Frankly, I think I was conned.
While I'm not a GPS-junkie (explained later), my saliva glands were stimulated by the first announcement of the GPSMAP 295. Now THIS is what I've been expecting to see come out of today's technology. And when I first heard Mike was getting a demo unit to evaluate and review during his trip to the Cayman Islands, the little hamster wheel in my head began spinning under military power as I tried to figure a way to relieve him of it after his flight and review. I rationalized that Mike's trip in June, and a reasonable time after that, was all he needed for his evaluation, and I began a campaign to delay and detour the return of the unit to Garmin. A few weeks in Cleveland to get familiar with it, and then plunk it into the AVcar for my upcoming drive to EAA's AirVenture 2000 in Oshkosh. Since my trip required me to find my way through Chicago, and then into the northern suburbs for a RON and visit with my nephew and his family before finally arriving in Oshkosh, I pleaded my case to use this nifty little GPS and try out its ground-tracking features. Good plan, -bob-!
What I didn't count on was Mike's love affair with the 295 and his total reluctance to part with it. Upping the ante, I even offered to write a sidebar to his review, on the ground-based features, if I could just pleeeeeeeease drive it to Oshkosh. Mike finally admitted he wanted more data and planned to fly it to OSH himself. Sigh. I chalked up a loss, and prepared for the AirVenture experience.
My arrival in Oshkosh was uneventful. As I settled in for the task of helping provide AVweb's readers with our daily coverage, I stopped by Mike's workstation in the AVweb "War Room" to find him polishing his 295 review. His little half smile was spiced with "By the way Bob, I've added a note for our readers to expect your ground-review very soon." Huh? It was then I noticed my 295 demo unit sitting next to my laptop. Mike told me to drive it home and write my sidebar as I had promised.
Yeah, I was conned, but I had a 295 in my hot little hands, and it was mine to play with!
What you have to understand is that my idea of cutting-edge navigation is RNAV behind a KNS-80. After selling my beloved (2 VOR) Cessna Cutlass back in the late '80s, I went back to renting, in a variety of airplanes. A few in my stable of favorites were LORAN-equipped, a few had the KNS-80. Each of the LORAN-equipped aircraft had different units, none seemed similar in function, and frankly, I never bothered to learn how to use them. A friend of mine was a real RNAV junkie, had written a lovely computer program for RNAV calculations, and tutored me in the art of area navigation. I was hooked. It was all I needed and while GPS was interesting, I could do just fine with my KNS-80, thank you. Then came the GPSMAP 295.
Mike made several points about the 295's ease of operation and how most pilots would find using it a snap. Well, that's fine for those who have actually used a GPS before, but I just sat there looking at all the pretty buttons. I began to wonder about Mike's statements. I plodded on and was scrolling through the 295's pages, but still wasn't sure what I was doing. Like Mike, my first test of new hardware or software is what I can do without even a peek at the books. I could make it do things, but I clearly needed some help. The Oshkosh beat doesn't leave a lot of spare time, but a couple sessions of sitting with the documentation and I was doing a lot better.
Bob's nit #1: Like Mike discussed in his review, Garmin's documentation assumes some familiarity with using a GPS and for a real virgin like myself, it just didn't give me the hand-holding I was hoping for.
Okay, let's begin with my personal evaluation, looking at some of the things I look for in new hardware.
First off, and Bob's nit #2 is the battery compartment. Garmin (and Mike) are very clear that the batteries must be inserted correctly or the unit may be damaged. There are warnings in the box, and the battery compartment has a vivid yellow warning sticker. But the design of the compartment is counterintuitive to anyone who has ever owned a battery-operated device. The normal drill is to insert a battery base on a spring, and the top to the metal contact. Easy stuff, almost an industry standard. The 295 does not follow that and some batteries are installed "normally," and some are inserted opposite to what you might think. In Garmin's defense, the warnings are clear, and the compartment is marked with "+" and "-" for each cell, but I'd still prefer a more standard-looking arrangement.
