Sunday, March 18, 2012


Garmin nuvi 205W review


Hands on with the Garmin nuvi 2×5 series — the best entry level GPS on the market

UPDATE: The nuvi 2×5 series has been officially discontinued. For current recommendations, see our auto GPS buyers guide.

The Garmin nuvi 205W is one of Garmin’s entry level navigators and, as part of the nuvi 2×5 series, it’s loaded with features previously unavailable in the nuvi line or found only in high-end models. More about that in a moment; first the basics. The 205W sports a 4.3" wide touch screen (hence the "W"), and includes pre-loaded maps of the entire U.S. except Alaska. It does not feature text-to-speech, so you’ll hear "drive one-half mile, then turn left" instead of "drive one-half mile, then turn left on Oak Street."

Related units

  • Step up to the nuvi 255W for text-to-speech and maps of the entire U.S. and Canada
  • The nuvi 205 and nuvi 255 mimic the feature set of the 205W and 255W, albeit with a smaller, 3’5" screen

Regardless of which member of the 2×5 series you choose, you’ll have a winner. Read on to see why. And if you want to compare these to other models, check out my Garmin nuvi comparison chart.

Advanced features found on the Garmin nuvi 205W

None of the features below are found on this unit’s predecessor, the Garmin nuvi 200W.

Redesigned map screen

New to the map screen are the direction of and distance to next turn indicator in the upper left corner of the screen, which when pressed brings up a detailed turn preview as the unit speaks the next turn instructions. Moving this to the upper left freed up the bottom left data field which now shows your current speed. You can see all this in the screen shot below.


Speed limit

Speed limit icons display the speed limit for many roads, as shown above. I really like the proximity of this to the current speed display.

Trip log display

Trip log, or as I prefer to call it ;-), tracklog display, can show where you’ve been and can be downloaded to your computer (tracklogs can be cleared and the feature disabled for those of you with something to hide!). The tracklog is the thin blue line trailing behind the car / current position icon, in the screen shot above.

Recent cities and streets

This feature was first seen on the nuvi 700 series. Tap the folder icon, as shown below, and a list of recent entries comes up.



Where am I?

This emergency location feature provides your exact latitude and longitude coordinates, the nearest address and intersection, and the closest hospitals, police stations and fuel stations.


Photo navigation

Though it’s not a feature that I find useful, you can download Google™ Panoramio™ pictures via Garmin Connect™ Photos and navigate to them.

Terrain modeling

The nuvi 2×5 series includes a built-in digital elevation model, allowing you to visualize the surrounding terrain, as shown below. Unfortunately, this only works in 2–D mode when zoomed out to at least 8 miles. The result is a nice piece of eye-candy, as shown below, but one that you are unlikely to really use.


MSN Direct or FM/TMC traffic option

You can buy an MSN Direct or FM/TMC traffic receiver as an add-on. This is often a better deal than buying a unit with MSN or FM/TMC, since the add-ons come with a full year subscription, rather than the 3 month trial included with a high-end nuvi. Physically, you end up with the same receiver.

Garmin nuvi 205W pros

  • High-end features (see above) at an entry-level price
  • Fast startup and satellite lock
  • The speaker is quite loud; I had no trouble hearing it under any circumstances
  • The ability to delete individual Favorites using the "My Data" feature
  • In addition to the above, you get a quality product and intuitive interface, as we’ve come to expect from Garmin

Garmin nuvi 205W cons

  • No text-to-speech; you’ll have to step up to the 255 or 255W for that feature
  • The power cord is not integrated into the mount, so you have to attach the power cord each time you mount the device


The Garmin nuvi 205W is a joy to use. I recommend it, or any other member of the nuvi 2×5 series, without hesitation. Garmin has set a new standard with this product line; the nuvi 2×5 series is the best entry level GPS on the market.

More Garmin nuvi 205W reviews

I’ll be posting more hands on GPS reviews as they appear, but in the meantime, here are some…

Other Garmin nuvi 205W resources

Compare prices on the Garmin nuvi 205W at these merchants:

About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.


