The Garmin nuvi’s 2013 Essential series represented a pretty strong lineup of automotive GPS devices that are sure to last especially if you considered any of the variants with lifetime maps and/or traffic updates. While you can probably find these impressive GPS navigators like the Garmin nuvi 52 at attractively cheap prices, Garmin wasted no time this 2014 by introducing a brand new lineup under the Essential series during CES 2014 back in January. While the improvements are minor, it highlights once again the company’s tradition in bringing features previously exclusive to the more advanced devices to the entry-level devices without bumping up the price. The Garmin nuvi 55 brings tremendous value at the $129 mark as a result.
The design of the Garmin nuvi 55 is identical to the older entry-level Garmin nuvi devices in the Essential 2013 series and that is completely fine because the navigator looks surprisingly polished for a budget device. The bezels are understandably thick but it still weighs just under 7 ounces. The 5-inch display is nothing new these days but those used to seeing those 4.3-inch screens will view the Garmin nuvi 55 as an attractive budget upgrade. The common screen resolution of 480 x 272 is retained but those smartphone owners that are used to HD displays don’t have to worry because the map graphics and interface render just fine at this WQVGA resolution. It also has a white backlight so you can easily view the screen at night. As with other Garmin nuvi products, a power cable and suction cup mount are included for the car and since the battery of the nuvi 55 lasts about 2 hours, you better have that power cable in your car as well.
The Garmin nuvi 55 is equipped more like a midrange GPS navigator introduced back in 2012. It is no longer the budget device that is compromised with limited functionality. School Zone Warnings is one of the new features of the entry-level lineup and it hits the nuvi 55 as well. The feature simply works by issuing this audible alert along with a warning message whenever your vehicle is in close proximity to a school zone. Garmin has also improved the way you look for a point of interest. There is an added search field where you can enter all sorts of queries. For instance, if you type in a category, the device will recognize it as a category and return proper results. The search field can also recognize a specific place or address making searching faster and more natural.
The Up Ahead feature which made its debut to the 2013 midrange devices is brought down to the Garmin nuvi 55 as well. The feature works right from the map view showing up a sidebar with distance information regarding POI categories of your choosing. You can check for instance how far away the nearest gas station, ATM machine and lodging without leaving the map screen.
Like all just about all other Garmin nuvi navigators, the nuvi 55 comes equipped with the lane assist with junction view mode which should help you navigate through complex interchanges. Once you hit the highway, the GPS unit will automatically tell you where the correct lane is so you won’t miss that key exit.
Garmin managed to cram all of these features while still maintaining the entry-level appeal that beginner users need. Garmin’s simple and user-friendly touch interface is still intact and the overall performance of the navigator is pretty speedy. Right out of the box, a new user should be able to figure out how to let the Garmin nuvi 55 generate a route. Once you inputted the destination, the device pretty much handles the rest with good accuracy and full text-to-speech operation enabling you to drive hands free. You can tweak the route too if you want to avoid highways for instance and you can swap between 2-D and 3-D views any time you like.
All of this works without any additional setup. The nuvi 55 comes with the essential US maps and a huge database containing millions of points of interest. If you ever plan on traveling to other countries, you can purchase other City Navigator maps separately. If are lost in a particular area in the US, you can activate the “Where Am I” feature and have the device scan for police stations, hospitals and other emergency services in the area.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the new 2014 Essential series is Garmin’s focus on 5-inch GPS navigators and larger. The 4.3-inch devices don’t get a refresh making the Garmin nuvi 55 the most affordable GPS device in the family. Like the previous models, the entry-level versions come in 2 flavors where one of them features detailed maps that only cover the lower 49 states. The nuvi 55 has that limited coverage so you might want to spend $10 more on the Garmin nuvi 56 if you require Canada maps as well. You might also want to consider the Garmin nuvi 55 versions that feature free lifetime map updates and traffic avoidance although it is going to cost you a bit more. It is nice to see Garmin still offering a barebones model for those that are on a shoestring budget. The only difference now is that you get a GPS device with several tricks making it far more advanced than a typical smartphone or competing entry-level GPS navigator.
Update: You may also consider these newer models :