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In the world of satellite navigation, Garmin is one of the founding fathers. It began producing receivers way back in 1989, started out selling products to the boating market, moved on to handheld units, which it supplied to the American military during the first Gulf War, was one of the first to combine GPS with moving maps and now has more GPS products on its books than there are Mr Men cartoon characters.
The company clearly has an impressive pedigree, bags of experience and a rock-solid reputation, but in a world where sat-nav is rapidly becoming the next commodity technology, it's going to have its work cut out to maintain that status over the next few years. As part of that process - to keep step with the competition - the firm's latest range of in-car devices has now gone widescreen. And its 200W makes a good first impression. It's slim and light and the screen bezel is kept to a minimum, which means more room for maps while keeping the profile of the 4.3in widescreen in your windscreen to a minimum. In the world of Mr Men, the 200W is definitely Mr Cool.
Switch it on, however, and Mr Cool is replaced by Mr Clever. TomTom holds a well-earned reputation for ease-of-use, but it's about to be supplanted, because this Garmin is even more straightforward. On the opening screen you're presented with just two main options: Where To? and View Map. It's pretty obvious what you do to plan a route – just hit the Address option next, then search for your destination. Impressively it's just as easy to locate points of interest, cities, intersections and so on. More importantly, adding them as via points is an absolute doddle – something not all sat-navs manage as elegantly and simply as this.
It seems that other important features are always just a click or two away and there's little confusion as to where everything is to be found. One of the nüvi’s best features is its detour, or road block function. Stuck in traffic? Just press Menu then Detour and you're instantly diverted a few kilometres around the current section in the route. There's nothing groundbreaking here – most other sat-navs worth their salt have a similar feature – just that here it's laughably easy to access and use. It saved my bacon more than once while attempting, foolishly, to traverse London on the same day the Tour de France came to town.
Likewise, the maps, which cover UK and Ireland here (the 250w adds European maps) are extremely clear and easy to read; better than TomTom's or Mio's in my humble opinion. Initially they look a bit cartoon-like with their bright colours and thick lines, and the distorted perspective that Garmin uses to squeeze as much as possible onto the screen at once makes things look rather odd. But once you get used to it, it does the job brilliantly. The distorted perspective, which seems to stretch and tilt the part of the road you're driving on and compress the roads in the distance means that it's child's play to see the approaching road layout and what's coming up. It's helped by the fact that most of the screen is used to display the map with only a small strip at the top for displaying the current road and next road, and just two compact indicator windows at the bottom: one for indicating estimated arrival time and the other showing the distance to the next turn.
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