  1. I bought my Nuvi 205W and it worked right out of the box, with no set up and it is very intuitive to use. I had a problem with connectivity to my pc, but an exchange solved that problem. I have found that there are a few streets that are not a part of the most recent map, and (unfortunately) it does not identify “one-way” streets. Other than that I am very impressed with this GPS and I have and will continue to recommend it as an entry level unit to my friends. I am considering the purchase of the MSN traffic receiver, but am not able to justify the cost vs. benefit at this time.

  2. Tadd, it should identify one-way streets, though that doesn’t mean there can’t be an occasional place where one isn’t included.

  3. Question on the Trip Log.
    I was looking for a road and trail GPS, but realized I just wouldn’t really use it on the trail very much, so I just bought the 255W. The one function I thought would be fun in the backcountry is recording a track, that I could then view in Google Earth. Will this unit do that for me with Trip Log???

  4. I’m pretty sure it will. I don’t have a first generation 2×5 unit now, but I have a 265WT I’m reviewing and I just tested it and it works. It works with the nuvi 500 too, which is built on the 2×5 platform, so I’d be shocked if you couldn’t.

  5. uhmmm.. could you give me a hint on how you’d export the log on the nuvi 500?

  6. Many mapping programs will allow you to transfer the track directly from the nuvi. Do you have MapSource or another mapping program?
    Here’s a manual method…You can extract the GPX file by connecting the nuvi to your computer and navigating to Nuvi > Garmin > GPX and copying or opening the current.gpx file.
    If you don’t have any other mapping software, you can search Google for “opening gpx file in google earth.” That should get you the info you need.

  7. Do you have to buy a subscription to any service to use this system? I have never owned a GPS and don’t want to have to subscribe to a service to use it.

  8. No, there is no ongoing fee or subscription. Your tax dollars have already paid for the GPS satellites. If you buy the optional live traffic receiver, there is a subscription required for that though.

  9. I am debating over the 205w and a mio moov 500. As a first-time GPS user, which would you recommend?

  10. The nuvi 205W, hands down. It’s easy to use and works great. I can’t say the same for Mio products.

  11. I just bought the store model which just came with the GPS and the charger. I turned it on and it said nothing was loaded. Is it possible that somehow they locked it so that I can’t get to that info? I’m a beginner at this so any help at all is appreciated.

  12. Sounds like a defective unit. You could call Garmin support Monday morning or just take it back and exchange it. I don’t think its locked. A hard reset might work. To do this, hold your finger on the bottom right corner of the screen while powering the unit, until it asks if you want to reset it.

  13. I have a gpx. file and once that is placed into the Garmin/GPX folder, how can i find my stops on the device then?

  14. I’m actually traveling without a nuvi now, so I can’t try it to see. But I don’t *think* you can do it that way. If they are in your device, they are under Favorites. But you’ll probably need to load it with a program like Garmin MapSource or Trip and Waypoint Manager.

  15. Anna, I just tried it with another model nuvi and they are under favorites. It should work fine for you.

  16. Mike Schnieder says:

    I just got this unit for Christmas and I cannot get it to turn on. I have plugged it into two different lighters in my car, and then in my wifes, and the screen will not light up at all. I checked the cord to see if it was getting juice and it was. Any solutions??

  17. Are you holding down the power button to turn it on? Here’s something else to try…
    Use the mini-USB cable that came with it and connect it to your computer. Does it go into USB mode (showing an image of a computer on the screen)? If so, download Garmin’s Web Updater ( run it to get new firmware. If that doesn’t work, it’s totally defective. Call Garmin or return it to the point of purchase.

  18. John E. Fox says:

    Are there simple instructions available for an 86 year old novice GPS user to set up a 400 mile one way trip useing seven highways each way. Will hitting the HOME KEY get me back home? The little GARMIN does not have much of an instruction book. I’m not a new traveler since the wife and I have been in all 50 states, Canada eight times, Mexico six times and Alaska twice. We just want a little help with checks and balances.
    Name of an inexpensive instruction book?

  19. Here is a PDF link for a better manual than the one that comes with it… There is this (, but I’m not sure how much help it would be.
    Yes, if you’ve set your home location, it will get you there (and 99 times out of 100 will do a great job of it! — they aren’t perfect though; it’s worth checking the route it has planned for you).

