Hands on with the Garmin nuvi 295W
UPDATE: The nuvi 2×5 series has been officially discontinued. For current recommendations, see our auto GPS buyers guide.
The Garmin nüvi 295W is the first nuvi to include WiFi, giving you Internet and email access on the go – well, as long as you’re in range of a WiFi hotspot. At a sure to be discounted list price of $279.99, the 295W looks like a pretty good solution for someone who would like a smartphone, but doesn’t want to shell out $30 a month for a data plan.
Garmin nuvi 295W ergonomics
Small, sleek and thin, the 295W will easily fit into your pocket. The 3.5” screen is a bit of a compromise for folks used to a 4.3” wide-screen receiver, but I found that I quickly adapted to it. The main place you’re likely to notice the smaller screen is when using the keypad, shown below. It wasn’t really an issue for me, but stubby finger types should beware.
The unit weighs in at 4.8 ounces. The top has a power button and 2.5 mm headphone jack (a 3.5 mm adapter is available). The left side features a micro-SD card slot, contacts for the powered mount and a mini-USB connector. Meanwhile the right side has two volume keys and a button to activate the 3MP geotagging camera.
Garmin nuvi 295W interface
An accelerometer allows the screen to switch between portrait and landscape modes. The main menu, shown below in landscape view, has two parts. Where To? and View Map are always present, while the sliding menu below offers web browser, email, music player, camera, contacts, weather, calendar, tools and settings. The order can be customized (Settings > Applications).
You touch and drag the slider menu to move along it. If you just try to flick it, you’re likely to open a menu item instead.
Once you tap Where To? or View Map, you’ll be in a more familiar nuvi interface. As you can see in the Where To menu below, Google Local search is available for when you have an Internet connection.
The Google Local search screen…
Then there is the familiar map screen, below.
One surprise here. Tap either data field to bring up the screen below, which reveals a tri-axial electronic compass (meaning you don’t have to hold it level), which should come in handy for pedestrian adventures with CityXplorer maps.
WiFi setup is drop dead easy. Simply go to Settings > System > Wi-Fi. Nearby networks show up and you select one and enter a password if it’s protected. One note of caution — reception was a little weak at times. It would come and go in my basement, downstairs from the router in the opposite end of the house.
Also extremely easy. Just enter your email address and password. Multiple accounts are supported. The 295W works great for checking email. Don’t expect advanced functionality, like Gmail labels, but I’m guessing that if you want something like that, you’re probably going to end up with a smartphone. Also, the email client does not support HTML messages, so you just get plain text.
The browser is SLOW. For example, it took 50 seconds to load gpstracklog.com vs. 25 seconds for my Droid using 3G (SkyFire browser)! Nor is there pinch to zoom.
Touching the weather icon gives you a screen like the one below. Touch the menu icon (three horizontal lines) to update the information or search for weather info near your current location, a different city or a favorite.
The 3 MP camera is accessed via the slider menu or the camera button on the side of the case. A tap on the camera button initiates focus. When the focus box turns green, depress a bit further to snap the pic. There is no zoom function for the camera itself. Picture quality is about as good as I would expect from a 3 MP camera. From the gallery you can share by email, zoom, set an image as wallpaper or start a slideshow. I don’t claim to be a great photographer, but below are two photos I took. You can see geotagged, full size versions at Picasa.
Garmin nuvi 295W mount
One nice thing about the 295W is the fact that it has a powered mount, which means you don’t have to fiddle with a USB cable each time you use it in your car. It also enables the automatic saving of your last position (saved under Favorites) – awfully handy in those mega-mall parking lots! The unit auto-powers on and off with the car ignition when in the mount.
Garmin nuvi 295W battery life
The nuvi 295W’s battery is officially rated at “Continuous use – up to four hours Standby time – up to 250 hours,” another holdover from it’s nuvifone heritage (see below). You may find battery life much closer to two hours in actuality. You can disable WiFi, but it’s buried in the menus (Settings > System > WiFi). You could also disable GPS, but that’s just as complicated and even less intuitive (Settings > System > General > GPS Simulator – set to on). And you can turn down the backlight. But that’s about it. Short battery life is probably the biggest weakness of the 295W.
Navigating with the nuvi 295W
The nuvi 295W gave me just what I would expect from a nuvi. I saw no routing errors, sluggish behavior, delays in recalculating, etc.
I do have one complaint here though – the speaker is very weak. I’ve read where people say this about other models, but this has the lowest volume of any nuvi I’ve ever used. I doubt that anyone would be able to understand verbal directions given while a semi-loud radio is playing.
One other thing to note here; this model includes multi-destination routing, as shown below:
More nuvi features
The 295W includes the following features, found on many previous nuvis:
- Text-to-speech (so you’ll hear “turn left on Oak Street in one-half mile,” rather than just “turn left on one-half mile”)
- Where Am I? (find closest hospitals, police & gas stations, nearest address & intersection) – to access tap current location icon on map or Tools > Where Am I?
- Garmin Locate™ (marks position when removed from windshield mount) – saved under Favorites as Last Position
- Picture viewer
- MP3 player (though there is no FM transmitter)
- Speed limit display
- Trip log
What’s missing from the nuvi 295W?
Unlike some nuvis, the following features are missing from the 295W:
- Does not warn you when speeding
- Map screen data fields cannot be customized
- Voice commands
- Lane assist and junction view
- 3D buildings
- FM traffic compatibility
- Audio book player
- FM transmitter
The nuvifone G60 connection
The nuvi 295W appears to utilize components originally created for the nuvifone G60. The case is nearly identical, and the tri-axial compass and accelerometer appear to be holdovers from the design as well. Garmin has apparently found a way to recoup some of their losses from their initial and less than successful entry into the world of smartphones. The only real negatives are that it ended up with the external speaker of a phone, instead of that of a personal navigation device, and the battery isn’t up to constant WiFi access.
Garmin nuvi 295W pros
- Email access via WiFi networks
- Small, pocket-sized
- Easy WiFi and email setup
- Powered mount
- Multi-destination routing
- Fully compatible with pedestrian and mass transit features of CityXplorer maps
- Tri-axial compass
Garmin nuvi 295W cons
- Very short battery life
- Speaker is not loud enough
- 3.5” screen
- 2.5 mm headphone jack
- Very slow browser
- No traffic capabilities (not available as an add-on either)
As I said in the beginning, the nuvi 295W is a good choice for someone who would like email on the go, but isn’t ready to spring for a smartphone data plan. Were it not for the speaker and battery life (more deal killers than the weak browser, IMHO), I’d recommend this without hesitation. As it stands, caveat emptor.
More Garmin nuvi 295W reviews
- Consumer-authored Garmin nuvi 295W reviews have been posted at Amazon
- A user review of the nuvi 295W posted at GPS Review
I’ll be posting more hands on GPS reviews as they appear, but in the meantime, here are some…
Other Garmin nuvi 295W resources
- A PDF version of the Garmin nuvi 295W owners manual
- Want to see how the 295W stacks up against other models? Check out this Garmin auto GPS comparison tool or my own Garmin nuvi comparison chart
- There is a dedicated Garmin nuvi message forum at GpsPasSion
- And another nuvi forum at GPS Review
- The official Garmin nuvi 295W web page
- Five tips for nuvi newbies
Compare prices on the Garmin nuvi 295W at these merchants:
- Check the current Garmin nuvi 295W price at Amazon
- Find the Garmin nuvi 295W Wi-Fi Portable GPS Navigator for an awesome price at BuyDig.com, one of our favorite low cost merchants
- Get a great deal on the Garmin Nuvi 295W GPS 010-00916-00 at J&R Computer/Music World