Garmin nüvi 650 Automotive Mountable GPS Receiver
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Garmin nüvi 650 Automotive Mountable GPS Receiver

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  • User Interface: Touch Screen
  • System Type: Portable Fixed
  • Map Capabilities: Download maps Map cartridges / Data cards
  • : Automotive Mountable
  • WAAS Features: WAAS enabled
  • Screen Size: 4.3"
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57

Higher Model Number and Price Doesn't Mean It's Better

Pros Easy to use, read and understand. Great list of point of interest.
Cons Flip out antenna, Limited spoken languages, old map data, extra cost accessories, limited dash mounting.
Recommended it? Yes
The Bottom Line:  All in all, a decent unit that does quite a lot straight out of the box. However, a few of annoying glitches.
I'll start off first by saying that this is a very useful cool device loaded with lots of great features. I'm just a little disappointed that I must give up features to get others. I started out purchasing the Garmin nuvi 250 but my wife said she want one that speaks the street names as well as turn by turn directions. After some research, I found the 650 on sale for the same price. It has the ability to announce the street names so I exchanged the 250 for the 650. Now I'm not so sure it was worth it.

Let's start with what is great about this unit.

Large Bright Screen - Maybe even a little too bright. The 4.3 inch screen is nice and large which makes it easy to see and read quickly. The widescreen format gives a larger view of the map and more information available, especially the streets left and right of your location, without the ETA and distance blocking part of the screen. The screen can also automatically change from a light background on the map to a dark background depending on the time of day.

Great Satellite Acquisition - Unlike many units, I was able to acquire enough satellites to get five bars for signal. This may be because of the flip out antenna but there are some trade-offs for this. More about that later...

Keeps Up with Location - Many units are somewhat slow to update your current location. I've had older handheld models that seemed to take forever pinpointing your location. Not so with this unit. It updates quickly and
usually gives adequate warning of upcoming turns. That is, if you're not on the wrong side of the highway...but more on that later.

Extremely Intuitive Interface - Yes, so intuitive in fact, that it doesn't even have a real manual; just an eight page booklet. Even so, the booklet had a couple of tips and shortcuts that made it worth reading. The maps and screen interface work exactly as you would expect with a touchscreen device, i.e., tap and drag on the map and it moves the map. Tap a location and zoom in and it re-centers the map to where you last tapped. Simple and easy to understand prompts and good iconography make it a pleasure to use.

Great List of Points of Interest(POI) - touch the "Where to" and "Food, Lodging" and you get a huge list of just about any place to which you would want to drive. Restaurants are organized by cuisine. Shopping, recreation, attractions and entertainment are organized by type. And not only does it give you POIs that are near your location, but you can see POIs that are along your route, at your destination, or any place in North America. In fact, there are so many choices, it would be dangerous to go through the list while in motion. Garmin prudently opted to include a safety feature to prevent using the menu features while in motion so you'll need to stop to program it.

Very Easy to Save Locations or Select a Destination - You can save a location when you arrive by just pressing the Save button. Or enter it before hand and save it to your favorites. Select a destination either by pointing to the map or entering an address. In most cases, you only need to enter the first few letters of a street name and a list of available locations pops up.

Spoken Street Names - Here's the whole reason I bought this model. Yes, it speaks the street names and it usually gets it right. Very helpful when you're someplace that you're unfamiliar with. However, I have noticed that the GPS sometimes gives street names to highway ramps or streets that are more commonly known by a number. Also, when I turn up the volume to hear it inside my car--which is rather noisy because of the bad roads here in Washington--the voice becomes a little distorted and difficult to understand. I also end up having to turn off the car stereo so I can hear the unit.


Here's what I don't care for...

Antenna - the flip out antenna is great for reception but it's just one more thing that can break off. Plus, if you try and close the antenna, it turns off the GPS functions of the unit. At least the antenna stays open at various angles and can actually be used to prop up the unit, however, in the car I have found that the suction mount works the best.

Battery Life - I'm not sure how Garmin gets seven hours of life from this unit, but I'm sure it involved setting everything to minimum amounts. While I can't get seven hours out of the battery, it does seem to be enough to use it for a few hours out of the car...say, for hiking maybe.