  20. how to have mp3 in gps?

  21. You have to buy a unit with this feature built-in. Check out this page for nuvis with MP3 players…

  22. How can I transfer favorites from Nuvi 200 to NUVI 465t?


  23. Rich Owings says:

    You’ll need a copy of MapSource to do it. If you call Garmin support, they will send you a copy for shipping and handling. Or you can download it this way (yes, it’s legal) for free…

    Once you get it, transfer favorites from the 200 to MapSource. Then connect the 465T and transfer them from MapSource.

  24. Once i enter an address, do i have to always turn the unit off to enter another address

  25. Can i return to “where to go” to enter another entry without turning the unit off? I have a nuvi 205w gps.

  26. Rich Owings says:

    No, you don’t have to turn it off.

  27. I just purchased a 205W and really enjoy the ease of use. Overall I would give it a B or B-rating.

    I would like to note some concerns:

    It comes with a quick guide, but no owners manual. I thought maybe it was an oversight, but when I called they said it did not come with one. They would send me one for $16.95 plus shipping. I’m not sure this is the norm with new units, but I think it is lame.

    My first trip from VA to Myrtle Beach, SC. The Speed Limit indicator is a kewl tool, very useful when your on the road and are going from town to town and don’t know the posted speed limit changes. It was correct probably 75 to 85% of the time. When it was incorrect, it was usually incorrect so that you would be safe. ex: Speed limit 55mph and it was actually 65mph. I found one time when it was incorrect the other way: actual speed limit 55mph – GPS posted speed limit 65mph. I could have been busted – big time!

    I also noted while in the city of Myrtle Beach with my GPS set on the quickest route it would take me back to a major route to get to a destination that was attainable through traveling three blocks, instead of 5-7 miles. It also was missing several streets that were streets that have been existing in Myrtle Beach for years(4 lane avenues). This is somewhat dissapointing!

    One time it sent me in the wrong direction for several miles which ended up on a dead end.

    Would I recommend this GPS to somebody else? I’m really mixed. I’m not sure. Garmin seems to be a little greedy.

    I know I can download an owners manual, but I really believe that a new GPS with many features should include this with the purchase. My CSX 60 had it. The size of the original owners manual as compared with the downloaded manual is needed if I’m going to carry it and utilize it while I’m on the road.

    I like it, but I would definitly research other brands prior to purchasing another GPS!

  28. Rich Owings says:

    Thanks for taking the time to share!

  29. what size of SD card do you need to download the newest maps

  30. Rich Owings says:

    No SD card is needed. It goes on the nuvi’s internal memory. You may want to copy the complete contents of the nuvi to your computer first as a backup. Here’s a GPS Magazine post that may help with the installation…

  31. How do I download version of owners manual

  32. Is downloading the owners manual possible

  33. Rich Owings says:
  34. Im driving a truck in an unfamiliar part of our state, doing 30 to 35 stops a day. Im looking for a gps unit that can have all the stops programmed in and route my truck in a logical manner so as not to backtrack. What is available and what is the price range.


  35. Rich Owings says:

    You need a unit with multi-destination routing. Those are listed on the charts here:

  36. I’ve loaded new voice files IAW the manual, but I can’t figure out how to use them? Can you help?

  37. Rich Owings says:

    If they are downloads form Garmin, just go into Settings and select them.

  38. Hi! I bought a nuvi 205w and when I plug it and turn it on, it boots, shows a “Loading Maps…” message and resets automatically, doing this in to an endless loop….
    Any clues? Thanks in advance!

  39. Rich Owings says:

    Is this new behavior? Will it go into mass storage mode when connected to a PC?

    1. Try updating with new firmware if available.

    2. If that doesn’t work, do a master reset. This will erase all favorites, etc. From Garmin support:

    To do a Master Reset on the nuvi® 200, 205, 465, 500, 600, 700, 705 or 12/13/14/1600 series device:

    Note: A master reset will erase all waypoints or favorites and will restore your unit to the default factory settings.

