Garmin’s strategy in executing their yearly refreshes of their popular lineups is pretty simple, add new features on the high-end series and bring down more features to the low-end series. It is now 2014 and Garmin continues its push making this a huge win for people that still haven’t purchased a GPS navigator for their car. Existing owners of Garmin nuvi devices will probably be fine with using their older models if they made the wise decision to go for a version that has free lifetime traffic and map updates (LMT) or at least lifetime map updates (LM) alone. But Garmin made it clear to begin the year 2014 with a fresh lineup with the Garmin nuvi 55LM as part of the budget category or “Essential Line”. The price remains unchanged compared to the time when its predecessor first launched but the feature list is far more appealing.
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What you shouldn’t expect with the nuvi 55LM is a new design as Garmin understandably played it safe by giving it the same rectangular design as the older models. With a thick bezel and profile, the Garmin nuvi 55LM looks pretty unappealing when placed next to a modern flagship smartphone but what really matters in a GPS device is its portability and overall experience. It weighs about 6.5 ounces, which is more than fine for a GPS navigator with a 5-inch display. The 480 x 272 resolution may seem terrible on paper but it is ideal for GPS devices simply because the interface will appear big making it easy to navigate and the maps appear more noticeable from afar. Setting up the nuvi 55LM is the car is as simple as using the car suction cup mount to keep device secure on the dashboard and connecting the power cable to make it run beyond the typical 2-hour battery life.
The entry-level models in the 2013 series excelled in performance and overall stability and the nuvi 55LM continues that tradition. When turned on, you get that very minimal menu which just about any individual should be able to navigate. The icons are very clear and easy to tap and planning your very own route couldn’t be simpler. But Garmin somehow managed to make route planning easier with this new series by adding a very smart search feature. You can enter a category, location or specific place and the system will recognize the query and give you the appropriate results.
When following the indicated route, you can listen to the directions powered by text-to-speech and witness all sorts of statistics on the 3-D map. New to the Garmin nuvi 55LM is the “Up Ahead” feature introduced in Garmin’s midrange lineup the previous year. “Up Ahead” takes the form of a sidebar that can pop up in the map view. The sidebar will show selected categories of key POIs and their distance information from your current location. It is a good reference to check out whenever you suddenly need to go to the nearest ATM machine or restaurant without requiring you to change your route. You can customize this sidebar too if you prefer other categories to show up like gas stations, parking, lodging and restrooms. There is a similar and older function called “Where am I” which also brings up several locations nearby but it focuses on the emergency services like police stations and hospitals making it very useful during emergency situations.
School Zone Warnings is a fresh new and welcome feature added to the nuvi 55LM. Whenever you go near a known school zone, the GPS device will bring up a warning on the screen along with an audible alert just so you are aware. Then when you head to a known highway, the lane assist with junction view kicks in focusing on guiding you to the correct lane so you can make that exit and stay on the route.
The reason behind the low price of the Garmin nuvi 55LM is the limited map coverage out of the box. But that shouldn’t be a concern for anybody living in the 49 lower US states and only needs map assistance to areas within these 49 states. Each of the states are fully detailed with tons of points of interest. On top of that, you get access to map updates free and there is no expiration. You only have to purchase additional maps if you need coverage outside the US.
The $159.99 price tag is simply a very attractive price for a GPS device with lifetime map updates. While the older Garmin nuvi 52LM can be sold for a slightly cheaper price, the addition of the Up Ahead, school zone warnings and enhanced search make the nuvi 55LM feel more like a $180 midrange GPS unit. You don’t get any of the extra bells and whistles like Bluetooth compatibility and voice-activated navigation but the overall feature set is a lot more impressive than any other entry-level GPS device reviewed in the past. Garmin has raised the bar yet again for the low-end and once the competitors follow through, it will be the consumers that win. The Garmin nuvi 55LM is even enough to replace the typical smartphone as the primary car GPS navigator because of all these detailed maps and ease of updating them. If your preferred map coverage expands to Canada, it is best to get the Garmin nuvi 56LM instead as it costs just $10 more.
Update: There is a newer model > Garmin nuvi 57LM