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Thursday, June 11, 2009

GPS for cheap: the Garmin Nuvi 250

The Source, by Circuit City, is currently having a huge sale, and one of the clearance items is the Garmin Nuvi 250 GPS. Since I had been toying with the idea of a new GPS for a long time now, all that was needed was the impression that I wasn't getting ripped off. At the price it was going for (which was a little over 50% off the retail price), I couldn't miss the opportunity.

There are more sophisticated devices around, but I did not require many of the features supported by these more expensive models. What I was looking for was good GPS reception, ease of use and a decent base map. And that's what I got with the Nuvi and more.

The Nuvi 250 includes the following items in the box:

- Nuvi 250 unit
- Vehicle suction cup mount to mount the GPS to the windshield or other convenient spot
- 12v cigarette lighter power adapter for charging / powering the unit
- Dashboard disk for mounting the suction cup mount on your dashboard instead of the windshield (due to some legal prohibitions from mounting of anything in the windshield in some areas)
- Set up and go guide

Some of the more expensive Nuvi models also include a slipcase for the unit, but the 250 skips out on this useful accessory, in an effort to reduce costs as much as possible, I imagine.

I got the box opened, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the battery was indicating at least 75% charge, which does not seem to happen often with rechargeable devices. The initial setup and satellite acquisition took a little over 1 minute, and I was ready to navigate, which I did. I took a short drive through the many side streets of my neighbourhood and was pleasantly surprised to find that the Nuvi kept up admirably, and with great accuracy. I parked for a few moments and decided to enter my home address, which was made easier by the Garmin database automatically assuming that my search would be in the immediate area. Once entered, it was simple enough to follow the prompts as they were called out. Did I mention the level of acccuracy was many orders higher than my previous Garmin GPS unit, the discontinued E Trex Legend.

The unit provides numerous other functions that are useful in travel situations, such as a calculator, unit converter, picture viewer and more. It also provides numerous search functionalities that allow the user to search from a database of over 6 million points of interest (POI), including hospitals, fire stations, police, restaurants, stores and more. As well, the entire North American highway system is integrated into the device, providing all entry and exit points, junctions and more. The ability to enter new POIs as well as the possibility of entering navigational coordinates make this device useful for geocaching as well. This is reflected in a usage setting within the device that allows the user to set the device for automobile, bicycle or pedestrian use.

Garmin claims 5 hours from the rechargeable internal battery, and I have yet to test this claim. My only issue stems from the lack of an AC charging cable along with the kit. I understand that this device is meant to be used in a vehicle primarily, but would it have killed them to make a combination adapter for home and vehicle use? Happily, I noted that the unit charges from a USB connection to any computer, and now, with the addition of a Garmin browser plug-in, it is also possible to send addresses from Google Maps right to the device. Truly a fantastic and useful option for any user.

Addendum: Upon further testing, I discovered that the Garmin browser plug-in also allows users to download cache information from, which is another added bonus. I also discovered what I believe is the reason for the low price on the device I purchased. Upon closer examination, what was intended to be an SD card slot turned out to be a MiniSD card slot. As it is stated in the included user guide, the slot may be one or the other! At least, Garmin makes maps available on MiniSD as well as SD cards!

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