    Start with the unit OFF and unplugged from power
    Touch and hold the lower right corner of the screen with an index finger or the eraser end of a pencil
    Continue touching and holding the lower right hand corner of the screen then power the unit ON
    Release the power button when the device powers ON
    You will see a new message: Do you really want to erase all user data?
    Remove your finger from the touchscreen when this message displays
    Touch Yes
    The device will automatically reset. Please follow the on screen prompts on the nüvi and when completed place your device in an area with a clear view of the sky until it acquires satellites.

    3. Call Garmin.

  40. First, thank you so much for all the information. I am researching GPS units for my sister’s Christmas present. Your detailed info has been a huge help. Can you answer one more question? Will she have to pay to update the maps every month or so? I am not clear on subscriptions and the updates.

  41. Rich Owings says:

    Updates are usually purchased annually, but are not required. They are most important for folks living in rapidly developing urban areas and least important in rural areas. Garmin also has a lifetime map update product that gets you up to four updates a year. It is available at a discount from online retailers.

  42. Blake Brokaw says:

    I pull a 4,000 lbs. trailer and would like to get a route that is friendlier even if less direct. More highways and less twisty back roads.
    Can I help choose a route? The navigation window doesn’t help.

  43. Rich Owings says:

    Have you tried setting your vehicle type to truck?

    • Blake Brokaw says:

      Do you mean the truck icon as opposed to the car or the arrow or the walking feet? I thought those were there for “cuteness”.
      I downloaded an RV from the Garmin Garage, but it looked weird and took up to much room on the map to be precise. But if it will keep me from having to navigate some of the hairy situations this gps has gotten me into then I’m all for it.

  44. Rich Owings says:

    No, this should be an option under Tools > System > Settings > Usage Mode, but looking at the 2×5 manual, it looks like this feature was left out of that series!

  45. Blake Brokaw says:


  46. Because this is an older model, I recommend you search for other new models from Garmin that may have newer and better features. If the good price is just too good to resist, I will also say that you won’t be disappointed. Picking out cities in different states is something you must get used to but overall, the 205w will get you wherever you want to go. I’ve had mine since 10/09 and hasn’t failed me since in ‘highway mode’ – the ‘shortest distance’ mode is standard and can get you in a bunch of trouble. If you’ve just bought it or have had it for a while, I do recommend that you update the software and maps to be sure you have the latest. I used this to get my updates at the Garmin website for free;

    As for the hardware, it offers a very responsive touch screen and easy to plug and unplug suction unit. The other nice feature is that it has a mini 5-pin USB connection (wire is included) so if you have another device in your home that uses it, you don’t have to bring in the wire from your car when updating or configuring the unit.

  47. Hi RIch. I have been doing a good amount of research on the various GPS out there and so far, the Garmin Nuvi is looking like the leader. I am leaning toward the 205w and have a few questions. If I mount the unit above the rear view mirror, is there a way to wire the unit to just go on and off with ignition? I have an FJ Cruiser, so am thinking I may need an external antenna since the wndshield is so vertical. What are your thoughts? Until the “hybrid” technology improves, (I really like the digital compass and topo but it seems to need more developement) I will stick with a fairly basic unit. Thanks!

  48. Go here and search for the term wiring in the subject…

    That will turn up a few helpful threads. I think all nuvis power on automatically when the car starts up, as long as the power lead is attached.

    That positioning may or may not cause problems with reception. I don’t believe that unit will accept an external antenna. I think the only ones that can are the 300, 600, 700 and 800 series.

    • Thanks. There were a few threads but I need pictures since I am not savvy in electrical 🙂
      Do you have any opionion on the 300, 600, 700, and 800 series one way or another? I am not familair with these.

  49. The 300 and 600 are older, and have a flip up antenna that may be better. But the newer 700 and 800 series (especially the 7×5 and 8×5 models) have better firmware for faster satellite lock, so the difference may be a wash. Check out my comparison chart here…

  50. when i try to put in city it says not found

    • Some city names aren’t there. There are recognized place names (that often have a post office) and municipalities. It could be under one name or the other.

      Assuming you have maps for the country in question, try not entering a city or state, and just search for the address.

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