Garmin zumo 396LMT-S GPS | Gear Review

The Garmin zumo 396LMT-S mounted on a Yamaha Tracer GT.
The Garmin zumo 396LMT-S mounted on a Yamaha Tracer 900 GT.

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.

Zumo 396LMT-S what's in the box
What’s in the box: a simple power cable that connects to the battery, a handlebar U-clamp mount and a USB cable for updates.

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.

Read about our adventure on the Three Flags Classic: Mexico to Canada.

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. 

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  1. zumo 396 is obviously made for Mexico or southern USA. In Canada, on cold mornings it won’t start until you take it inside and warm it up. Not to happy with it. I would not recommend it to anybody.

    • That’s going to be the case with any GPS left outside in the cold. Even when plugged in, the internal battery is part of the power circuitry of the unit. Those batteries are lithium-based, which means that the battery has very poor performance in cold weather (which is why you have to bring it in and let it warm up – this allows the battery’s chemistry to start developing sufficient current).

      The solution is to not leave your GPS sitting out in the cold when you’re not riding. It’s not a design flaw of the GPS, it’s a fundamental characteristic of batteries.

  2. Shawn,
    I take exception to the “fundamental characteristic” statement. Interesting solution to the problem, Obviously you do not listen to your customer either in this circumstance or if you have another life then there. The circuit designer should design such that if external power is available then Bypass the battery for functionality and take the excess power to warm and charge the battery. Now would that not solve both problems? Seems like a simple work around for a designer who failed to realize people actually use their Scoots when the temperature drops well below freezing. Where pray tell am i expected to warm my GPS inside when the is no inside to go to, (Yes, I work outside in the winter) At temperatures well below zero F.)

    • and people would pay more for that complexity (and possible size increase) ….why, when simple release of the device to take in at night is such a non-taxing procedure

  3. Does this unit have a quick detach ability? If so, detach it from your bike and keep it somewhere warm. If you are suggesting you go to work and both you and your bike don’t have access to somewhere warm throughout the day (seems improbable, but whatever), then put the unit in an inside pocket. The idea that the manufacturer would go through extensive (and expensive) engineering to “solve” a problem that less than 1% (perhaps less than 0.1%) of their customers are going to encounter is unreasonable. I sure don’t want to pay significantly more for a product that has capabilities i don’t need (and I live in Minnesota, not exactly a tropical paradise). While it WOULD be pretty cool, how many of us really NEED a bulletproof car?

    Just my $0.05….. inflation doncha know.

  4. I have just purchased a 396 unit. I was using it on some back roads, I tried to get it to calculate a track for me and it’s couldn’t find one and shut down. Did this three times. Eventually went back to my stored trip and reset the start from my current position and it worked. Also does anyone know of detailed trail maps I can add for Australian outback?

  5. The unit is rugged and can be quickly removed from the base so that’s a plus. It does have Foursquare (that I never use) but, unlike what is stated in this review, it does not have Trip Advisor. I would like Garmin to actually allow the user to download additional apps into the unit but that option is not available. What you have is what you get. It also will not quickly adapt to the rider deciding to take a different route. It will continually want the rider to turn around so I just ignore it. I also find when taking a different route in a rural area it will sometimes suggest roads that are unpaved and even down right ridiculous. One example is trying to send me down a farmer’s field road. I would ruin my Harley if I decided to follow the directions. Then there is the so called “Adventurous Routing”. It will not find the best roads even if it is set on maximum for curves, avoid highways and hills. I live in an area that has some very nice riding roads but this unit will not point me in the direction of these roads so I continuously have to find them myself. What is even more annoying is if you leave the Adventurous Routing on in a more urban setting. You will never get anywhere as it will consistently send you down useless turns on small roads in suburbs and even through industrial parks full of trucks and debris. Not a great experience so one is left to stop and adjust the settings. Then there is the Media ability. You have to physically choose which media you want to listen to on the phone as the option of choosing is not available on the 396 but is available on the much more expensive Zumo. So, once again, the rider has to pull over, remove his gloves (as a cellphone won’t read the touch of a gloved hand) and then get back on the road. I also find the screen too small. Why didn’t Garmin choose a bigger screen? So, as much as I find the unit useful to get me from point A to point B I find it falls short of it’s advertised features. What I do like is the ability to make and receive calls using my Sena headset. That is a useful feature as is the Tracking ability. I am probably forgetting some other points and am surely not exploiting the full capabilities of this unit but I find it overpriced and over-hyped for what it actually delivers


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