Smartphones are pretty reliable location trackers these days. You can rely on your mobile data connection to get accurate positioning and download the latest maps without too much battery drainage and you can switch on the GPS function so a satellite can continue to track your location. Many of these smartphones have very large displays exceeding 5 inches and the displays are phenomenal. Once equipped with proper navigation software, smartphones may very well replace standard GPS devices. However, Garmin nuvi GPS devices don’t exactly fall under the standard category and with the 2014 Essential Line, even the cheap GPS navigators like the Garmin nuvi 56LM are capable of doing some things that smartphones are unable to do.
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One thing that you have to know about GPS devices in general is how basic the hardware specs can get. In the case of the entry-level nuvi 56LM, the overall device is quite thick including the bezel but it feels quite light for a 5-inch device and can easily mount to the car windshield using the suction cup mount. The ease of mounting the device is just one of the things devices like the Garmin nuvi 56LM have over smartphones.
Being a budget device, don’t expect a glass multi-touch high-res display. This TFT display is more ordinary with a 480 x 272 screen resolution. That would be pretty awful on a 5-inch smartphone but it isn’t a huge deal since you won’t be playing games or watching movies on this device. The main concern is its mapping capabilities and fortunately, the map graphics looks great. A portrait mode is available in case you don’t like using the GPS device horizontally.
Garmin is very much familiar with the entry-level game as it has released a very similar product back in 2013 known as the Garmin nuvi 54LM. Somehow, Garmin managed to bring all those features from the 54LM model to the nuvi 56LM and add a couple of extra features and refinements while adding a tiny increase to the price. Perhaps the best improvement is the ease of setting your preferred destination.
Like virtually every Garmin nuvi model released in the past few years, the home screen features a very simple menu. You may view the map by tapping “View Map” or tap “Where To?” to go through the simple procedure of creating a route to your destination. The “Where To?” menu asks how you want to search for your destination before you can actually type it in. But thanks to this new improvement exclusively featured in the Garmin nuvi 56LM and other new nuvi 2014 products, there is now an “Enter Search” option where you can immediately type in categories, places, coordinates and complete addresses. The results are speedy and accurate since everything works offline.
Tracking your location after you set your route is where the fun begins. You have both the 2-D and 3-D views at your disposal and you can see all sorts of statistics including the next turn, distance information and any important signs. Text-to-speech technology enables the nuvi 56LM to talk to you whenever you need to make a turn and goes as far as pronouncing the street names. Most dedicated GPS devices come with these basic features nowadays but it is the “Up Ahead” feature that makes the Garmin nuvi 56LM quite attractive. Previously exclusive for the midrange lineup of Garmin GPS navigators, “Up Ahead” allows you to glance on any key points of interest (POI) that are currently in your path. You can set the POI categories you want to track and find out how far or near you are to a particular POI. Combined with the fact that the nuvi 56LM comes with free lifetime map updates (because of the “LM” suffix), the feature is very useful and you can be certain that you can obtain the latest maps right from Garmin to ensure that the data is up-to-date. It also comes in handy when you need to know where the nearest hospitals and police stations are during times of emergencies. The “Where Am I” feature can handle those issues.
The Garmin nuvi 56LM even knows where the school zones are and can even display a popup message along with an audible alert as soon as you approach the school zone. Previous models could not do that. The nuvi 56LM can also guide you through certain intersections and highways with the aid of the lane assist with junction view. This old feature will simply tell you in advance which lane you need to be on.
The nuvi 56LM is a solid recommendation if you have $169 to spare and the new features is enough to encourage you to forget about the older entry-level devices no matter how much they cost. However, the Garmin nuvi 56LM isn’t the only device in the 2014 lineup and it is important that you make sure that the nuvi 56LM is the one you really need. The Garmin nuvi 55LM model has the exact same set of features and specs but it lacks the Canada maps found in the 56LM. If you are willing to spend $20 more, you can also enjoy lifetime traffic avoidance features so traffic conditions are taken into consideration when planning the route. Finally, there is a larger 6-inch model, which costs just $10 more. It is certainly nice to see Garmin’s strong entry-level lineup complete with very competitive prices.
Update: There is a newer model > Garmin nuvi 57LM