The next thing I investigated was Garmin's web site. Yep, I wanted to see what an Internet user could find for himself, online. I found Garmin's Web site easy to navigate and, in a few seconds, I found their support page for the 295. A quick read found that I was one version update behind in the 295's operating software. The revision history was complete and informative, detailing what was done and making it easy to decide if I wanted to update.
Well, there was nothing earth-shattering in the newest revision, but for test purposes, I decided I wanted to update my unit. The download was quick and painless, and Garmin does give excellent instructions on what to do. I hooked up the interface cable, followed the step-by-step instructions and before I knew it, I was done! It simply couldn't be easier!
Again, this process is also straightforward, and well-done. Garmin includes step-by-step instructions for the database update that almost take longer to read than it is to actually do the update. Plug the interface into your computer and the 295, insert the first floppy and run the updater. It goes quickly and the 295 verifies that it is "Loading." In seconds, you are prompted for the second disk, and the update finishes with the 295 rebooting itself and the startup screen shows the new database in place.
Garmin includes a neat little interface cable with the 295. It just plugs in to the 295, is "keyed" to fit only one way, and the other end goes to your computer or laptop's serial port. Bang bang. The software take all the headaches out of the data exchange. The connections are sensed, and all the computer "negotiations" are handled automatically. Very nice and will be appreciated by new and experienced computer users alike. Well done!
are four "terrestrial" CD databases available for the 295:
For this review, I only tried the U.S. Roads & Recreation ($117 list) and the MetroGuide USA ($175 list) CDs. The Roads database comes on a single CD, the MetroGuide database is on two CDs: Eastern and Western U.S. Installation is quick and painless. The install program took care of all the details. Both databases share a single client program that is easy to use. Once both databases are installed, the user simply uses a pull-down menu to select the desired database to use. As you work, the software will prompt you to insert the proper CD for what you wish to do.
NOTE: My desktop computer is stuffed with gigabytes to burn. For my own use, I'd like to be able to store the database details from the CD on my hard drive to eliminate disk-swapping, especially when I flip between databases, or when schmoozing around the East and West database borders. Not something everyone would want to do, and certainly not possible on my (or most) laptops, but it would be nice to have that as an option.
Like the GPSMAP 295, I found the MapSource printed documentation somewhat less than extensive. But the program is intuitive, easy to use, and has a good online help function.
I guess I was a little disappointed that this is not "trip planning" software. I had visions of plugging in departure and destination, clicking a button, and finding my route all planned out for me. Don't expect this much capability. What you can do however is look over your intended route and plan your own details. There are many levels of zoom available, so it's just a matter of looking at the "big picture," then zooming in to see more specific details for planning your route. The "ruler" function allows you to map different routes and see actual distances.
MapSource does not "follow" roads in planning. As you plan your route, it will draw a straight line between the waypoints you choose. In the example at right, I chose to use U.S. 45 out of Oshkosh to Route 151 in North Fond du Lac and got a straight-line routing. Using this will work fine, though once loaded in the 295, you'll see the RMI showing you "off course." You can defeat this "problem" by selecting several waypoints along the route that follow the roads more closely. The downside to this is that the 295 will warn you as you approach each of these sub-waypoints. Personally, I prefer to live with the straight-line route and put up waypoints at route changes and specific places I want to be reminded of like planned rest stops, eateries, points of interest, etc. The 295 will dutifully show you distances and bearings to the next reminder.
Both the Roads & Recreation (R&R) and the MetroGuide contain a lot of detail, and both will show just about any road or street you want to use. The major difference is the amount of information you want, and how much storage room you have to load the data. The R&R database gives all the roadways and is quite useful. What the MetroGuide offers is the same info, but in almost excruciating detail. It adds hotels, restaurants, gas stations, emergency services, and virtually any sort of business available. And a lot of detail about those, including exact addresses, phone, hours, and other available information. I was especially impressed by the fact that it was possible to see street addresses using the MetroGuide. This came in handy more than once when trying to find a specific block on very long streets. When the range of addresses runs from 1000 through 15000, for example, it was easy to pin down an area or intersection near 7483.
