When you’re in unfamiliar territory, it’s getting dark, the clouds to the west are looking ominous, cell service is spotty (and isn’t it always, when you need it most?) and you just want to find a hot meal and a soft pillow, a GPS starts looking extremely appealing.
Yet technology marches inexorably forward, and with it prices go up and features get head-scratchingly complex, and at times it feels as though all that whiz-bang has taken a backseat to actual usability. So in many ways, the modest 4.3-inch Garmin zumo 396LMT-S is a bit of fresh air.
Yes, it’s quite feature-laden, especially for its price ($399.99), nearly half that of its 595LM big brother (read the review here). But for once the whiz-bang delivers what I actually want rather than what a firmware programmer thinks is cool.
Installation and initial setup are easy; the 396LMT-S lives a simple, mostly wireless life, so there’s but one power cable to route, with no extraneous USB inputs or jacks, and map and software updates are all done over Wi-Fi so there’s no need to plug into your computer except for GPX file transfers.
Many of the 396LMT-S’s features are the same as those on the pricier 595LM. You get Adventurous Routing, which lets you adjust your route to include hills and curves and avoid highways; rider alerts for things like school zones and sharp curves; Foursquare and TripAdvisor points of interest; quick access to rider-centric locations like gas stations, restaurants and motorcycle dealerships; free live traffic and weather; Bluetooth connection to your phone and communication system for calls, texts and music (either stored on the phone or via Pandora); maintenance alerts; Easy Route Shaping for simple route alterations on-the-fly; and Garmin Real Directions, which uses landmarks for guidance (e.g., “Turn right after the red building”). It even has an Automatic Incident Notification feature that sends a text to a predetermined contact in the event the unit senses a “sudden” stop.
The best whiz-bang feature of the bunch is the newly simple route sharing. With just a few buttons, the 396LMT-S will share a GPX route with other current-model zumos either via Bluetooth or through the Smartphone Link app, which is free and necessary if you want to get the most out of your GPS.
The app also serves as the bridge between your phone and the GPS, so you can search for locations on the phone and with one button send it to your GPS or share it with a friend–with or without a preset message (“Meet me at: Little Thai Fine Dining”)–via text or email.
The 396LMT-S isn’t perfect–the screen could be brighter and please, Garmin, give us an “unpaved” Adventurous Routing option–but its functionality is the best yet and the price, $100 less than last year’s model, is tough to beat.
For more information, see your dealer or visit garmin.com.