- Review Price: £169.99
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.
It is, of course, possible to find fault with the directions and route-finding, as with any sat-nav system. Voice instructions are not always accurate. For instance, “Bear left” instructions are often straightforward turnings. And route-finding can occasionally go awry. In Hertfordshire on the way to a wedding reception the 200W seemed a touch too keen to route me around the narrow back roads when the main roads would have got me there just as quick. But thankfully it never veers into Mr Clumsy territory. Instances of “what the …” are thankfully few and far between and the automatic recalculation of routes works very quickly and smoothly if you do decide to ignore the instructions given to you.
But there are a few areas where Garmin could be accused of having been a bit Mr Forgetful with the 200W. There’s no way of displaying certain categories of points of interest on the map as you drive, despite the fact that you can load custom POIs in and display those on the map. There’s no route overview function – instead you have to tap the map to switch to 2D view and manually zoom out to see everything at once. There’s also no way to add traffic information as there is with most of the mid to high-end TomToms, and it isn’t compatible with the FM-transmitted TMC system either.
Neither is it particularly strong on the PC integration front, at least compared to TomTom’s devices. In fact there’s no dedicated software included in the box on a CD – if you want to load up your own POIs you have to download the free software utility from the Garmin website and upload your compatible CSV or GPX files from there. It’s hardly elegant, although it does mean you can upload third party speed camera databases and the like, most of which are either free or a lot cheaper than Garmin’s extortionate £39 per year charge (and that’s just for the UK).
Despite these weaknesses, Garmin has produced a sound navigation product in the nüvi 200W. The maps are very clear, routing is competent and disaster free, while audio instructions are mostly reliable. More importantly it’s extremely easy to use and most of the significant functions are very obvious and simple to access – it’s almost worth having for that detour function alone.
And though there is no facility to add traffic updates, it scores well with its £169.99 price tag, which though not quite as good value as Mio’s well-performing C220, is cheaper than a TomTom One XL and represents a very good price for a sat-nav with widescreen. It’s certainly worth a look, Mr Nosey.
Score in detail
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