Right out of the box, the GPSMAP 295 has a great deal of land info. Major routes like Interstate highways, U.S. Routes, State Routes, and city info are included in the Jeppesen database.For rough ground nav, there's enough to get a fix on where you are, and where you are going..If you want to use the MapSource software, you'll need the optional memory chip to load the extra data into your 295. The chips are available in 8 meg ($100 list) and 16 meg ($150 list) sizes. To be honest, I wouldn't even consider the 8 meg chip. Years of computer geekery have taught me to go for the max, and I've never kicked myself for having too much storage or memory. And, my OSH-CLE (one day's drive) trip couldn't have been done with the 8 meg chip, without stopping to load new maps.
So, what's the catch, you ask? The difference is how much data you need/want to load in your 295, and how much area you need to cover. An area covering the greater Cleveland/Akron are in Ohio requires 472K of GPS storage space using the R&R database. The same general area using the MetroGuide data needs 7.3 megabytes. Quite a difference! But the there is a lot more detail in the MetroGuide maps.
Which to use? It all depends on your mission. I was able to load the area maps for my trip from OSH to Cleveland into the 16 meg memory chip in the 295, using the Roads & Recreation database. I could only squeeze in Cleveland and Northwestern Ohio using the MetroGuide data. How much detail do you want, and how much area do you want to cover? Is your mission long trips where you'd want a lot of route detail, but don't need all the local details? R&R may be your best bet. Want to know where the nearest hotels, restaurants, gas stations, etc. are? You want the MetroGuide. Make a decision based on mission and storage, but having both databases is a viable option for those with a variety of needs, and don't mind spending the extra money. The 295 will let you de-clutter the displayed info for clarity like using the R&R maps so using the MetroGuide maps you can filter out details and have a "cleaner" display for long trips but you'll still pay the penalty of filling up the storage chip faster.
As Mike pointed out, it is indeed a little chunky, and physically a lot different from your everyday portable GPS. In the car though, this design makes more sense and works a lot better than the conventional handheld. Its more compact configuration lends itself to auto dashboards, consoles, or in my case, the steering column.
The clever and compact glareshield/dashboard mount is nice, has several adjustments available, and should work in most applications. My personal preference leans away from the semi-permanent mounting option this system affords. I'm really not fond of the idea in my application and I use this mount as a little stand to sit the 295 on my desk. Nice for when I plug it into my computer for updates, to configure the MapSource software, or just play. It's also a cute item to have on display...
In the car, I couldn't find the perfect spot to mount the 295 using the supplied mount. I was looking for the right balance of accessibility and line-of-sight. What I finally settled on was on top of the steering column, right in front of the speedometer, and flat-mounted without the stand. Using a small strip of Velcro directly on the bottom of the unit, and a larger mating piece on the steering column, I found the 295 would sit quietly, hold on during sharp turns, and mount and dismount easily. This also put it "in my scan" without covering a significant area of the car's instruments. It was also easy to reach to change pages, zoom, etc.
While trying out different locations for the mounting, I found that I could use some positions and still use the little antenna. Certainly top-of-dash lends itself to this, as do several other locations where the antenna can see the sky. Unfortunately, my location of choice hid the antenna under the top lip of the dashboard, so I need to use the external antenna. Except for the excess wire hanging down, this works very well. I stick the antenna behind the rearview mirror and it stays out of (my) sight. Yeah, this works.
One word of caution though. If you use Velcro to attach the unit in this manner, but use either the dashboard or yoke mount as well, you'll need to be careful as to where you stick the Velcro to the unit. The little cradles the mounts use fit snugly and won't fit properly over the Velcro. Placing the Velcro pieces while the 295 sits in its cradle makes this easy.
AirVenture 2000 was well under way before I finally got a chance to try it outside of the hotel. My playing and familiarization had eaten one set of batteries, so I loaded her up with fresh energy and ventured out to the air show. We were staying across the street from Wittman Field, and the painfully long walk to the show was made easier by having a few golf carts available to use for trek. I signed out a cart, gathered up the 295 and accessories, my camera, and other useful junque, and made tracks.
