When it comes to most new tech products it seems bigger is better and GPS units are clearly no exception. The Garmin nuvi 50 is a navigation unit that has a large 5in screen and it also boasts now-standard features like lane guidance and junction view. The nuvi 50 is also easy to use thanks to Garmin's well known interface.
With the exception of the stylish nuvi 3790T (the thinnest portable GPS in the world), most of Garmin's GPS units look similar both in hardware design and software interface. Garmin is clearly living by the philosophy "if it's not broken don't fix it" and we tend to agree with them.
The nuvi 50 is no exception. Its straightforward and bland, black design won't win any design awards. The plastic build feels well constructed though and the 5in screen performs well in direct sunlight and is easy to read. It's also responsive to touch when entering destinations, but text does appear a little jagged if you look closely. This isn't a huge issue as your eyes should be on the road most of the time.
The Garmin nuvi 50's user interface is simple and very effective; menu items are accompanied by either large boxes with text or clearly labelled icons, and the map screen is clear and uncluttered. You can now swipe on menu screens to see more icons (instead of having to touch an arrow button), which is a new software feature. Oddly, you need to delve into the main menu to adjust the volume: we would have appreciated a way to do this without having to leave the map screen.
The key navigation features of the nuvi 50 are all excellent — street names at the top of the map are clear, safety alerts include an audible alert and voice warning, and voice guidance is loud. The Garmin nuvi 50 includes an Australian text-to-speech voice that pronounces most street names accurately, while the unit is quick to find a GPS signal, and reroutes swiftly when you take a wrong turn.
Garmin uses WhereIs maps for its nuvi units, and although the nuvi 50 missed a few 'no right turns' during some our test routes, the maps warned of all the known red light cameras we passed during testing. Like most GPS units the nuvi 50 prefers to use main roads rather than faster back streets. It has maps of both Australia and New Zealand preloaded.
Garmin's lane assist and junction view features remain the best we've seen on any GPS unit. The nuvi 50 displays an image of the road and its surroundings, along with road signs identical to those used in the real world. The static image appears on the screen in the lead up to turn offs and is especially useful on busy freeway and motorway junctions, particularly on long trips.
The Garmin nuvi 50 is a basic unit so it lacks Bluetooth for hands-free calling and live traffic updates. Given its low price tag and the fact that these two features aren't huge deal breakers when it comes to GPS features, they aren't really missed. The nuvi 50 also lacks Garmin's "ecoRoute" feature, a function can display a fuel report and choose an economical route. We suspect most users won't miss this feature, but it's ability to keep driving logs may make business users opt for a more expensive model.