The enhanced navigational capabilities of the latest smartphones have started to give dedicated automotive GPS units some serious competition. But for motorcycle use, these special phone models still have several weaknesses. They’re not waterproof, vibration resistant or glove friendly, and using them costs money, particularly for premium A-GPS or GPS network services. Meanwhile you can access the Global Positioning Satellite system for free using a waterproof, motorcycle-specific GPS unit.
Garmin is still at the top of the GPS heap when it comes to navigation and routing software, points-of-interest databases and features, which are supremely functional yet so numerous in its latest zumo 350LM you’ll just have to trust me on this. The 350LM improves upon its 660 predecessor in several notable ways, not the least of which is free lifetime map updates. Firmware updates for Garmin units have always been free, but in the past you had to pay a hefty fee for map updates. Although both the 350LM and 660LM are waterproof down to 1 meter underwater and have fuel- and UV ray-resistant cases, the 350LM also breaks away from the 660’s boxy, hard plastic shell and gets a rugged black hard rubber case with a more rounded shape, similar to the original zumo 550.
The zumo 350LM still has a large 4.3-inch touchscreen, but it’s easier to read in sunlight now and the display is even more glove friendly. Most importantly to me, Garmin has simplified the quick-release, RAM ball-compatible motorcycle mount by doing away with the tangled mess of accessory connections that were hardwired into the zumo 660’s, leaving just the DC power cable on the mount—and even that can be removed and the unit run standalone on its rechargeable battery. Battery life is up to 7 hours from 5 now, though it’s a non-removable lithium-ion unit vs. the 660’s removable one. An external headset jack, mini USB port and micro SD card slot are on the body of the 350LM, and its Bluetooth connectivity is compatible with all of the latest helmet headsets, so you can listen to voice direction prompts with a wired or wireless headset instead of the built-in external speaker.
GPS reception is also improved compared to the 660—the 350LM is usually even able to get a signal indoors as long as it’s near a window—and routing calculations and the map refresh speed are much faster. I even like what the 350LM does not have, namely Bluetooth cell-phone connectivity, an MP3/audiobook player and picture viewer, all of which have been rendered redundant by the capabilities of smartphones and newer multi-connection Bluetooth helmet headsets. If you want those things and/or satellite radio and traffic information, stick with the zumo 660LM or 665LM.
The $699.95 retail price of the Garmin zumo 350LM includes both a mini USB-to-USB computer/charging cable and mini-USB to accessory outlet (cigarette) charger, as well as everything you need to mount it to a handlebar or car windshield, so you can use it both places. Make sure that you download and install the latest firmware upgrades before you use it. Several apps like a world travel clock, trip planner and calculator are built-in, and you can use Garmin’s Base Camp software to plan trips on your computer and load them into the GPS. In short, the zumo 350LM has everything you need and nothing you don’t, and gets you there even more efficiently than the exceptional zumo 660.
For more information: See your dealer, or visit garmin.com
(This Gearlab article was published in the February 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)