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We bought our Garmin Zumo 550 just after getting married in 2008. We chose this as we have a car and a motorbike and wanted to use it on both vehicles.
I love gadgets, but in this case, all I wanted was a simple sat nav to get us from a to b. However, I understood that my husband, for whom the bike is his only transport, would need something that was durable and waterproof.
The main attraction of this to me is that is can be used on a bike. The packaging says that it is rugged, waterproof and has a sunlight friendly touchscreen display which responds to touch even through gloves. Massive selling points for bikers and I can't fault it on any of these areas. It was dropped from the bike a couple of times - once on the move - and the unit survived intact! (more on this later).
The coverage provided is good - all the more common European countries that might be visited from the UK (France, Italy, Poland etc) are covered in detail, with countries like Hungary and Slovakia getting coverage in most urban areas, countries like Romania and Estonia getting major urban areas, and places like Ukraine and Albania not included (this is a gross simplification, but you get the idea - the further south-east you go, the poorer the coverage). This may now have been updated, but we are still using these settings as we used the sat-nav in the UK only, and I think its been used a couple of times in France.
There are a few nice touches on the interface - at the right time of day the screen will turn from a day map to a night map. I found that this cuts down on glare at night as the display shows darker colours. Also it will name roads on the audio - so instead of saying - 'take the next road to the right' or 'turn onto the B5567', it will say 'take the next right turn onto Channing Road'. I found this especially useful where A and B roads also have names and you want to know if Channing Road is also the B5567!
Now as to when we don't use it anymore - the charging panels at the back of the unit have stopped working. This means that it won't charge on the vehicles anymore and fully charged only has a 2 hour battery life. We also cannot get any audio from it for either vehicle any more. The car unit sucker has failed as well so it will no longer stick to the car windscreen (although this is a more minor and more easily-fixable issue).
When we contacted Garmin, they quoted us £160 for the Zumo to be replaced with a reconditioned unit. At the time it was barely 2 years old. I know it's had a couple of drops from the bike (I think my husband failed to attach it properly as he wasn't going at speed - the first time was at about 20mph and the second time was when stationary) but it should be rugged enough to withstand this possibility. Also, it was not after these incidences that it stopped working - it seemed to be entirely random.
Given the amount that we paid for it (over £400), I'm not happy at the offer of a reconditioned unit for £160. I would rather have this unit repaired for a lower cost. We've needed the money in recent months more than we've needed the sat nav as we rarely go away now, so it's still awaiting replacement.
I'm not saying that the Garmin Zumo is not worth the money - for a biker I would say its one of the best systems around. What I'm concentrating on in this review is to highlight that it may not be as rugged as you might hope, and could fail when it is relatively new. I'm not advising not to buy it, but just wanted to make people aware that things can go wrong with it, and this was our experience. Where the blame for this fault lies - with us or Garmin - I'm not sure.
As many of you are aware I am a bit of a gadget freak, and (as many of you probably don't know) my sense of direction and map reading skills are pretty awful. In the car I have a navigator (the other half) who actually enjoys map reading, so much so that when I use the TomTom she still likes to have a map close to hand 'just in case Jane sends us the wrong way'. Like many people I have come to rely on my sat nav too much.
Being a keen motorcyclist and liking to venture out on longer and longer rides is starting to test my sense of direction, and map reading skills. There is only one way to overcome this and that is sat nav for the Triumph, however, unfortunately I couldn't just strap the TomTom on the handlebars and go.
Most car sat nav systems aren't bike compatible (I say most because you can buy a bike mount for the Garmin 2610 but it has many limitations) so a specific unit is required. Whilst there are loads of sat nav units for cars giving a large range of choice to suit all budgets and tastes, the same cannot be said for bike sat nav units. Basically, there are two to choose from: The TomTom Rider or the Garmin Zumo 550.
The Zumo comes in a box measuring 29 cm x 20 cm x 14 cm with a photograph of the Zumo on it. On the back of the box there is a map of Europe. At first glance you'd be mistaken for thinking it was just 'for show' however, on closer inspection this picture does serve a specific purpose.
Depending on the package purchased (different packages come with different maps) the countries of Europe will be shaded grey. By looking at the countries shaded it is possible to tell what countries the package covers and whether it is urban and rural or just urban areas that are covered. I thought that this was quite clever.
