Though traffic has always been billed as a premium, subscription-based feature on navigation systems, the latter half of 2008 went a long way in demolishing that reputation. Garmin and Navigon both announced affordable GPS systems with free lifetime traffic, and even the budget outfit Mio got in the game by offering a solid year of free traffic with its units.
At $299, Garmin’s Nuvi 265WT is among the cheapest in its line of free-traffic-equipped navigation systems, below the entire 7-series, which has more features, yet above the ordinary Nuvi 265T, which has a smaller 3.5-inch screen (the “W” in the 265WT model number denotes a 4.3-inch widescreen). We found that this mix of price, features, and Garmin’s typical quality makes it one of the best values around today.
Features and Design
What does $299 buy you? The Nuvi 265WT includes a number of features above and beyond your basic run-of-the-mill navigator. For starters, it has text-to-speech capabilities for reading off street names as you drive rather than ambiguous directions (“Turn left on Powell Avenue,” rather than “Turn left,” for instance). It will also link up your cell phone to act as a Bluetooth speakerphone, display photos loaded onto it with an included USB cable, and of course, deliver real-time traffic updates. The box includes the unit itself, a standard charger with an exceptionally thick cable that doubles as the traffic antenna, a suction cup mount, USB cable, adhesive disc for dash mounting, and a manual.
The navigator itself is about as slim as you would expect for a modern GPS (under an inch thick) and extremely lightweight. Nothing about the charcoal grey plastic body really screams high end, and Mio builds a sleeker unit for the price, but it’s functional. The left-hand side has an SD card reader, the back has a standard mini-USB connector offset to the right (so as not to interfere with the mount) and the top has a double-duty power/lock switch.
Garmin Nuvi 265WT
As we learned with Nextar’s dismal I4-BC, a good mount can make or break the rest of a nav system. After all, when your GPS flops off the window at 70mph, or requires two hands to put up or remove, it’s tempting to banish it to glove box hell and forget about it all together, making it just about useless.
Garmin’s mount for the Nuvi 265T is among the best we’ve ever used. Similar to other quality mounts from TomTom and Mio, Garmin keeps the design minimal but functional: It’s just a suction cup and a smooth, flexible ball joint. The clip that attaches to the GPS itself requires some getting used to at first, but after few blind fumbles it’s easy to master taking it up and down in a second. And because it grips from both the top and the bottom, it latches on firmly with no wobble or play. A firm plastic lever that locks the suction cup down also gives it nearly infallible grip on window glass. Ours stayed up for well over a month – in winter – without ever falling.
Garmin Nuvi 265WT Mount
Free Traffic, with a Catch?
As PCMag pointed out when Garmin first announced its free traffic program, the free traffic reports that come with the Nuvi 265WT do come with strings attached: ads. Though the company’s failure to mention this in the original press release (or in the page advertising it) seems somewhat shifty, we couldn’t find all that much not to like in the actual implementation of it on the device. You’ll see discrete, text-based ads at the bottom of the traffic page, and Garmin has added an “advertisements” section to the menu that allows you to click on any of the advertisers and see nearby locations. That’s it. No gigantic full-screen ads on startup, flashing banners, or anything cluttering up the screen while driving. While other sources do report infrequent instances of ads on the map when parked or stopped, we didn’t encounter them once. Garmin should do a better job explaining the ads, and allow owners to opt out for a paid version if they choose, but the way they have been worked into the existing device is completely tolerable, and we would gladly take the free traffic service in exchange for the barely existent ads.
Testing and Usage
Garmin’s tried-and-true interface, which hasn’t changed much for this model, offers an excellent blend of clean, attractive map rendering, and an intuitive menu system. Upon boot up, you’ll be hit in the face with two giant buttons: “Where to?” and “View map.” As you might imagine, you can plug in a destination with one, and see where you are with the other. Putting these most commonly needed functions front and center highlights how much thought has gone into make the Nuvi 265WT as easy to use as possible.
