Many GPS devices are priced at more than $200 because they come with plenty of neat navigation features that should appeal to frequent travelers and mobile workers. Common examples of mid-range and high-end features include Bluetooth functionality and voice commands. Some of these GPS devices also have real-time traffic monitoring so even better routes can be calculated. But if you are the type of driver that simply goes out to get groceries, do simple errands or occasionally goes to neighboring towns or cities, you could do just fine with a cheaper GPS device without those extra features. It is even possible to go for a bigger screen and still save some money if you don’t happen to have that $200 budget. The Garmin nuvi 52LM is just one of these budget devices and it could be a great purchase as long as you are aware of its limitations.

Garmin nuvi 52LM

Garmin nuvi 52LM

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Design

The Garmin nuvi 52LM is a plain and simple device that doesn’t really stand out from the rest of the Garmin devices. But it is one of the Garmin’s first devices for 2013 and it managed to make some slight changes so people can see the difference between the Garmin nuvi 52LM and the older 50LM released the previous year. Gone are the rounded corners so the bezel appears more rectangular. The weight is still maintained at just over 6 ounces so it should feel lighter than just about any typical 5-inch smartphone.

The 5-inch display is unquestionably the standout feature amongst the sea of sub-$200 automotive GPS devices. The screen resolution remains the same as its 4.3-inch budget siblings but a larger screen size means bigger pixels making it easier to see the map and menus even if you are seated a bit further from the GPS device.

The Garmin nuvi 52LM comes complete with a vehicle suction cup mount which makes it easy to mount the device on the dashboard or windshield of your car. A vehicle power cable is also provided in case you want to charge the device. The large screen comes at the cost of battery life (less than 2 hours) so it would be handy to have this cable in your glove compartment.

Features

The Garmin nuvi 52LM gets the short end of the stick when it comes to features and smartphones may even have more features thanks to the wide availability of third-party apps. But the main strength of the Garmin nuvi 52LM lies on its ability to plan routes quickly and guide you to your destination while maintaining a simple and clean user interface. Unlike smartphone interfaces where you are greeted with a bunch of icons, all you see on the Garmin nuvi 52LM is just 2 big icons representing the main tasks along with a single row of smaller icons if you want to change any settings or make volume adjustments. No swiping or scrolling through long menus is needed and that goes to show that even cheap GPS models have their advantages.

Boot up time is quick the first time and every time and you won’t have to go through any tedious registration or activation steps. All of the US map data and millions of points of interest are preloaded to the device so all you have to do is decide whether you want to plan a route or view the map and your surroundings. Planning a route takes you through the simple process where you basically decide your destination. The Garmin nuvi 52LM takes note of your current location and quickly calculates the route. If you are not satisfied with the route, you can also apply slight tweaks such as avoiding highways.

Highways can be a hassle even if you have a GPS device because the GPS device can tell you to make a turn at that certain highway exit but you won’t be able to do so if you are not in the correct lane. The Garmin nuvi 52LM can prevent this from happening through the lane assist feature. Whenever you enter a highway in the US, you can use the junction view to get a better view of the highway and see important road signs such as the speed limit. The lane assist works with the junction view by placing arrows so you know exactly what lane you have to be in. Whether you are driving on the highway or on a regular neighborhood street, you can always see how fast you are going and an estimated time of arrival to your destination.

If you want to go straight to the map from the home screen, you can tap the large “View Map” icon. The main purpose of this shortcut is if you have no route in mind to plan but you want to see your current location along with any points of interest nearby. In addition to what you see, you can also add your own custom points of interest. If you notice any outdated map data, you can try updating the maps. This feature is free for life as long as the “LM” suffix appears at the end (such as the Garmin nuvi 52LM). The map also comes in both 2-D and 3-D views. If an emergency occurs, it is more useful to use the “Where Am I?” feature because it not only gets your exact position but it also lets the Garmin nuvi 52LM look for nearby hospitals, gas stations, police stations and intersections.

Bottom Line

The Garmin nuvi 52LM is reasonably priced at $150 but it isn’t the only cheap 5-inch device available. Garmin also offers the nuvi 54LM model which has the exact same features and design but costs $10 more. The only difference is that the Garmin nuvi 54LM covers Canada in addition to the US. If you live in any of the lower 49 states and plan to travel within those states, the Garmin nuvi 52LM should be enough. Overall, the nuvi 52LM is a great budget package and should be more reliable and accurate as a car GPS unit than any smartphone with GPS features.

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