****In the box****
Like all Garmin units the box contains the Zumo itself and a large range of accessories including:
i) A bike mount
ii) A car mount (both sucker mount for the screen and a plastic dash mount)
iii) Carrying bag to protect it
iv) A bike charger
v) A car charger
vi) A USB cable
vii) City Navigator (the mapping software) on DVD
viii) A screw driver
ix) Black covers
x) Set up guides
xi) The users manual on CD
xii)Various stickers and leaflets
In my experience of other sat nav systems ( I refer to the TomTom I received a year or so ago) a lot of the items detailed above would need to be purchased separately and since they are generally quite expensive the cost of the whole package soon escalates quite substantially.
The Zumo gives voice by voice instructions via blue tooth and this is something that is not included in the box, which I find amazing. Whilst blue tooth earpieces can now be bought quite cheaply from Ebay or many other online retailers I am surprised that this crucial part is not supplied by Garmin. If you are thinking of buying one of these then remember that you will need to buy a blue tooth earpiece.
****The Zumo unit****
I think that the unit looks great. It is clear, sleek and simple, just the way it should be. The physical dimensions are 4 cm deep, 12 cm wide and 10 cm high.
The Zumo has a 3.5-inch touch screen (which is larger than a lot of car sat nav displays which is important since it is more difficult to touch a small screen with a gloved hand), and five buttons, of which four are on the left of the screen and one is on the right.
The button on the left of the screen is the on/off button, whereas the four buttons on the right are used to function the unit. This set up is not ideal for left handers (like myself) since you cover the screen with your arm as you are pressing through the functions. In my opinion this is a large design flaw and I would much have preferred to see all the buttons under the screen, or the ability to turn the unit the other way up (like can be done with the DS) for left handers.
The buttons are used to browse through the menus, zoom the map in or out, turning the volume up or down and toggling the trip counter on and off whilst riding. 'Playing' with a sat nav is far more difficult whilst riding than driving a car (since you have to look down on a bike sat nav, whereas in a car the unit is generally at normal eye level so you can keep an eye on what is happening around you) so I generally leave the settings whilst actually moving. The Zumo actually has a warning screen telling the user not to operate the unit whilst riding when it is first turned on.
On the back of the unit there is a single connector that is designed for an external antenna and on the bottom there is the 'plug' to connect the unit to the mount. The USB and SD card slot are hidden behind a plastic cover, which helps keep these connections clean whilst the unit is in use.
When the unit is turned on it generally take around thirty seconds to find all the satellites and pinpoint your location. The thirty second 'find me' time is not particularly fast and comparable to other sat nav units.
When the unit has booted, a main menu screen greets you, with only four icons on it: two large, and two small. The large ones are the 'Where to?' And 'View map' buttons, and the other two are for the MP3 player control menu and setting the screen configuration.
****Memory and Software****
The Zumo has a 1.9GB hard disc, of which 334MB is free for additional maps, MP3 files or photos (although why anyone would want to keep photos on their sat nav is beyond me).
The Zumo comes with City Navigator Europe V9. This contains full NAVTEQ maps of Western Europe as well as a few Eastern European Countries.
****Mounting the Zumo to the bike****
The installation process involves securing the bike mount to the handlebars using the U shaped bracket and two bolts (supplied in the box). This is a very simple operation that took me about ten minutes.
One thing I should point out is that the Zumo did not come with any padding or covering to wrap around the handlebars to stop the mount scratching them. I suppose almost anything can be used, although I opted for thick electrical tape and it works a treat. I know that it is going to leave a sticky residue that is going to be a nightmare to clean off when I get rid of the bike but until that time I shall not worry about it.
Once the mount was attached I gave it a 'wiggle' to ensure it was fixed properly and to see how much play was in it, after all if I was going to be fixing an expensive bit of equipment to it I wanted to make sure it was not going to fall off whilst riding.
I was pleasantly surprised since it was on very, very securely. The Zumo unit is attached using two pins at the bottom, and a further two pins at the top, hence making it very secure. In addition, there is a small screw at the top of the mount, which can be screwed down to hold the unit even tighter for those riders that are really paranoid (the screw driver supplied in the box is used for this and since it can be clipped to a key ring it is very portable). There is no way that this is going to fall off, when not at road legal speeds anyway.
****Using the Zumo****
Entering a destination is a little different than on other sat nav systems. Garmin has developed a user interface that is easy for motorcyclists to use, even when wearing thick gloves. It is this feature that is the beauty of the Zumo and one of the reasons why it is the best sat nav unit currently available for bikers.