Though not quite as impressive as Navigon’s gorgeous 3D 8100T, the Nuvi 265WT displays a smoothly drawn and easy-to-understand lay of the land. Garmin also allows you to easily customize the view (like display a pickup truck instead of a car for the vehicle icon, or change colors) from a settings panel, which includes previews of changes, so you can check out each option quickly before changing. Zooming out will even display color topographic data, so you can anticipate terrain changes (like mountain crossings and long stretches of desert) on long drives.
Searching among the Nuvi’s 6 million points of interest or entering address remains quite simple thanks to the responsive touch-screen on the unit and painless text entry system that comes up without any fuss, but we did have some irks. Unlike TomTom’s rather convenient system of calling recently entered destinations up to the top of a list in real time as you enter letters, Garmin stores them in a folder you have to click on as a replacement for search altogether, and scroll to find it. So if you entered your friend’s house address last year, there’s no way you’re finding it again. Search can also be dreadfully slow, and the unit never seems to announce it has stopped looking, meaning it’s up to you to cut your losses and move on (or consult a phone book) when the hourglass keeps perpetually turning.
Large print and other data (speed, arrival time, etc.) make the system a reliable and trouble-free copilot, but we wish there were more flexibility in choosing what’s displayed. Other GPS systems might allow you to swap the estimated time of arrival for the distance to go on the main screen, but on this unit, they’re locked in. On the good side, the unit’s text-to-voice engine surprised us with its accuracy and natural sound. Unlike many other systems, it rarely pronounced names in a hilariously awkward way, and even when it did stumble, it was always evident what it was trying to say when we spotted the street in question.
Bluetooth speakerphones in GPS units often feel like an obvious afterthought from manufacturers who decide to pop a Bluetooth chip in and slap it on the feature list, but Garmin’s is one of the first we would seriously consider using all the time. Connecting it to a phone was a cinch, it worked on the first dial, and sound quality surprised us on both the incoming and outgoing end, with callers telling us that it sounded as good or better than a real standalone model we had previously tested.
As with nearly any GPS these days, accuracy and tracking are spot on, and the unit locks on to your current location without delay. You can expect a near instant fix if you’re turning it on in the same place you turned it off, or a delay of roughly 20 seconds if you’ve moved around a bit in between uses. In either case, by the time you’re ready to step on the gas, the Nuvi is ready to tell you where to go.
The 265WT does an excellent job of quickly picking up traffic signals, and since the antenna is smartly integrated into the charger cable, you never have to think twice about whether you’ll be needing it or not. It’s just there. Unlike some other traffic-equipped unit’s we’ve used, the 265WT was also quick enough to reroute us when traffic actually got backed up, automatically selecting a highway exit prior to the ideal one in order to get us out of jam. You’ll need to trust the unit to take care of you automatically, though, because trying to figure out where traffic is ahead of time by inspecting its confusing traffic maps will waste more time than idling in a mess of 16-wheelers.
Having mounted more than few ultra-high-end GPS units in our vehicles only to find that only half the features really made any sense to use on a day-to-day basis, Garmin’s Nuvi 265WT represents the very best that would be left standing after we trimmed the fat. You won’t find oddities like half-baked media players, voice destination entry, or backup cameras that other companies have tried to shoehorn into top-shelf units, but you will find all the basics, backed up by a sprinkling of useful premium features like Bluetooth support, accurate text-to-speech, and free real-time traffic, all of which actually work as intended. Garmin’s use of unobtrusive ads to support the free traffic feature, though not disclosed very well, has also helped keep the price down to a level extremely competitive with even lesser-known rivals, making the Nuvi 265WT one of the best values in GPS out there today.
- Free Lifetime Traffic
- Solid mount
- Highly usable Bluetooth speakerphone
- Quality text-to-speech engine
- Attractive, intuitive interface
- Accurate and quick to find location
- Garmin not forthcoming about built-in ads
- POI searches can be slow
- Somewhat bland styling