September 6, 2007

Garmin Nuvi 200W/250W Review


Update: See my Garmin Nuvi 205W/255W Full Review - better interface and hardware than the Nuvi 200W/250W - I recommend moving up to the 205W/255W if possible.

The Nuvi 200W and Nuvi 250W are logical extensions to the still relatively new Garmin Nuvi 200 series line that is starting to take its place as a solid entry level performer from Garmin for those folks who want a less expensive GPS navigation unit with a rock solid reputation. I reviewed the regular screen sized Nuvi 200/250/270 unit back in March of this year right after it was announced and thought that while the unit might be marked for entry level, it was a Garmin through and through. Since that time the Nuvi 200 line has dropped in price to a very reasonable level, and I expect that the Nuvi 200 line will be one of the hottest sellers come the holiday season. I fully expect to see a Nuvi 200 for $199 or less on Black Friday.

The GPS market is in the middle of a change to widescreens as more people realize that they offer more readability and easier input. At the same time, the market is exploding at the low price end, so putting the two trends together, you'll get the Nuvi 200W and Nuvi 250W. Note for more information about what's in the box, see my announcement on the Nuvi 200W/250W review.


The Nuvi 200W/250W is still a small feeling unit, and much like the moment I took my first look at the Nuvi 250, I was astonished to see that the delicate design lines of the Nuvi 200W/250W really did hold a 4.3-inch widescreen in it. The unit is a thin 0.8-inches, and with the gray beveled edge to the unit, it feels like it floats in midair. The single external switch turns the unit on and off. It also serves as a "lock" so that the unit doesn't turn on while you carry it in your briefcase or purse.

The Nuvi 200W/250W has a rear firing speaker, which sits next to its mini-USB power/data input. The angled power cord that comes out the back and angles down allows for the unit to sit right on the dash if needed. I would like it if other units took up this design element.

The Nuvi 200W/250W is light, and therefore needs only a small suction cup. The cam action lever with a ball and socket design for the GPS end is my preferred GPS mount. The small "cradle" snaps into the ball, and then Nuvi 200W/250W snaps easily into the mount. It's fairly straightforward to get on and off the windshield either by taking the entire mount off the glass or by popping the Nuvi off the cradle.

The widescreen is bright enough to be seen in sunlight without issue. Brightness adjustments can be made easily in the settings menu. The unit has an SD card slot on the left side.

User Interface

The Garmin User Interface is the easiest in the business to use. The simple "Where to?" and "View Map" choice that is presented to you at start up is about as easy to understand as it can be. There are also two smaller buttons that allow you to set the volume and change the settings on the device. The settings button leads you to more than just settings, as there are several applications that are available under here that allow you to do some extra stuff with the unit. Some of these are left over from when the original "Nuvi" (the "350" designator was added later), was originally launched as a business traveler's companion; small, light, easily stowed. Well now that the price isn't over $900 for a flat GPS anymore, we think those features are good for most anybody.

Extras - the Nuvi 200W/250W offers a picture viewer that pulls pictures from an SD card, a calculator, a currency converter, a unit converter (converts area, distance, speed, temperature, and volume as in liquid volume from English to Metric and back). The Nuvi also offers a World Clock that slows you to look at 3 additional time zones as well as the view of the world as it is lit right now. The picture viewer offers you the ability to see a slideshow of your pictures, and when you tap on one particular picture, you can elect to show it at start-up as the splash screen. Fun for anyone who wants to customize their GPS. While on the road, it was easy to pop the SD card out of my camera and see a slideshow on the Nuvi widescreen.

