October 26, 2008

Garmin Nuvi 205W, 255W Full Review

The Garmin Nuvi 205W/255W were announced earlier this year and are quickly taking their place as solid entry level units in the Garmin line-up. The Nuvi 205W/255W offer a series of new tweaks that I have quickly come to appreciate and enjoy.

The Nuvi 205W/255W feature several upgraded features:

  • New faster processor, making for a faster routing and map drawing.

  • New shaded elevation maps.

  • Now compatible with optional TMC traffic receivers, or MSN Direct service (Gas prices, traffic, local events, stocks, news, and weather.

  • Garmin HotFix capability to automatically calculate and store satellite locations so that you will be able to turn the unit on and go a lot faster greatly reducing satellite acquisition time.

  • Geolocated Picture capability - Download geotagged photos to the Garmin to be able to navigate to a loaded picture; works with Google's Panoramio photo sharing community and Garmin Connect Photos website.

The subtle changes don't sell themselves in any huge way as breakthrough innovations, but these changes add up to a whole lot more in use than the quick read might lead you to believe. If these were houses for sale, the 200W/250W and the 205W/255W may look the same from the outside, and offer the same number of bedrooms and baths, but the think of it like the Nuvi 205W and Nuvi 255W just got kitchen, bath and master suite upgrades that make them stand out as easier and more enjoyable to use.

Let's take a look at what's inside and why these are worth the upgrade.

Update: The Nuvi 2x5 series has the ability to use the Garmin ecoRoute program that helps you drive more efficiently. It's not nirvana, but it can help those interested in being a little more gas conscious. See my post "Got ecoRoute?..."


The Garmin Nuvi 205W/255W takes the thin design from Garmin's widescreen platform and offers a sleek and solid unit that is easy to pocket or store in an larger purse, briefcase, backpack, etc. The single slider switch on the top allows you to turn the unit on with a quick flick of the finger, while also locking the unit so that it doesn't get turned on by mistake while packing it away. The power cord is a straightforward 12V power cord that comes with the unit, and plugs into the back of the unit with a 90 degree turn down allowing the unit to sit right down tight to the dash which can't be done with those units that have a cord coming out the bottom of the GPS. The mount is a single cam lever mount that offers my preferred method of mounting to the windshield or the disc that's included to adhere it to the dash. The Nuvi 205W/255W itself snaps into a couple of clips on the mount and stays snug once attached.

Interface - Improved Nuvi Ease
The Nuvi 205W/255W come with an improved interface that may seem like a subtle change, but I think that this is a big difference and keeps the Garmin Interface fresh, easy to understand and makes the Garmin's more intuitive than their already excellent interface. The new look and feel is important, a simple update that makes the unit feel relevant but beyond the new skin there is some functionality that really makes sense. A lot of the information is concentrated down the left side of the screen. Distance to turn, turn direction, and speed limit. The zoom in and zoom out buttons are along the right side which make it a lot easier to handle with one thumb, instead of switching from side to side in the old screen - (the older interface had the buttons in the upper left and upper right corners of the screen - making the action of zooming in and out more of a two thumb video game type experience.)

Nuvi205255WRouting.jpg Turn indicator - While navigating in the upper left corner of the screen there is a green arrow and distance indicator that makes seeing where to turn easy. By combining the two pieces of information, a quick eyeshot to the Nuvi gives you an easy assessment of what's going on.

Data Fields - Speed on the left, and on the right, the driving direction (N, NE, E, SE, etc.) when driving normally, or the Arrival Time when actually navigating. A quick tap of the "Speed" readout, and you get a trip monitor screen, offering a data-hound's dream full of information. On a long road trip, This can be useful as a readout itself or something that is easy to quickly check as you are driving along. I like the overall average and the moving average that can tell you just how badly your average rate took a hit as a result of that extended stop for food and gas.

Zoom Fields - Again, the location on the screen has changed. Previously the "+" and "-" buttons were spaced out on the corners of the screen bit they are now conveniently located together, allowing for easy one handed operation to quickly zoom out then back in when you go too far!

