Garmin Nuvi 350
The Garmin Nuvi 350 has become one of best selling GPS devices in the world, and for good reason. It offers what most people are looking for in a first time GPS purchase; a pocketable device which is easy to operate and doesn’t have too many advanced features they will likely never use. But, one GPS device doesn’t fit all, the Nuvi 350 lacks many navigation functions found in other GPS devices you might be interested in. Is this Nuvi right for you?
In terms of the physical design, Garmin just about nailed this one perfectly. Along the top of the device is the power button providing easy access when mounted on your dash. Along the right side is the SD card slot, USB/power connector, and an audio jack for headphones. Thankfully, no buttons were placed along the bottom since that area is out of reach when mounted in a vehicle.
The Nuvi 350 comes with a “flip-up” antenna. I’ve never really understood Garmin’s reasoning for doing this and I’m glad that the new 200 series dropped this antenna style. The GPS chipset inside the “flip-up” antenna is the legendary SiRFstarIII chipset. So you should have no trouble getting a quick signal, and one that will stay locked on even in areas where older GPS devices might have found challenging.
You will also find that the Nuvi 350 is very light and compact. It weighs just over five ounces making it one of the lightest GPS devices in its class and is less than one inch thick. Within this frame Garmin put in the fairly industry standard 3.5 inch display which can show 320×240 pixels. The screen is of very high quality and works well in bright sunlight and from a wide viewing angle. If you are extremely tough on devices, the frame on this Nuvi does flex a little bit more than other similar devices, however I’ve never heard of that actually becoming an issue for anyone.
The mount is hands down the best mount in the industry. It is not ridiculously large like some other mounts, it is easily adjustable, and there is a quick release button along the bottom of the mount. To top it off, the power connector connects to the mount itself which feeds power to the GPS, therefore you don’t have a power cable dangling loose when you take your GPS out of the car. I’ll say it again, this is the best mount in the industry.
Navigating to an Address
What makes this GPS a hot seller is largely due to how simple Garmin makes the initial presentation on the device. A simple menu saying “Where to?” is all you need to get started. This resonates with many people and makes it a device I recommend to people who are less technically savvy. After clicking Where to you can navigate to an address, any number of POI categories, your stored (favorite) locations, intersections, coordinates, or specific places on the map. Typically you might select an address.
After selecting address, you are asked what state your address is in. Here, you type in the name of the state you want to go to, or it will also display your current state as a “quick pick” option. Typing in the name of the state seems like a huge pain. You can’t even type in an official state abbreviation, instead you must type in the whole state name. This can be a pain when you want to go to somewhere like New York where you must type in N-E-W-space-Y before you can select New York. It should know what I mean if I type NY.
After typing in the State, you type in a city. Following the city is the house number. This has always seemed backwards to me. While at first the Nuvi 350 seems to be drilling down from the biggest target (states) to smaller targets (cities) the Nuvi asks you for the street number before typing in the street name. No biggie, but it did catch me off guard the first few times. After selecting the street number, then you select the street. You can then see what result it found from your search and then either click the Go button to be routed to that location, view the address on the map, or save it to your favorite locations.
Navigating to a Point of Interest
Navigating to a POI is equally simple. After clicking “Where to” you can select from a list of categories. The categories seem be sorted by how frequently you might use that category, but I’m not entirely sure. For example “Auto Services” is near the very bottom of the list. But up top center I found “food”. Then you can select from a list of types of food and the GPS will search for a list of restaurants in the category of food you are looking for. The list is sorted by how close each location is to you. Selecting one of the POIs will show the street address and phone number of the location. Just like after finding an address you can either click the Go button to be routed there, save the location to your favorites, or show the location on the map.
While navigating text will be displayed across the top of the screen telling you your current/next instruction like “Main Street to I-95″ if you are currently driving on main street and your next turn is onto I-95. What I don’t like is that in many cases there is no indication of which direction your next turn is directly on this screen if you forget what the voice said. Instead near the lower right is a field for “turn in” which tells you how far away your next turn is. Clicking on this will show a picture of the intersection along with an arrow indicating where you travel through the intersection. The information is available, but it is a click away.
