver.

Bluetooth HeadSet:

This feature worked great.  I didn't have any problem pairing my iPhone and it grabbed all of my contacts.  I was able to dial from my contacts list and didn't have any problems receiving calls.  Sound quality was decent and I didn't get any complaints from people I called.   All-in-all a very nice feature to have if you don't already have a good car bluetooth solution.

Traffic updates and routing:

Note the traffic delay circled in red above.  You can click on this icon to get further updates or look for congestion in your area.

The free traffic updates are nice (no subscription needed!).  However, traffic only seems to cover major highways.  If you are on surface streets, then you are stuck.  You could be in bumper to bumper traffic and the device still can show a green (no traffic) icon.  I'm not sure any other device out there would be any better in this regard.

UPDATE:  As a consequence of this, I've had to turn off traffic avoidance routing, under avoidances.   Nevertheless, it is nice to know when the major highways are congested.  You just have to use your own smarts to infer when the side-streets are jammed too.   Note:  I have had good luck detouring around minor (non-rush hour) traffic jams.

The "free" traffic is supported by ads, but I've hardly noticed them.

Also, the traffic updates will only work when connected to the car charger (since it has the receiver).

Using while walking

Using the GPS while walking is easy, just change the setting from Automobile to Pedestrian and off you go.  Here we are successfully navigating to the International Spy Museum.  Suprisingly easy to find!  Too bad the Car icon doesn't change to a person.  Garmin should fix that!  There is even a bike mode!

Using the GPS as a hand-held device is nice, but I'm sure a phone GPS would be better (one less thing to carry).   Still, for the few times that I need a hand held GPS, it is nice that I have that capability and don't have to pay extra (every month) for it!

Misc features

I was pleasantly surprised that it automatically switched to "Night" mode when driving at night.  The dark background (shown above), makes it easier to read.  I assume it does this via the time of day, but you can always set it manually in the settings.

If you are playing with it indoors, it will ask you if you want to simulate the GPS satellites for driving.  This is kind of cool in that you can watch your route driven in real time.

Finally, if you want to save any pictures from the GPS (maps, etc), you can enable screen shots.  A camera icon will show up and images are saved on the Garmin's internal memory.  You can copy them off of the the devices using the USB cable.

Some Tips:
  1. Keep the GPS near the front windshield, or else it might lose satellite contact.  This wasn't a major problem as I could leave it in the center console even when not mounted.
  2. Enter your destinations in advance, it makes travel trips so much less stressful.
See it in action:

I thought about making a video while using it, but so many people have done this already there really is no point.  Just go to YouTube and search for Nuvi 265WT.  Here are a just a few:


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