The interface consists of a scrolling screen, rather than the conventional QWERTY keyboard. Basically, there are five letter icons on the top of the screen. Underneath these there is a scroll bar that is used to scroll through the alphabet. As you go the 5five current letters are displayed in the five icons at the top of the screen. To select the letter simple tap the icon. The icons are big so this can be used with gloved hands.
Like other sat nav systems the Zumo will try and predict the address as you tap in the letters by comparing what you are typing against its own database of places.
I found the scrolling interface longer to get used to than the QWERTY keyboard but it was just a matter of actually using it. If you don't like the scrolling interface, or can't get used to it then there is the option to revert back to the QWERTY keyboard, although this is difficult to use with gloved hands and defeats the whole objective of the new technology interface.
The display is neat, clear and concise, just as it should be. It is the 'normal' Garmin display found on all of their sat nav models and whilst some may not prefer it to that of the TomTom I actually like it and think it is clearer. At the end of the day it is down to personal preference since the actual functionality of all sat nav units is the same.
One thing I do like about the Garmin displays is the text bar at the top of the screen that clearly gives the name of the street you are on. There is no hunting for this information and it is just 'in your face' as it should be.
One negative I have found is that the movement of the screen is a lot more jerky than that of my TomTom. The display is just not as smooth. I have heard that this is common to all Garmin units and whilst it does not make the Zumo, or any other Garmin for that matter, any less useful than other sat navs it is an annoyance and I can't understand why Garmin haven't sorted this problem out.
The box states that the battery will last for four hours. I have not tested this to the full, but I have used it for just under three and a half hours solid and didn't encounter any problems. I can't see Garmin's claim being that far out.
If the battery does go flat then it is easy to replace it with a new one, if you can't get to a charger. Simply unscrew the back, pull the battery out and put a different one in. This is much easier than other sat nav units whereby battery replacement is impractical (unless absolutely necessary) as soldering is required.
The Zumo is a complete sat nav package with some additional fesatures including:
Some of the voices have text-to-speech capabilities. I think is a great feature, especially on a bike where it would be dangerous to look down (and take your eyes off the road to read the unit), since the street names are spoken. It should be noted that not all voices on the Zumo can be used in this way. If you choose a voice that can't be used like this then the street names aren't spoken although the 'turn right' etc will be.
ii) MP3 capabilities
The Zumo has additional memory that can store MP3s that can be played whilst you are riding. Again this is a nice feature if you like listening to music whilst riding. This is of no use to me since I like to listen to the engine, the wind noise and the tone of the exhaust when riding, after all these sounds are what biking is all about.
The Zumo can also be used to store photos. Personally, I think that this is a pointless feature, although I am sure there are other users out there that think otherwise.
iv) Creating routes
The Zumo also comes with MapSource, which is route planning software that runs on your computer. With this software you can make up a specific route (with other satnavs you get the chance to go the quickest or the shortest) allowing you to really explore the countryside whilst going from location to location. Again, biking is all about exploration and Mapsource allows this. In addition, you can share your routes with other riders or even download other users routes straight off the internet. This is a fantastic feature not available on other satnav units.
v) Hands free calling
The Zumo has a double blue tooth point enabling you to link both your mobile and an ear piece to it. This is a great feature and very high tech. Pairing the blue tooth phone and headset is very easy and the pairing process takes a matter of seconds. It is far quicker than pairing my TomTom unit to my phone.
The Zumo is water proof to IPX7 standard which means it can withstand the worst rain storms and still work. This removes the necessity for a case.
****Price and availability****
The Zumo can be bought from many online and off line retailers and the price varies greatly from retailer to retailer.
At the time of writing it can be bought for as little as £229.89 (excluding P&P) from Handtec and as much as £329.99 (excluding P&P) from Dabs. As with everything, I would recommend shopping around to ensure that you get the best price.
At present there is not much choice of bike specific sat nav units, however out of all the ones around I would highly recommend the Garmin Zumo as it is head and shoulders above the TomTom Rider, it's nearest rival.
Other than the ear piece (which is a real shame and to be quite honest, unacceptable) it comes with every thing you'll ever need, even a decent in car kit allowing you to need only one unit.
Installation is easy, it has a great range of features, it looks good, it does the job perfectly, it is at the cutting edge of technology and it is made by Garmin, a great company with a great reputation.
The jerkiness of the picture, and the cost of the unit (although bike specific sat navs are expensive) are the only negatives but overall the Zumo is a great unit.