Garmin Nuvi 350 Personal Travel Assistant
Garmin Nuvi 350 Personal Travel Assistant. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Paul Williams

Photo Gallery: Garmin Nuvi 350 “Personal Travel Assistant”

There are numerous portable GPS devices on the market these days – from makers like Garmin, Magellan, TomTom, Lowrance, Uniden, and others – with some models now priced under $200.00! This is a far cry from introductory prices that were 10-times that amount only a few years ago, and also much less than factory systems built into new vehicles. Those units can cost over $3,000.

But is a little portable unit sufficient?

I’ve been using a Garmin Nuvi 350 for the past eighteen months, and have found it very helpful. It’s one of a series of Nuvi models on the market, ranging from the Nuvi 250 ($329) to the 770 ($949). Even the Nuvi 350’s current price of $399 is $300 less than the price I paid in 2006. Prices continue to drop, and shopping around is a good idea.

There are no monthly subscription fees with these devices; a GPS unit simply acts as a receiver (much like a portable radio) calculating its terrestrial position based on signals it picks up from geographic satellites. You can choose to update the internal mapping, however, at a cost of $75 (an alternative may be to simply buy a newer device!)

Garmin Nuvi 350 Personal Travel Assistant
Garmin Nuvi 350 Personal Travel Assistant. Click image to enlarge

The Nuvi 350’s features are comprehensive: it actually does much more than I utilize. For example, along with its voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation system, it also plays MP3 music files and audio books, converts currencies, supports optional FM TMC traffic alerts and rerouting (in locations with this service), and even has an optional voice-audio language translator (it’ll speak in a foreign language for you).

The Nuvi also shows the time, and estimated arrival time when programmed to a destination, and your speed when not (you can compare your vehicle’s speedometer with the Nuvi’s). And it shows and announces your current street location and upcoming turns by street name (“In 200 meters, turn right onto Ontario Street”).

However, the Nuvi 350’s key features for me are its light weight (141 grams; 5.1 ounces), compact dimensions, built in lithium battery that enables the unit to operate from four to eight hours when not plugged into your vehicle’s 12V power point, full North American mapping, and general ease of operation. When not in use, it can be carried in a compact leather case.

The unit is so easy to use, in fact, that I’ve never consulted a manual. All operations are controlled from its touch-screen display, and functions/settings/options are easy to understand and select.

Garmin Nuvi 350 Personal Travel Assistant
Garmin Nuvi 350 Personal Travel Assistant. Click image to enlarge

Setting a destination, for example, is as easy as selecting “Address,”, “City/Postcode,” “Street name and number,” and “Go.”

The Nuvi 350 remembers previous and favourite locations, continues your guidance after you turn it off and back on, and automatically re-routes if you make a wrong turn or go off course. Sometimes the Nuvi 350 takes a couple of minutes to locate itself (typically after using it in, say, Los Angeles, then returning to Ottawa), but usually it accesses satellites quickly.

Guidance is available from a male or female in one of several languages (English – American, British, or Australian), French (Parisian or Quebec), Spanish, German and many others). I’ve been following instructions from “Karen,” the Australian woman, for a while.

The Nuvi does exhibit some odd characteristics when announcing instructions, however. One problem (annoyance, really) is the Nuvi’s inability to parse words and phrases correctly in some situations. The Q.E.W. highway in Ontario, for instance, is rendered as “Q”; Echo Dr. comes out as “Echo Doctor,” Simcoe St. is rendered as Simcoe Saint, while at other times the “St.” is properly vocalized as Street. And sometimes “expressway” is pronounced as “exp,” while further down the road it becomes, surprise, “expressway!” Any French word is totally mangled when the unit is set to “English”, (but I suppose French speakers are used to that).

There are many of these glitches, which really should be fixed, but continue with each update. Garmin doesn’t seem interested in hearing about them, either. I’ve tried.

Furthermore, those living in Canada near the border with the U.S. will occasionally find route calculations that send you across the border and back, en route to a Canadian destination. This is pretty useless, and can be countered by ignoring the route guidance, staying in Canada, and forcing the unit to recalculate as you go (which it will do).

Garmin Nuvi 350 Personal Travel Assistant
Garmin Nuvi 350 Personal Travel Assistant. Click image to enlarge

Finally, the cradle into which you fit the Nuvi and attach to your windshield, while easy to use, often falls off the windshield. Consequently, I tend to manoeuvre the unit into a small parcel shelf, and avoid using the rubber suction cup altogether. (note: Autos contributor Murray Jackson suggests that, “This problem can be completely eliminated by wiping the suction cup and windshield with an alcohol wipe or moist towelette before mounting. My Nuvi has never fallen off, after this treatment” Thanks, Murray!).

Speaking of updates, if you register your device, Garmin will email you when updates are available. This is a simple process of connecting your Nuvi to your computer with a USB cable (supplied), and downloading the update from the Garmin website.

Even with its shortcomings, the Nuvi 350 is a huge resource for the traveller; its plusses far outweigh the minuses. In the vast majority of cases, your destination is available, and a route to it can be calculated. When navigating through an unfamiliar city, or heading to an address with which you are not familiar, the Nuvi is great to have on board. It’s almost as functional as a factory system that’s permanently installed in a vehicle, but the screen is smaller.

However, while driving at night in rural California, and fast running out of fuel, the Nuvi did not locate the nearest gas station and was therefore no help in this situation. But neither did the expensive factory system in a colleague’s vehicle that was driving in front of me. Sometimes you just have to be lucky.

The Garmin Nuvi is widely available in retail stores. Online, has a large selection.

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