Along the lower left side of the screen is a field for your estimated arrival time. I’ve found it to be very optimistic, even in areas of no traffic. Also missing is a field to tell you how long (in time) you have left to get your destination. You can take the arrival time and subtract that from the current time, but doing time based math while in traffic is more than I can handle. So when the kids are in the back of the car saying “Are we there yet?” you can tell them that you are 43 miles from your destination (if you click to go to another screen) or you can tell them you will arrive at 8:43 pm…. But neither of those answers may answer the question they are looking for. Again, this is a minor gripe, but I’ve had several people coming to me wondering where to find “time to turn” and “time to destination” information on their screen. Most people can estimate time better than distance.
The point of the Garmin Nuvi 350 is simplicity… and simplicity was delivered. However this leaves out many routing features that are available in other GPS devices of the same class. There is no “advanced planning” type feature. For example if you are going on a trip and want to know how long it will take you to get from your destination airport to the hotel, that information is difficult to get out of the Nuvi 350. There is a workaround involving turning the GPS antenna off, going to the map, zooming way out, finding your starting location on the map, zooming back in, clicking the set location button, then going to the menu, navigating to an address, clicking go, and then viewing the arrival time (doing the math yourself to see how long it will take you to get there based on the current time) and/or going to the trip information screen to view the distance to the destination…..but that workaround is probably more trouble than it is worth.
There is a detour feature on the Nuvi 350. While driving if you come across a blocked road you can click menu and then select the ‘Detour’ button. This will create a route around the next section of the road. But again, Garmin has gone for simplicity here. Other devices typically allow you to select either an estimated distance ahead of you that the road is blocked, or allow specific road or intersection to be avoided. Those customizations are not available on this GPS.
Multiple Destination Routing
Another feature many people ask us about is multiple destination routing. People who make deliveries or are sales reps and drive to several locations in one day typically ask this for. What these people are looking for is a way to build up one route with all of their destinations. Then they can see how long the entire route will take. The Nuvi 350 allows for one “via” point per route. In other words you can say “I want to go to destination A and to get there I want the GPS to take me via point B”. However you can only add one via point per route. Most people might not need this feature, but it can be really handy to have depending on the type of driving you do.
The Nuvi 350 has text to speech, this means that it will speak the names of streets as part of the voice prompting when giving directions. It is also one of the fewer entry level GPS devices which incorporates this feature. The voice quality itself isn’t quite as good as other devices in its class which don’t use text-to-speech, but it is a very acceptable quality and I didn’t have too much trouble understanding what the voice was telling me to do. There are multiple voices to choose from. The volume is also acceptably loud. When cranked all of the way up, the volume is still an acceptable quality at highway speeds.
Speaking of sound, the Nuvi 350 will also play MP3 files and audio books. The external speaker won’t replace any of your other audio devices anytime soon, but if you occasionally want to plug in headphones you will find it an acceptable MP3 player. You will have about 700 MB of free space to work with.
It is also worth mentioning that there are a few other applications which come along with their “Travel Kit”. You get a picture viewer, world clock, calculator, as well as a currency and unit converter. Those features probably won’t tip the scales one way or another in your choice of a GPS device
Nuvi 350 Purchasing Advice
As mentioned at the top, the Garmin Nuvi 350 is one of the best selling GPS devices out there, mostly due to the simplicity of the design. If you are looking for your first GPS device and want something extremely simple to use, the Nuvi 350 should be on your list of devices to consider. If your navigation needs are a little more sophisticated, you might want to consider a device with more routing features such as a TomTom ONE or the Harman Kardon GPS 500. But if you are looking for a dead simple GPS device with text-to-speech and without all of the “extras”, take a hard look at the Nuvi 350.