Missing Spoken Languages - This unit is very Euro-centric. Except for the Aussie and Latin American voices, almost all the rest are European languages. The less capable nuvi 250 had spoken Asian languages which would be helpful for my Chinese and Japanese relatives. On the plus side, it gives a female and male voice for many of the languages. I like the male British voice best but he is sometimes difficult to understand, especially with numbers.

Map Data is Old and Sometimes Inaccurate - Maybe it's just Washington state, but we seem to have a lot of left-hand exits from the freeways. The GPS often instructs me to keep right when I know that the exit is on the left. At the last minute, it will tell me to exit left when I have very little time or even the room to do so. This could be quite a problem in an unfamiliar city. I also noticed a few places listed in the POI that are no longer there. Some newer roads don't appear either. I checked the Garmin web site and downloaded updated software but I don't think that updates the maps. I'm sure there's an extra cost involved with that...which leads me to the next complaint.

Some Calculated Routes are Bad - There are options to avoid traffic, toll-roads, ferries and a few other obstacles. You can also choose whether it calculates routes based on quickest or shortest routes. Even so, it often computes a route that takes me right into traffic at rush hour or winds me through a series of back streets when a more direct route is available. There also doesn't seem to be an easy way of entering multiple destinations and having the GPS compute the most efficient route, for example, when you need to run a lot of errands.

Everything Costs Extra - You want maps for Europe? That'll be $300. You want an AC charger? That'll cost you. Adding other POI data is extra including traffic camera info, traffic reports, language translation and travel guides. It wouldn't be so bad but they put these sample versions on the unit just to tease you. Sort of like those limited use software apps they put on new computers. I guess they have to nickel and dime you somehow.

Audible Book and MP3 Player Not Too Useful - unless you have some way to plug it into your car stereo--either with a direct cable or a cassette adapter--these built-in functions are not very useful. The speaker on the unit may be fine to listen to audio books, however, it isn't very loud and is horrible for listening to music. Nice idea, but I think the next model up with Bluetooth might make more sense.

Cigarette Adapter is a Custom Plug - The nuvi 250 used a common USB type plug. The nuvi 650 needs a special adapter for the car. Just one more expensive cable to lose.

Dash Mounting Adapter is Permanent - If you drive in California, mounting this thing to your windshield is illegal. But if you use the dash mount, it can't block the view out the windshield and the mounting disk is permanent double stick tape. My wife will be using this thing for business travel including CA, so she will have to improvise or risk having the thing slide around inside the car. Several companies now have these weighted holders to attach the GPS unit, but they're heavy and bulky so they're not very good for travel.

UPDATE: 6/3/08
After several vacation trips, I thought it was worthwhile to report some of the issues I've experience in other parts of the country.

The Long Way Around - In the LA area, there are so many different freeways from which to choose a route. After returning several times to our hotel using the route selected by the GPS, I found a quicker and shorter route using a less congested state highway. It would appear that the GPS would rather take freeways and that this should be an option in one of the settings: avoid highways.

Another time, I was looking for a grocery store on the way to a friends house. I followed the directions until I noticed that the GPS had me go straight along a divided road to the next U-turn when I could have easily turned left at the last stoplight at the intersection where the grocery store was located. Strange programming going on here.

Self-conscience Voice - In Southern California there are lots of streets and locations with Hispanic names. My wife and I had a few laughs each time the GPS spoke the street name incorrectly. But the strange thing was that after we laughed at it, the next time it spoke the name (generally, right at the intersection) it pronounced the name correctly. We would stop laughing and stare and each other in disbelief thinking that the GPS could hear us ridiculing it.

Spotty Satellite Performance - I noticed that occasionally on startup, the GPS doesn't acquire the satellites. I would have to shut it off and try several more times before it finally starts. Highly unreliable.

Too dim in daylight, too bright at night - The backlighting doesn't automatically adjust to the ambient lighting. Sure, it changes the color of the features on the map display but that doesn't make much difference in its legibility when it sits on the dash. If it had a sensor for the ambient light, it could automatically adjust the brightness.

Annoying Reflections - The screen reflects off the windshield when mounted on the dash or windshield. If the top of the GPS had a bezel mounted shade on the top, it would easy prevent this annoying and distracting reflection.

Because of all these problems I've discovered, I must reduce my rating one star.

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