When Garmin introduced its then top-of-the-line gray-scale GPSMap 195 moving map GPS receiver back in 1996, it was an immediate sensation. In fact, Garmin sold out of production a couple of times before it could catch up to the demand, and the unit remained the company's top seller until the color 295 hit the market a couple of years ago. Even with the advent of color, the 195 continued selling well.
But now that Garmin's latest handheld, the gray-scale GPSMap 196, has hit the stores, the 195's reign is over.
Based on a new-to-aviation hardware platform, the 196 features lightning-fast processing, a good-sized and easy-to-look-at display and the best navigation and utility software in the industry. To top it off, the unit does triple duty. In addition to its aviation navigator functions, the 196 is an excellent automotive navigator, featuring turn-by-turn driving directions for sure and swift guidance from the airport to the final destination, be it the hotel or a friend's getaway cottage. Additionally, the 196 serves as an able marine navigator, so pilots who boat can find their way on the water, as well.
The key to the 196's magic is its new processor. On previous handhelds, panning, that is, using the cursor arrow to look down the airway a ways, was a somewhat tedious affair. No more. Panning on the 196 is fast and furious, with barely a flicker before the redrawn map bangs up onto the screen.
The hardware is classic Garmin. The buttons are nicely-and logically-laid out, and the case is tough and relatively compact-it'll fit snugly between the horns of just about any yoke. The 3.8-inch diagonal screen displays 12 shades of gray and offers plenty of contrast, even under very brightly lit conditions.
Likewise, the software is what you've come to expect from Garmin, and then some. Like previous offerings from the Olathe, Kansas-based avionics maker, the 196 features clear and easy-to-interpret symbology, highly functional and easily customizable layouts and utilities, and a few brand-new features.
Most noticeable is the "panel" display, which shows a miniature panel displaying a host of GPS-derived data, including groundspeed, vertical speed, GPS altitude and rate of turn information, surrounding a virtual HSI display, complete with a vertical navigation (VNAV) bar. The VNAV bar-it's not, repeat after me, a glideslope-can be used for timing the descent segment of flight, or, in an emergency, to descend under partial-panel conditions at a steady rate. On Flying's demo flight with the 196 (I've since flown the unit for more than a dozen hours), the Garmin representative demonstrated passable partial-panel flying with reference solely to the yoke-mounted 196.