November 16, 2008

Garmin Nuvi 205/255 Full Review


The Garmin Nuvi 205/255 were announced earlier this year and are quickly taking their place as solid entry level units in the Garmin line-up. The Nuvi 205/255 offer a series of new features and upgrades that improve on an already top notch interface, making the Nuvi 205/255 my pick for Best Entry Level GPS Navigators. I would urge you to upgrade to the Nuvi 255 for its text to speech (TTS) capabilities, as I feel TTS is one of the best investments to make when purchasing a GPS - it makes the navigation simpler and easier to follow in an ever more complex world of driving.

The Nuvi 205/255 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. Garmin clearly did some work here to make the interface better and easier to understand. The tweaks are another step on their continuous line of interface changes that make the units simple enough for all to use.

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


The Garmin Nuvi 205/255 takes the thin design from Garmin's thin platform and offers a sleek and solid unit that is easy to pocket or store in a purse, briefcase, backpack, etc. The single slider switch on the top right 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 205/255 itself snaps into a couple of clips on the mount and stays snug once attached. I also tested the Nuvi 205/255 on the Arkon vent clip mount as an alternative way to hold the unit at arm's length. The mount performed well, and kept the Nuvi 205/255 well positioned in an alternate location to the windshield mounting location.

Interface - Improved Nuvi Ease
The Nuvi 205/255 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 Garmins 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 when traveling on the roads that have them. 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.)

Navigation in the 3-D mode where the road lies ahead of you.

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.

Trip data - The upper left dial tells you your compass direction while the middle dial tells you your speed.

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 205/255 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 was accurate. 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 205/255 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.

Nuvi205255GOto.jpgNavigation continues to be very good with the Nuvi 205/255, 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 Nuvi 205/255 also offers a quick way to get Home by programming in the location of your home. That makes things really easy - two taps off the main menu and you are heading home.

You can also search for things "Near" several locations - like "Where I am Now", A Different City", "[Along] My Current Route" and "My Destination". I like the last two where you can utilize the capabilities of the Nuvi 205/255 while on a road trip to find a place to eat, let's say, you can search at your destination, or along the route where the Nuvi knows not to lead you too far astray to find food.


The Garmin Nuvi 205/255 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 205/255 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.

The Nuvi 205/255 do not display the current street name in the interface but to show the street you are turning onto at the top of the screen.

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 205/255 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 205/255 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. The Nuvi 205/255 do not play a "warning tone" ahead of a turn announcement, but do announce the turns in very appropriate intervals. I have always thought that the bigger names in GPS do the announcements "Just Right", while other newer and smaller brands struggle to deliver these announcements either "Too Few" or "Too Many"; sometimes leaving you wanting for more, or at the other end of things driving you nuts after the third or fourth announcements for an upcoming turn.


New Information - An info tab slides out from under the "Go button telling you how far and how long the route will be. (I was navigating back to BestBuy to bring back an Insignia GPS that did not work well.)

Garmin Nuvi 205 vs 255

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

The Garmin Nuvi 255 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 255 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.

Map Coverage - Nuvi 205 vs. Nuvi 255

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

Review Summary

The Nuvi 205/255 are really entry level units from Garmin, but hardly feel like it. THey have solid navigation, and with the added Text to Speech feature of the Nuvi 255, I think that its the best entry level unit on the market. 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 very good, 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. The Nuvi 255 offers Text to Speech, 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. If you are shopping for a Nuvi 205/255, you may want to consider upgrading to the widescreen versions of these; the Nuvi 205W/255W - bigger screens give 70% more screen real estate, a better view of the maps and easier data entry with larger buttons on the keyboard. Widescreen is a tougher case to make than upgrading to Text to Speech.

  • Garmin Nuvi 205 - features above, including Maps of the 48 States + Hawaii + Puerto Rico
  • Garmin Nuvi 255 - Adds Text to Speech and Maps of North America

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

  • The Garmin Nuvi 205/255 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 November 16, 2008 1:31 PM

Recent Comments

Loved the review. I don't understand why all these people are hating on this GPS. I love it. Best one I have ever used.

Posted by: Ben Przeslak at April 9, 2010 10:42 AM

I just bought the Garmin 205W and I am learning to use it. The unit is set for Oklahoma where I live. How can I map a route to Florida where I need to go. Thanks for any help.

Posted by: J.Buysse at December 19, 2008 11:09 PM

I read on a forum where an individual was saying the 265WT has a faster processor than the 760 and I was hoping this could be confirmed. I have been watching the 760 for a bit, and it seems the reviews all over the net are a bit mixed, with many experiencing lost signal, so wondering if the 265WT is actually a better unit all in all.

Posted by: Michael at December 5, 2008 1:12 PM


Thanks for your readership and your comments. I want to explain a key fundamental difference between a Test to Speech unit and a non-Text to Speech unit for my readers. Maybe you already know this and maybe it's new for you.

The StreetPilot C330 that you like, does not have Text to Speech capabilities, and instead relies on a standard set of pre-recorded files to guide you. I know on TomTom's, that takes about 50 pre-recorded files to handle the task, I would imagine Garmin is similar. Yes, these sound good, as the unit does not have to interpret any data and pronounce it through a speech engine.

On a Text to Speech model, the underling map data set has the pronunciations embedded with the data and it is up to the GPS to interpret that data, and pronounce it. Yes, the pronunciations are not as good as a recorded voice file, but infinitely more flexible.

I stand by my recommendation that Text to Speech units generally help people navigate better when they get into what can be a confusing situation of jumbled up roads. Yes, some of the pronunciations are not as good as a local, but on balance I think that they help.

If you want to move down to a non-text to speech unit, consider the Nuvi 205W, still widescreen, and still the interface upgrade that came with the Nuvi 255W. It only has 48 states for maps, not all of North America like the 255W. The Nuvi 200W is a step down with an older version of the interface, and then continuing down, consider the standard screen Nuvi 200 if budget is a concern.

Thanks for offering your opinions and insights.


Posted by: Scott Martin at December 2, 2008 6:55 PM

The Garmin 255W Text-to-Speech feature is a rapid and hardly understandable phonetic garble that makes the unit absolutely worthless. Add to that missed warnings on turns, and old maps, and your GPS expectation will be a vanity fare experience.
I was very sorry when I sold my good Garmin Street Pilot C330 and bought a Nuvi 255W. The 255W was a nightmare, and I returned it for a $ 10% re-stocking loss. Now I am looking for another GPS to buy, but I learned my lessons. A) Don't believe all the promotional claims, B) Don't believe all reviews -especially from GPS cites that have financial interests with manufacturers embedded in their reviews, and C) Buy from a merchant that allows a 15-day return without any re-stocking fees, do your own extensive evaluation within a week, and either keep it, or return it without penalty, and start your search all over again.

Posted by: Nikos Retsos at December 2, 2008 11:25 AM

Good review. Thanks for now including info about the Attention Tone and Current Street info in your reviews. I find these two features, sadly absent from the Nuvi line, but in the Streetpilot line, make or break for me.

Posted by: David at November 17, 2008 7:49 AM
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