Speed Limits - The Nuvi 205W/255W feature speed limits displayed on the unit's screen which is a relatively recent (but not new) movement for Garmin. Net - I think this is a good addition and a good time for Garmin to add it to their Nuvi line. The data is much more reliable and the potential for bad speed limit alerts has dropped dramatically. I have seen this on other units, where the database is plagued by bad data, and offered to have warnings alert you when you were speeding. With a bad database, the warnings are useless. The data captured by NAVTEQ for speed limits was really pretty good in my miles of driving. The speed limits were present on state roads and interstates; the speed changes were also accurate within a few feet of a newly changed speed zone. If you like the feature, the data in my use was really good. An added plus is that the display is very much like a Speed Limit sign making it an intuitive image to understand.

Faster Map Drawing - It's a subtle thing, but the Nuvi 205W/255W have a softer interface that seems to draw maps faster by selectively drawing different layers and fading in detail overtime. So, major roads draw on a background, then minor roads, then interstate markers draw in finally accented by more minor road names and then any texturize detail to the map. It's cool to watch and offers detail at about the rate you can understand it, and internalize it without leaving you with the feeling of thinking ahead of the unit's ability to draw.... you aren't left wanting for a faster draw.

Navigation continues to be very good with the Nuvi 205W/255W, and offers a variety of ways to select your destination, with a very complete POI listing of stores, businesses, and other municipal locations. The approximately 6 million POI's are broken down to 14 categories that make sense, allowing you to look at the category listing by closest proximity. If you had a specific location in mind, you can then search within that category by spelling out the name. Tap on one location and you can see the address, the phone number with the option to see the map of the location and then go there if you decide that's where you want to go.


The Garmin Nuvi 205W/255W also allow you to search by addresses, remembering which state you are in (see right) so that you have an easier time limiting your search for a town and a specific address. You are able to search by intersection, which allows you to type in a road and the unit then offers you the cross roads as a place you can navigate to. The Garmin Nuvi 205W/255W has the ability to navigate you to the city center via a stand-alone button, which is not under the "Address" button; easier searching to get to the center of a city if that's what you need. You can also navigate to a set of LAT/LON coordinates, which I think is very helpful, if you are navigating to a location like a trailhead where the coordinates may have been documented without an actual street address.

Faster Routing

Garmin has improved routing so that as you are selecting your destination, the route is already starting to plan in the background - very cool, very smart. A second or two after you select a POI, for instance the store below, the unit slides out a little tab of information from the "GO!" button showing what mode it is using - automobile, the distance and the time it will take. The Nuvi is calculating the route in the background and as a result, when the little tab shows, and you hit "Go" the route is already there - no more waiting. In my torture test of navigating from my house outside of Boston to Dodger Stadium, the Nuvi 205W/255W calculated the route in about 12-16 seconds and displayed it on the screen. That's a bit faster than I have seen in other units, not earth shattering, but the impression is that due to this background calculation the obvious lag after you hit "Go" is long gone.

Overall the routing on the Garmin Nuvi 205W/255W is very good and I have no complaints at all in this area; recalculations are quick when you miss a turn, voice commands are good, and the overall intelligence of the routing is well done.


Widescreen Advantage

The widescreen on the Nuvi 205W/255W offers a better point of view while driving, but really the benefits are in the data entry screens and internal menus. The extra room that you get is not just something to overlook and under estimate. The difference is dramatic. In terms of area covered, you get 70% more real estate on a 4.3-inch screen versus a 3.5-inch screen. Shown below, you can have either larger buttons on the Widescreen unit in the "ABC" layout, or switch to an easy "QWERTY" keyboard layout for more intuitive typing of names. The comparison is between the Nuvi 205/255 layout and the Nuvi 205W/255W layouts.



Garmin Nuvi 205W vs 255W

Text To Speech - Says Street Names (Nuvi 255W only)

The Garmin Nuvi 255W offers text to speech (TTS) which says the street names as you approach them. The difference can be a big plus when you are navigating around town or in a semi-urban area where the roads are situated closer together. Not a big help when you are navigating on highways where the off-ramps are easy to see, and are simple straight forward exits from the highway. The real advantage is when the interchanges and roadways start to offer a couple of options and the Nuvi 255W is offering its point of view verbally where to go and which street to take. The result is more confidence and the ability to keep your eyes on the road - always a good thing.

Quality of the Text to Speech - I think that the quality of the Text to Speech on the Nuvi 255W is one of the better systems I have heard, not the best, but very good. There are some rough pronunciations, but it is far from the mechanical pure computer-esque pronunciations of lesser brands. The Nuvi 255W comes with 5 English TTS Voices; Female American English, Male and Female Australian English, and a Male and Female British English. Fun to play with to get the other versions of english, but I would like it to have a male American option. Note: If you select a voice without the "TTS" after it, you will NOT get spoken street names and the unit will revert to saying "Turn in 400 yards" instead of naming the street.


Map Coverage

The other difference between the models is that the Garmin Nuvi 205W has "regional" coverage which for a majority of my readers means 48 state coverage + Hawaii + Puerto Rico. When you upgrade to the Nuvi 255W, you get all of North America, adding Canada and Alaska. It's really that simple.

Review Summary

The Nuvi 205W/255W are really entry level widescreen units from Garmin, but hardly feel like it. Let's face it, at the base, you are buying into a quality brand with all of the makings that got Garmin to be the #1 GPS maker in the US The routing is solid, the interface is better than ever and the prices are very reasonable. I believe that when you are considering a GPS, a top notch brand is worth the extra money; after that, invest in Text to Speech and a Widescreen. The Nuvi 255W offers both, and for me, the text to speech is a very worthwhile investment for almost everybody. This is sometimes only $30 - $40 more, and it is money well spent. You're going to use this GPS hundreds of times, across thousands of miles, and many thousands of turns; the added confidence that Text to Speech will cost you pennies a trip, it's worth it. Widescreen is a tougher case to make, but the extra real estate is a big plus especially when entering the data, as I showed above. The Nuvi 205W and Nuvi 255W are great choices for the GPS buyers out there interested in solid navigation with great additions like widescreen and text to speech.

What's in the Box - Garmin Nuvi 205W/255W?

  • The Garmin Nuvi 205W/255W Navigator

  • Cam Action Suction Cup Mount

  • Adhesive Disk for mounting on dash

  • Power Cord 12V

  • Quick Start guide


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Posted by Scott Martin at October 26, 2008 11:11 PM

Recent Comments

You really need to point out which GPS units are upgradeable (like SD cards for maps) and which are not. For example, many of the Tom Tom units won't take external cards.

Also, I don't think you can change the routes on the Garmin 200 series meaning you can't do a scenic bypass without programming in waypoints.

Posted by: Tom Geldner at December 21, 2009 10:33 AM

Can you comment on the touch sensitivity of 255W unit as compared to the 265WT. I had tried a 260W and its touch screen was not very responsive - I had to press it relatively more to get it to register my input. Many thanks!

Posted by: DP at October 20, 2009 6:36 PM

Sorry, I just confirmed that it does not at this time.


Posted by: Scott Martin at October 19, 2009 6:39 AM

I am intersted in this unit but have a question. Does it also give 'ground' or walking directions? Thanks

Posted by: Pinkye at October 18, 2009 8:18 PM

I just bought a Garmen 255w and I love it! I'm mostly computer illiterate so the fact that it's so simple and easy to use is great. I just moved to southern California and getting anywhere on the freeways has escaped me. Not anymore. The maps displayed are easy to understand and follow and the voice commands are early enough so you can chage lanes if you need to safely. the only draw back I noted is that when I put in an address and hit go instead of turning me left to a main street it turned me right and then up a side street to the same cross street. It's still a machine and you have to out think it occasionally

