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"Gerry's (preliminary) thoughts on Garmin's nuvi 350"

"True to your promise of early May delivery, my nuvi 350 shipped May 3, and arrived May 5. You guys are what internet shopping should be! I only wish others were as honest and prompt. Five days is not a long time to evaluate a unit like this, but I've put down some preliminary thoughts. If you want to use them, feel free.

"I've had my nuvi (why a name that is difficult to enter correctly on North American keyboards?) for only about 5 days, so this is a preliminary evaluation, but so far I am very impressed, with some caveats. I've used it around my home city, and on one longer round-trip of about 250 km. Total use has been about 800 km (I'm running it in metric mode).

"From the design point of view, I can only suggest two improvements. The first would be a simple mechanical volume control, such as a thumb-wheel on the side. I know, it only takes a click of the power button, a finger push on the screen, and a finger slide along the screen to make a volume adjustment adjustment, but that requires taking ones eyes off the road for a considerable number of seconds, while a mechanical control would require feel only. [Garmin: I would agree. But engineering has reasons for the path they have chosen, so it looks like we will stay with the electrical control.]

"The second improvement would be some kind of screen hood or shade. While in general the screen is very readable, in direct sunlight from any direction it washes out, or becomes unreadable through glare. I've noted that shading the screen from the sun with the hand can make a great improvement, and am going to try a hood a few inches deep all around made from thick paper. It will look less than elegant, but will probably do the job. Garmin might try designing this as another accessory, along with all of the other extras one can buy for this unit. [Garmin: As time passes you will see brighter displays in our systems. The first systems to get it will be the c550 and c530.]

"I've not tested battery life, as I've discovered that if I mount the unit on the windshield to the left of the instrument cluster of my car (BMW 330xi) I can run the power cable down the dash, across the top of the steering column, and down to the power outlet in such a way that it is almost invisible. It is also almost directly in my line of view in this position, as opposed to mounting it in the middle of the windshield.

"The suction cup mount itself is excellent. It remains stable and vibration free even on very rough roads, and the head unit is very easily mounted and removed. If Garmin had thought to include an on-off switch on the car power supply plug (my car has permanent power to the power outlet) one could leave the unit mounted all of the time except in areas where smash and grap theft might be a problem. As it is, one simply has to pull the plug out about half an inch to remove power, and cause the unit to go into a timed shut-down. Excellent for parking in one's garage.

"The interface is well designed, and I had no problem entering destinations, so long as I had a street address, although sometimes street addresses did not translate to completely correct locations. However, shopping centres, attractions, etc. were another matter... [Garmin: I am surprised that we did not have his shopping centers in our POI list. Is it possible he is not aware of all the POI categories we offer? Some customers think our POI's are limited to just the one page of options and do not realize that by pressing the down arrow, more options appear.]

"The audible interface does the job, especially when the screen becomes invisible in bright sunlight. I wish that the level of prompting were adjustable, since all turns are announced at least twice - once at some distance away, then as one comes up to the actual turn. For some turns it is three times, with a warning of another turn coming up added to the preceding turn. When navigating around a sub-division this takes on a nagging quality. I would love to be able to turn off the final warning that comes in close proximity to the turn.

"Now, how accurate is this thing, or at least the underlying map?

"In my home city (Kitchener-Waterloo in Southern Ontario) it does well on streets that have not changed in some time. However, we have had a number of roads re-aligned, one highway renumbered, some interchanges redesigned. Most of these changes are at least 18 months old, and the installed map has none of them. It also lacks roads in subdivisions on the edge of the city built a couple of years ago. For a local, it is no problem to realize that a direction to go onto Hwy 86 really means to go onto Hwy 85, however, a stranger might be totally confused. For a local, navigating a re-configured interchange such as we have at Hwy 85 and Hwy 8 is not a problem, but for a stranger the "frantic" directions to turn from roads one is not on onto roads that one cannot see might become a problem. I look forward eagerly to a map revision for this unit. It is also amusingly disconcerting to see oneself driving across blank space while crossing the North Campus of the University of Waterloo on Westmount Road North, with the road indicated some distance to the East which is actually occupied by Lake Columbia. Amusing for a local, but probably confusing for a stranger. [Garmin: Unfortunately, it can take a couple of years to get some road changes added. Depending on when Navteq visits an area and how this update hits their update cycle and then hits our update cycle, it can take longer to implement than we would like. Fortunately, in our evaluations, Navteq is still far superior to TeleAtlas in doing their updates, so we should have the best data out there.]

"As for the quality of the calculated routes, I suspect the algorithm used is something of a minimum deviation from a straight line in nature. If one drives in a direction away from one's destination in order to get to a fast highway, the unit to goes into a paroxysm of recalculations and suggested turns, even down quite narrow streets in small subdivisions, in order to get you back to what it thinks is the "right" direction. (At times like this I would appreciate a "shut up for 10 minutes" button.)

"That being said, I decided to allow the unit to direct me to a destination in the middle of an old part of Toronto, and it took me there by a route that I wouldn't have chosen, but which proved to be at least as fast as the one I normally use, and as the unit "knew" about one-way streets, it avoided having to go around the block near my destination.

"As noted earlier, choosing destinations is easy as long as one has a street address. It is less easy if one wants to find a shopping centre, museum, attraction, etc., by name. The best one can do is to move or scroll the display map to roughly where one wants to go (not difficult), and generate a destination by touching the screen where one thinks one wants to go (again not difficult if you happen to know the exact, or at least close, location). But what about simply wanting to go to attraction x in city y? These points of interest (poi's) are not in the supplied map database - and those that are supplied (gas stations, restaurants, hotels) are out of date, sometimes confusingly named (a Shell station named by the convenience store that it is a part of) and very incomplete, at least in my part of the world. In the manual (supplied as a pdf on the unit itself, or on the Garmin website) there is a suggestion that one can buy poi's from 3rd party vendors, but any search for these (Google, Yahoo, etc.) mostly brings you to the Garmin website, and the North America map database CD or SD card. Either Garmin, or someone, is missing a business opportunity by marketing just poi's, perhaps in categories, at a reasonable price. [Garmin: Our best POI list is already loaded in our systems. We have nothing to sell that will improve on this list.]

"After all those complaints, would I recommend this unit? Yes, and just about unreservedly. It is about as good as is available, and one hopes that Garmin will be fairly prompt about releasing a map update (and their policy is that the 1st one after purchase is free).

"Just be aware that there are some places to which this unit will not navigate you, and that it has some quirks. As always, your mileage may vary!"

Gerry

["I am also planning a run into the US later this year, so will give it a run for its money, and write a review on how this unit does, cross-border." We're looking forward to your cross-border report!]

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