Garmin nüvi 350 Personal Travel Assistant/MP3 Player

•GPS receiver with voice prompts •MP3 music and JPEG photo player •Optional travel and language guides •3.5-inch touchscreen •Text-to-speech synthesis •3.875 x 2.875 x 0.875 inches •5 ounces • •800-800-1020
Do you travel light, or do you take it all with you? The Garmin nüvi 350 personal travel assistant/MP3 player ($900) lets you do both. This handheld portable supports GPS satellite navigation and throws in perks like an MP3 player, a JPEG photo organizer, a world clock, and a currency converter. Then, for a few extra bucks, you can add travel and multilingual translation software that will practically transform you into an international man of mystery.

About the size of an iPod and a mere 5 ounces in weight, the compact nüvi is a breeze to operate. Conveniently, the only button is for Power - everything else is controlled by the 3.5-inch (diagonal) LCD touchscreen. Turn it on, and the main menu gives you three choices: Where To (for plotting a route to a known destination or selecting one from the nüvi 350's database of landmarks and businesses), View Map (to navigate your route), and Travel Kit (where all the other goodies are accessed). BBQ cravings? Need to catch some Zs? No worries: restaurants, lodgings, and gas stations are all listed, and the map shows you how to get there. An optional SaversGuide ($50) even lists discounts at participating businesses.

The Garmin nüvi 350 comes with a street map of North America (Europe is also available, though I would have appreciated one for Asia). Maps can be updated by downloads from your PC via a USB connection, so the nüvi 350 never goes out of date.

Navigating the continent is easy. I started by strolling my neighborhood with a zoomed-in map (2D or 3D). Thanks to several of the 24 GPS satellites overhead, it showed every street and my whereabouts as I walked past them, the display updating at every step. I requested driving directions to the Sonesta Beach Resort on Key Biscayne, and the nüvi guided me there with complete mapping as well as voice driving directions with prompts at every turn. Along the way, I could call up a dashboard full of direction, distance, and time information. If I detoured from the route, the nüvi plotted a new route from my current position. Very slick, indeed.

The hotel staff at Sonesta speaks English, but if they'd been Italian, it would have been nessun problema, thanks to the optional Language Guide ($75), which has five bilingual dictionaries and a database of 17,000 words and 20,000 phrases for nine European languages and dialects. Find an appropriate phrase ("Would you like a drink?"), hit the button, and a text-to-speech interface speaks the phrase in the foreign tongue ("Le va di bere qualcosa?"). If I were in Europe and couldn't find an Italian drinking buddy at my hotel, the optional European Travel Guide ($161) contains 100,000 detailed points of interest for 20 countries - including bars. The nüvi is so easy to use that even if I were alcohol-impaired, I could still ask for a taxi in Portuguese - a real-world test I avoided only by my better judgment.

Although it's the least amazing feature of this amazing device, the MP3 player worked like a charm. It holds 700 MB of data plus up to 2 gigabytes of storage with a supplementary SD card (not included). Files transfer easily through a supplied USB cable. Sound quality through the earphone jack was par, and the tiny speaker around back was better than nothing. Unfortunately, the nüvi can't play WMA or AAC files.

Two more quick points: The 320 x 240-pixel color screen looks sharp and was readable even in bright Miami sunlight. And depending on usage, battery life was a reasonable 4 to 8 hours.

Iown a number of Garmin GPS receivers, but the nüvi 350 blows them all away. It's pricey, but it makes navigation absolutely foolproof while letting you carry a few hundred of your favorite songs, and the optional travel software is really outstanding. The Garmin nüvi 350 personal travel assistant/MP3 player is perfect for transatlantic jet setters who take their multitasking seriously. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a plane to catch. And call me Bond ... Ja - oh, never mind.

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