Posted by: Tony Cianciolo at October 13, 2009 4:20 PM

I would give 0 stars to this product.
1. I have bought this product from a Romanian shop, in Bucharest, called MediaGalaxy. I have paid ~300 USD (900 lei) for a “full Europe” product. Yes, 300, and this was the lowest price I managed to found.
2. The thing that infuriates me most is the [Tools | Settings | Map | Map Info] command. It says: [1] Ro.A.D.2009 BETA. I am a software-developer. I have never had the nerve to sell a BETA version to our clients.
3. I bought this product in the eve of a trip to Thasos, Greece. I took the decision based on Amazon’s review. Bad idea. The first thing I did, before leaving Bucharest, was to look for updates. There were none.
4. I encountered the first problem in Bulgaria. For some reason the device froze to “99%” every time it tried to compute the route to Thasos Town, Thasos, Greece. The only way to get out of this was to ask for many shorter routes. Yes, I have reset the device. Several times.
5. The second problem was the “Drawing…” problem. It frozen again.
6. The third problem was the refresh problem. Sometimes it forgets to draw when it scrolls. You drag the map to the right and the left side remains white. Other times it paints garbage.
7. There is one thing to have an incomplete map, and a completely different thing to have an erroneous map. Garmin sold me a faulty Bulgaria map. Instead of taking me to Dimitrovgrad, a fairly large town, it took me to Gorsky-Izvor. Imagine how puzzled I was when Garmin’s map said “Dimitrovgrad” and the road sign said “Gorsky-Izvor”. Garmin wasted my time, my neurons, and my money. But I didn’t know that. I was so dazzled by the previously described problems I didn’t notice that Dimitrovgrad is Gorsky-Izvor. I have notice this problem when I made the same mistake, the second time, on the way back from Thassos. Needless to say there was a much shorter way to Dimitrovgrad.
8. Once I reached Greece Garmin took the decision to take me to Thassos by mountains, not by highway. Nice scenery, but I was too tired for this, there were no gas stations and my tank was almost dry. I finally found a gas station but it was so questionable I didn’t dare to fill more than two gallons. I finally reached the highway and a gas station. Garmin took again a curious decision and drove us away from highway and then again on the highway.
9. After 14 hour I have finally reached Thasos, a route a “trained” driver would make it in about 10 hours.
10. In Thasos I have discovered that we can drive through sea. Clear sky, open space, satellites signal, asphalt road, yet the blue “trail” said we are in the water or off-road.
11. We have tried to reach a monastery located in the mountains. Garmin drove us on dirt roads in a very chaotic way. So chaotic we had do abort the trip at the advice of two kind German excursionists: “The road is getting worst. You will need a pick-up or a jeep.” The next day we have discovered there is an asphalt road to that monastery. We were guided by villagers.
12. The way back from Thassos took us 10:30 hours of effective driving. The hotel owner explained us which roads and towns to follow: “Forget about Garmin”. Yet I still wanted so much to see it work… so I drove again to “Dimitrovgrad” and realize I am stupid.
13. “3D Terrain Maps” Don’t be fooled by this. You won’t get anything near to GoogleEarth. It works only for small zooms (-) and it does not offer any additional information. It is just a “we have it, too”.
14. The next year I would like to go to Croatia. Therefore I have entered Porec as destination. Garmin is set to “Shorter distance”, yet it tells me that from Bucharest I should drive 250 km east to Constanta , then back to Bucharest and then, finally to Croatia.
15. There are more bugs, which I consider “minor”, like:
a. The Romanian translation. The most obvious is the translation of “spell” which is translated as “rostiti” (“say” )
b. The odd spelling of towns.
c. The language spelling mixing.
d. The lack of zoom cache.
e. No blending.
f. The car icon is not scaled.
g. The width of roads.
h. In pedestrian or bike mode the icon is still a car.
i. The speed warning repeatedly pops-up even if you are managing your settings.
j. The interface.
k. The map accuracy touch requires a stylus, yet you do not receive one.
l. Non null speed when standing still.
m. Etc., etc., etc.
I would like to return this device. Unfortunately there is a 24 hours return policy. I received a free map of Bulgaria from a gas station, a simple road map, which was more accurate and had more detail than Garmin.

Posted by: ZDF at September 8, 2009 9:30 AM

does the 255W allow you to download an audio book to the unit? if so, where. thx.

Posted by: bill at August 19, 2009 10:13 AM

I tested several TomTom and Garmin devices at BestBuy. I finally picked the Garmin 255W. My first trip landed me abut 750 feet from my true destination... not bad considering it was a cottage about 15 miles in the woods. I liked it so much, I bought a second unit as a gift for a friend who is often on long road trips. Every person that gets in my SUV asks me "What is this? This is so cool!", and then wants one. LOL. That was my own reaction when I first saw a GPS in action on a shuttle bus.

Posted by: Mister C at August 16, 2009 11:05 PM

I thought I'd better amend my comments by posting an update. I had another look at the nuvi 255 and realised that the Cities button is what the review refers to, and that it does indeed allow you to navigate to a city without any particular destination at that city being selected. Thank goodness for that! So, I'll amend my comments and say that it is not as easy to use as the TomTom as the logical place for a city centre selection is in the Address function and with the TomTom I could, pretty much, enter anything I liked and it would make suggestions as to where I might like to go - then all I had to do is pick. Still, I'm glad it is able to handle just going to a city.

Posted by: L Leigh at July 25, 2009 2:06 PM

I am intrigued that you say the 255 offers the ability to navigate to a city center - something I consider an absolute basic - through a standalone button separate from the Address function. I have been trying to get the one my dad & I share to do this very thing and I can't work it out. So, if it really does do this, perhaps you might explain what this standalone button is called? As far as I can see, this GPS unit is difficult to use as it can't deal with situations where the full address is not known - if I want to find the ferry port in the town, or the city centre, or I have the house name but not the street (in villages, for example). We had a TomTom before, just a basic model, and this was simple with it.

Posted by: L Leigh at July 25, 2009 1:45 PM

Hi, I am a realtor and frequently type in a route of 5-10 homes to see on Google maps. I then move the addresses around to create the best, most logical route. I carry the print outs with me. Obviously I need to get a GPS. Do you know of a unit that allows me to plan out a route on my desktop/laptop and then download it to the GPS??? Or, do i need to plan on google and manually enter the addresses into the unit? Thank you!

Posted by: Dave at May 27, 2009 10:30 AM

> Does this unit have a "where am I" function?

* Yes it does.

Tools > Where Am I.

With closest Hospitals, Police Stations, and Fuel (Gasoline or in Spanish Gasolina.)

Posted by: Alan Spicer at May 15, 2009 12:24 AM

Does this unit have a "where am I" function?

Posted by: Meir at April 4, 2009 6:51 PM

You also failed to mention that the nuvi 205w/255w can include msn direct services, with the purchase of an apapter. This allows for traffic updates, weather, movie times, gas prices, and more. This is a great option, I have yet to buy the reciever, but I cannot wait to. I just bought the garmin 205w 2 days ago. I love it. I bought my husband a GPS for Valentines Day, it was a TomTom XLS, it was HORRIBLE. It could not found our house, any house or my road, my husbands work, or POIs including Walmart. It was ridiculous. So we exchanged the TomTom for a Garmin 205w and it was the best thing we ever did. As soon as we typed in our address, it came right up, on the TomTOm it said no house numbers available on this road..WHAT IS THAT? I love the POI's on the garmin, I love the ease of use, and everything else that comes with it. Was the best 230 dollars I ever spent!!! Most of all, my husband absolutely loves it and has never been happier with a new toy.

Posted by: Jessica at February 27, 2009 9:34 AM

More important information lacking in this review, and many others is whether there is a turn attention tone feature, and whether or not the unit tells you the current street you are on, as well as the next turn as it gets closer. This are FAR more usefull, imo, in actual use, than TTS and widescreens

Posted by: David at October 27, 2008 7:59 AM
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