GarminNuvi250WSettings.jpgKey Features and Settings - There are a couple of key features and settings that you may want to get to when you customize the unit to fit your needs. Start at the Main Menu and tap the "Wrench Button" > "Settings">"Display". This will allow you to set the color mode to "Auto" or "Day" or "Night"; with it set to auto, the Garmin Nuvi 200W/250W will flip over to night colors when the sun goes down to that your car isn't lit up at night impairing your ability to see. This feature is not available on all GPS units, and is a great one. It's not safe to dig through settings menus when driving at night to switch the color scheme on other GPS units when the sun is going down. The "Brightness" setting is also here, and while you may or may not need this, it's good to keep in mind that it's under here. I typically set it to 70+% and leave it. Go back out to the "Settings" menu and tap on "Navigation". You can set the unit to "Faster" route calculation, or shortest, etc. You can also set the unit to avoid things like "U-Turns, Highways, Toll Roads, Ferries, and Carpool Lanes. These can be individually selected, and I find avoiding U-turns helps me when I do miss a turn. The unit suggests a better route to find my way instead of just saying make a U-Turn. It works for me in my situations, but you may consider testing out the differences. The "Time" setting is also in the Settings Menu; which you may or may not need to visit, but if your unit is reading one hour off from where you think it should, the Nuvi can be set to work with Daylight Savings, which may be your answer to the issue. "Language" is in here also, where you can set the voice, text and keyboard set ups to be American English, or other. With the Entry level nature of the Nuvi 200W/250W, you only get one choice of a voice, not several like other models higher in the line. "Map Detail" is the last setting on the settings menu I will talk about. This is where you will set the perspective to a 3-D look on the screen where you are looking at the route from just behind your car, or from a 2-D perspective like you are flying above your car in a helicopter. In a 2-D perspective, you can elect to keep your direction of travel as the "up" position (Known as "Track Up"), or keep North always "up" so you can understand where you are traveling. The only issue with North Up is that it may take a bit to adapt to turning left when heading south, as the car icon will be going to your right.

Map Simplicity - The Map Detail Setting
Garmin knows simplicity of interface design and in my opinion, no one beats them in this area [TomTom is close in many areas, but does not beat Garmin. Other systems are generally not as straightforward in overall design versus either Garmin or TomTom]. This is an important feature to consider for entry-level GPS systems that are targeting a lot of new GPS users. Aside from the "Where to?" and "View Map" questions that are dead simple on the main menu, a big part of the simplicity is the display that offers you a very easy to understand map interface. It is engineered to offer you the information that you need and nothing else. This lack of distraction is actually the subject of a patent of theirs to make that interface easy to read, and to keep you focused while piloting your car down the road at highway speeds.

The map display sometimes offers you only your route, highlighted in pink with little else; no minor cross roads, no side streets, no parallel roads, just you and your route. For some that can be concerning, and when I say "some", I mean me included. I know that there are other roads nearby, and when the Garmin doesn't display those roads, it makes me concerned that they don't have them mapped, or haven't considered them as viable alternatives. Fear not, Garmin has those roads, and there is a setting that I use to adjust up the amount of detail on the map screen to see what I may be missing, and see where other roads run off to as I pass them by. Often times, I have to do a map check when traffic backs up on secondary roads ahead of traffic lights, etc. that make me at least consider route alternatives through side streets, etc.

To adjust map detail, go to "Menu", tap the wrench icon, then the "Settings" button. Scroll to "Map" and then tap "Detail" - There are 5 levels of detail, and I am comfortable with "More" or "Maximum" detail, which will show me those side streets and potential escape routes when traffic gets bad. If you are more of simple design kind of person, you can also select a lower level of detail to suit your needs.

"Least" amount of detail on Map.

"Normal" amount of detail on Map.

"Most" amount of detail on Map.

Navigation with the Nuvi 200W/250W is easy and can be accomplished quickly right out of the box. A flip of the switch brings the unit to life and it goes through a quick boot up procedure. Configuration screens ask you what timezone you are in, and ask you your language preferences, and then it brings you to the main menu that you'll see every other time you turn the unit on.

The first time the unit is turned on, it takes a couple of minutes to realize it's found a new home, and grab satellite signals. On a day-to-day basis the unit only takes 5 - 30 seconds to grab a signal and report back your position. The Nuvi 200W/250W powers up when your turn the ignition on (if the unit is plugged in), and so by the time I back out of the garage, and hit the street, the unit usually has a signal. No issues here. Nicely enough the unit will ask you if you want to power down when the power is lost (i.e. when you shut off the car). This will save you from shutting off the unit yourself, as the unit will automatically power down 30 seconds after power loss. Nice addition for almost all cases.

All your navigation will start with the easy screen of "Where to?" and "View Map".

By going to "Where to?" you get a nice assortment of ways to get to where you are going. Inputting an address is easy: upon tapping, it will ask you if you want to same state as your last search, or if you want to spell out a different one. You can then spell the city, but with the intelligent system behind the scenes, the Nuvi 200W/250W picks out which city or a list of a couple of cities based on the first few letters that you type. With this system it is rare that you need to type all letters in the city. Typing in the street name uses the same algorithm and helps to quickly pick which street you are heading to. With these capabilities entering in an address is maybe 30 seconds worth of work. I would like to see a "Navigate to the middle of the street" option on Garmin's interface. Sometimes, you just need to get to the street, and not a specific address; once there you are OK. Instead I guess a street address and hope that it works.

Garmin also helps with a "Favorites" button, which is where your "Home" button is, always docked at the top of the favorites list, as well as space for dozens of other locations that you can store for use later.

Another big help that is unbelievably not on all GPS models, is the "Recently found" button or folder. This is where the GPS stores locations that you've navigated to recently, and allows for quick navigation back to these places. I use this all the time; it's a help when you want to go back to a place, but not really sure you want the commitment of adding it to your favorites folder.

garminNuvi250WNear.jpgYou can also change the reference point by tapping the "Near" button at the bottom of the "Where to?" menu. This allows you to search for Points of Interest (POI) around where you are now, around a different city, along your current route, and near your destination. This feature, especially the "Along Route" makes life very easy when you are on that road trip and need to find a place to eat or a store. Finally, you can put in GPS coordinates to set a destination; a pet peeve of mine for a long time, and Garmin has definitely accommodated those of us who don't get addresses but co-ordinates for hiking trails or biking trails that are along the side of roads.

So, now that you have a destination in the Nuvi 200W/250W, how does it do? Overall, I think that Garmin and the Nuvi are about as good as you can get for navigating by GPS. The routing is reliable, but not as insightful as a seasoned local. No GPS is. It gets the job done and allows you to navigate to locations without any worry. The verbal instructions are clear and offer several well-timed prompts to make sure you understand the upcoming turn while the distance counter counts down the feet to the turn. I used the Nuvi 200W/250W for a couple of weeks to navigate to most places I drove, including a 400 mile weekend trip, and the unit was spot on and reliable.

Differences between the Nuvi 200W and the Nuvi 250W?
The only difference between the Nuvi 200W and the Nuvi 250W is map coverage. That's it.

  • Nuvi 200W - Continental USA, Hawaii & PR (Canada and Alaska not included)
  • Nuvi 250W - North America (Mexico coverage not included)

    Review Summary
    The Garmin Nuvi 200W/250W will certainly make itself known on the market when it gets a foothold, and deliver classically in the navigation department with a new entry level widescreen GPS navigator. The Nuvi 200W/250W offers a trustworthy way of delivering navigation with a little bit more luxury than its entry level roots. The debate over the value of a widescreen may rage on, but the extra real estate is a worthwhile investment in my eyes as it not only gives you an easy to read view of where you are going, but a generally better layout and data input experience that doesn't feel cramped. More data is displayed, buttons are bigger and data entry is more exact.

    The cost of the Nuvi 200W and Nuvi 250W come down from their list prices at this writing, and are pretty competitive with others on the market. As market forces tug on the prices of these widescreen units, look for Garmin to drop their price following competition downward. Right now, Mio is setting the low price pace with their Mio C520, and TomTom is following with a premium price to Mio on the TomTom ONE XL. Look for Garmin to maintain a slight premium to the TomTom ONE XL for the time being.