Taking the 295 in the cart made for an amusing show for the guys in the gate shack where the carts were parked. I puzzled and struggled to find the perfect mounting spot for the GPS. The yoke mount clamped right on the steering column of the cart, but was a little hard to get a good angle to view. I finally settled on a "dash-mount" using the yoke mount to clamp the 295 to the golf ball tray on the cart. Yes folks, that is a very versatile mount!
Many folks visiting AirVenture were amused as well, seeing a GPS-equipped golf cart tooling around the show grounds. Smiles abounded as I rode around and sharp-eyed folks spotted me. Stopping to chat with several folks who were curious about "what's up with that?", and more often the 295 itself, added substance to Mike's claim that folks familiar with GPS would find it intuitive. Every one of them picked it up and were stepping through the pages and functions very quickly while quietly ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the display and features.
Loading the maps I wanted to use was a snap, once I got the hang of it. Using the R&R database, I attempted to load most of Wisconsin, Illinois, Northern Indiana, and Ohio into the 295. A bit too much. But with a little care in selecting the areas to load and watching the total space required, I was able to trim down the size to fit, and still cover my entire route. The 295 dutifully showed me where I was as I motored on home. It showed me the exits (even the ramps!), the highways being crossed, and all sorts of details including the next rest stop. Very cool.
And, yes, you can find the same block info, and the same detail as shown in the MapSource program, but you can do more than that! Using the MetroGuide data, let's say you want to find someplace to get that needed pizza fix. You hear Antonio's is good, but you're not sure how far it is. Simply hit the 295's "NRST" function, select the "POI" (Points of Interest) tab, look for "Food and drink," then look for "Italian" restaurants. You'll get a list, and selecting Antonio's from the list gives a nice display of needed info. You can then enter it as a waypoint and locate it on the map display.
It wasn't until I was home and settled down the "Oshkosh aftermath" before I was able to get more involved with the 295 and its features. Planning trips around town was fun and the 295 kept me aware of where I was and where I needed to turn next. You have the option of picking and planning routes using your computer and the MapSource Software, or you can sit down with the 295 and plan right on the unit itself. The latter is more tedious, using the cursor buttons instead of a mouse, but can be done. It will track your progress, beep to warn you of upcoming waypoints, and show you how far before your next point/turn.
What I really love about this is when I'm in an unfamiliar or semi-familiar area. Without a route plan in place, I can follow my progress and actually see where I am in relation to a street or intersection. If I want Park Drive off of Smith Road, I can see that Park is the third street ahead to my right. If you've ever been looking for a street but not quite sure where it is ahead, you know what I mean. No need to slow down at each side street and hunt for the sign, you know when it's the next turn!
And you knew I'd have a problem, right? Well, I do. To editorialize a bit, driving is not like flying. You simply don't have the luxury (if you will) to play with gadgets and pay attention to the road at the same time. A second or two to change pages, views, etc., in the cockpit is easy enough to manage, but behind the wheel, those seconds of inattention can kill. If you have a passenger to do the playing, fine. But in "single-pilot" driving, it's best to set your routing, set your page, and set your zoom before leaving the parking lot. Also recommended is placing the unit on the dashboard directly in your line of vision where only a quick and very small shift of vision is needed. Mounting the 295 on the floor of your console may be convenient, but bad things can happen while your head is down.
I mentioned some nits like the battery compartment and documentation. But that's what they are, just nits.
The ground-based functions of the Garmin GPSMAP 295 are really nifty and can come in very handy. Take it on a motor trip and find your way through new territories. The business or pleasure aircraft owner will find it nice to take into that rental or airport car and find a warm bed, hot meal, or local attraction. But as explained above, caution must be exercised using the 295 in a car.
The ground functions of the 295 simply aren't powerful enough to make it an economical, or even viable, choice for ground-only operations. There are more sophisticated and useful trip-planning software and devices on the market. But when Garmin took the revolutionary GPSMAP 295 and added the ground-mapping functions to it, they created a certain winner! For those who want the top-of-the-line handheld GPS for their flying adventures, the 295 is an excellent choice. For those buyers who would also like some decent ground-based functionality, the 295 is a flat-out bargain.
Other AVweb product reviews that you may find useful in choosing which handheld GPS to buy: