Every January at CES, you can always expect Garmin to dish out some new products and they certainly did just that this 2014. However, the company did something rather different that didn’t occur back in 2013. Fewer new Garmin nuvi products were announced in 2014 and they are all part of the Essential Line. But that isn’t a bad thing because these new entry-level products are better than ever and still very affordable. The Garmin nuvi 56 is in a good position in being one of the best GPS devices for folks on a very tight budget.
The nuvi 56 has a very simple rectangular design that is no different than last year’s Garmin nuvi Essential Line products. The 5-inch WQVGA TFT display isn’t very special but it is more than enough to showcase the gorgeous map graphics and simple interface that Garmin devices have been delivering for the past couple of years. Typically, GPS displays are mounted horizontally so you get a good view of your surroundings in 3-D mode but you also have the option to use it vertically too.
A vehicle suction cup mount is included for easy windshield mounting along with a power cable to keep the GPS charged. When unplugged, the Garmin nuvi 56 should be able to run continuously for about 2 hours until you will need to recharge.
On the surface, the nuvi 56 is a lot like its direct predecessor – the Garmin nuvi 54. It has the same interface and virtually similar hardware internals, which is fine because the GPS navigators in the 2013 Essential Line performed exceptionally on the basic tasks that matter. Planning a route is still a simple affair that involves tapping the “Where to?” icon and go through the easy steps in inputting your destination. But if you used an older Garmin nuvi device, you will realize that there is a newer and smarter search function in the “Where to?” area. By going to “Enter Search”, you can enter all kinds of search queries. For instance, keying in “movie theaters” will bring up the movie theaters in your area. You can key in a specific place, address, city, category or even the coordinates. So basically, it takes even fewer steps to plan your route using the Garmin nuvi 56 or any of Garmin’s 2014 nuvi models.
Once your course is set, you can drive and glance at the usual 3-D view (or switch to the 2-D view if you so desire) and let the text-to-speech voice instructions guide your way. In addition to viewing your next turn and list of other turns, you can check out any other upcoming POIs along your route by selecting the “Up Ahead” option. You can customize this panel if you want to rearrange the categories or replace existing categories with others. This panel will highlight the distance between your current location and a nearby POI that matches the category you selected so you can conveniently head to a nearby restaurant, bank, restroom or other POI without the need for planning a new route. This feature used to be reserved for midrange models so it is nice to see that new nuvi 56 owners can now experience this highly convenient feature.
Garmin also added a brand new feature to the Garmin nuvi 56 and other 2014 models. The feature treats school zones a bit more like speed limits. Once you are in an area with a school zone in the vicinity, you will receive an audible alert along with a warning right on the screen telling you about the school zone.
The main feature of entry-level Garmin devices was the lane assist with junction view and it is still present in the nuvi 56. If you are in a major roadway that the Garmin nuvi device recognizes, you can bring up this junction view and find out the correct lane you must be in so you can reach your destination without delays. Important data like the speed limit is shown as well.
In addition to the core route planning function, you may use the Garmin nuvi 56 to find nearby services using the “Where Am I?” page. This can be useful if you are in an unfamiliar place and you wish to know the nearest gas stations, police stations, hospitals and other services. Detailed maps of the US and Canada are preloaded into the device so there is plenty to explore if you live in those areas. You won’t be able to update these maps though unless you go for the slightly pricier Garmin nuvi 56LM or 56LMT models.
If you can afford a Garmin GPS device with both lifetime map updates and free traffic avoidance or at least the map updates alone, you should go for any of the 2014 models that feature the LM and LMT subject (the 56 model in particular if you need the Canada maps). But the nuvi 56 still has a perfectly valid reason to exist. It is the GPS navigator to get if you really cannot afford to spend more than $140. You can save $10 more if you go for the nuvi 55, which has the same feature set but only has detailed maps of the lower 49 US states. Although there are no 4.3-inch Garmin nuvi products representing the 2014 lineup, this 5-inch model provides a great overall experience with very reliable features.
Update: There is a newer model > Garmin nuvi 57
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