    At Amazon:

  • The Garmin Nuvi 200W
  • The Garmin Nuvi 250W

    Live in California or Minneapolis? Don't forget the dash friction mount if you don't want an adhesive disk stuck to your dashboard. At Portable Friction Mount for Garmin GPS

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    Posted by Scott Martin at September 6, 2007 9:49 PM
  • Recent Comments

    I have had my 200W for a few months and had been pretty happy with it until recently. There is a major highway called US 19 which runs through several states, including FL. Whenever I program an address along US 19 in say, Clearwater, it defaults to 3 random addresses no matter what numbers I program into it. I have tried calling it US HWY 19, US HIGHWAY 19, or just 19...without success. Any ideas??

    Posted by: Pete at August 28, 2008 7:43 PM

    Got my Nuvi 250W 2 days ago. Love the way I can enter Postcodes/Addresses to favourites while in UK. Initially dismayed by the minimalist Quick Start manual, but unit is sooo intuitive it is a breeze to use. Battery life seems very good too. My only gripe is the lack of a mini-usb cable/adaptor - I cannot hook up to my PC without shopping for one. Garmin even offer a car charger + cable + mains charger accessory that does it all - should have been supplied standard.

    Posted by: Clive Grant at April 25, 2008 4:20 PM

    I am currently looking at upgrading mine and my wifes Garmin GPS V, and your review has pretty much clinched the deal for me. Doing more research though, I am at a loss for a couple of issues.

    1) On the GPS V, I can load up Mapsource and plan things out on the computer ahead of time, make waypoints, etc, and load them into the V making trips much easier. It doesn't seem that Garmin is offering any mapping software for the Nuvi's. You just have to relax in the fact that it's all in the unit. Can you load waypoints (or favorites as they seem to be calling them on Garmin's website) as opposed to POI's? To me there is a difference, and maybe it's just more distinct on the older units. I do like the poi features, and the ability to add.

    2) Adding poi's. Do you need a sd card, and does it need to remain in the unit? On my V, memory is the key issue. Does the 200/W have a large amount available or do you need to supplement with a SD card? It seems the V and the Nuvi both have the same Waypoint count (500), but I have never heard a mention of a limit on POI. Could it be the limit of the size of the SD card, or do they actually have to be loaded into the unit's internal memory?

    3) I have two GPS units now, and was able thru Garmin to purchase one copy of MapSource, and use it legally on both gps units. Do we have that same option when it comes time to update the maps on the 200/W models? Since the maps are about 1/2 the price of the unit at the current prices, it's almost not worth it if you can't utilize the same maps on both units if you own them.

    Thanks for the review,
    Isaac Davis

    Posted by: Isaac Davis at February 22, 2008 1:16 PM

    Just received a NUVI 200W as a gift. I'm new to GPS, but the unit seems straightforward enough.
    I have four questions / comments that I'm hoping you can help with: Will map updates be available via Internet dowload like software upgrades ?? Can routes be pre-set with user selected directions ?? Is the
    (free) POI update software worthwhile ??
    Where can I get a comprehensive Instruction Manual ??


    Hope you're enjoying the Nuvi.

    Map Updates - you won't need this for about a year. They are usually available via disk; not sure about downloads. Ask Garmin tech support - they are very helpful.

    Software Upgrades - You should register for My Garmin and use Web Updater - which will allow you to get updates and see what's new for your unit. Garmin is working on getting most everything ported over to Mac, which is a good thing for those who run Mac.

    POI Updater - Useful to bring in private POI collections. You may or may not need this. You can find out more on POI collections here:

    Instruction Manual - Go to the link below to get the free manual:

    The issue is that I don't see the english version.... humm. How's your Polish? Check the link and then call Tech Help - bug them for one and they should figure it out for you/with you.

    Hope this helps,

    Posted by: Don Rozette at December 26, 2007 10:28 AM
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