What do you get when you yank the phone parts out of the Garmin Nuvifone? The obvious answer is "just a regular Garmin Nuvi." However, that's not exactly the case, as the Garmin Nuvi 295W retains more than a few of its smartphone bits, including a 3-megapixel camera and Wi-Fi connectivity. The Garmin 295W features nearly identical hardware and software as the Nuvifone G60 with a few mostly invisible changes, but is this new device raising the bar for portable navigation devices or simply lowering the bar for a smartphone that we've already judged as mediocre?
Externally, the design is the same. The PND features a black, soft-touch finish that seems oddly impervious to all but the greasiest of fingerprints. The unit measures 4.4 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and features a 3.5-inch, 65,000-color touch screen with a 272x480-pixel resolution, which is a bit on the small side for in-car navigation. Still, the screen is of reasonable brightness with crisp colors and remains legible in all but the most direct sunlight.
Along the unit's top edge are a power/lock button and a headphone jack. Along one of the unit's black chrome-trimmed sides are a volume rocker and a camera button. Along the opposite edge you'll find a microSD card slot, Mini-USB port, and car dock connection point. The back panel of the device is home to the 3MP digital camera (no flash) and a removable cover, behind which you'll find the 295W's removable 1,200mAh lithium ion battery.
Holding the Power/Lock button powers the phone on or off, depending on its current state. Once powered up, pressing this button puts the 295W to sleep. Tapping the same button again brings the user to a lock screen, where a lock icon must be double-tapped to reawaken the phone.
The Nuvi 295W uses a version of the Garmin Nuvifone's "Breeze UI" interface with the obvious exception of the system's functionality. The home screen features a two-tiered design with two-thirds of the screen being dedicated to two large circular icons for selecting a destination and viewing the map. Along the bottom edge (or right edge, depending on orientation) of the screen is a scrollable list of icons for secondary functions such as Web browser, e-mail, music player, or camera.
The destination and map screen should be immediately familiar to anyone who's ever held a Garmin Nuvi-branded PND in the last decade. The unit's menus and maps feature bright, colorful icons and the maps, while fairly basic-looking, are crisply rendered and easy to understand at a glance. The unit's resistive touch screen doesn't allow for any multitouch gesturing such as pinch-to-zoom, so the map interface relies on buttons for all of its zooming needs.
Like the G60 that came before, the 295W features a built-in accelerometer and an interface that can be viewed in portrait or landscape orientation; the former being great for handheld navigation and the latter best used in the car. We didn't experience any of the accelerometer fickleness that was present with the G60. However, the change from portrait to landscape orientation did seem to take a beat longer than we were accustomed.
The onscreen keyboard, which is used for destination entry and in the 295W's various applications, also features portrait and landscape orientations. Landscape is the easiest to use, thanks to its more generous key spacing and QWERTY layout. Garmin's intuitive autocomplete function learns words that you frequently input and suggests them when it recognizes the first few letters being input. A dedicated autocomplete button allows users to select the suggested word and helps in quickly inputting information. However, we found that our inputs were slowed considerably when using the unit in its portrait orientation because of a combination of the onscreen keyboard being more cramped when in this orientation and, oddly, rearranged in an awkward alphabetical layout instead of the more familiar QWERTY.
Upon unboxing the Garmin Nuvi 295W, users will find the portable navigation device and its lithium ion battery, a suction-cup mount cradle, an adhesive dashboard disc, a 12-volt Mini-USB power cable, and a Mini-USB sync cable along with the usual assortment of Quick Start guides and user manuals.
Under the hood, the 295W features nearly identical hardware to the Nuviphone G60 with the obvious exception of its lack of a cellular antenna and SIM card slot. The 295W retains its Wi-Fi antenna and can connect too the Internet to access data to fuel its various auxiliary functions. Unfortunately, we had a hard time getting the device to reliably connect to public hotmspots that required a log-in during testing, yet our WEP secured home network was accessed quickly and easily. Your mileage may vary.