BMW First look: New Garmin Zumo 396 sat-nav

New bike-specific GPS unit from Garmin on test

£ 10225
Not rated

If you're like me, and a bit on the old side, then you probably still get a little frisson of amazement every now and again when 'modern technology' flexes its muscles. Stuff like ‘satellite-navigation machines’. I was a motorcycle courier in Glasgow in the early 1990s, and still remember my modus operandi when finding unfamiliar addresses for urgent deliveries: get close to the town in question, pop into the first petrol station you see, and ask behind the counter. Or 'browse' their A-Z atlas section.

Of course, you could take a quick pic of the map on your phone for later couldn't you? Oh hold on, no you couldn't, you actually - actually - used telephone boxes for your long-range communications. With 20p coins and all that. FFS.

I'm a thoroughly modern late-40-year-old of course,and am now fully kitted with all the high-tech accoutrements required for modern living. And up till a few years ago, that included a Garmin Zumo sat-nav. I have a 220 and a 660 (I think), and they were my stalwart two-wheeled navi-chums through the late noughties and early 2010s. But I’ve become a fan of Google Maps and its evil ways in recent years, and with a handlebar mount for my Apple telefonino (also evil obvs), and some Ultimate earplugs (great, not evil), that’s been my chosen route (ha!) to directional happiness.

But I’m wondering if this new Garmin unit will tempt me back to the ‘dedicated-sat-nav’ world. What I like about Google Maps is that it tracks traffic in real time, and alters the route so you avoid any jams. Now that’s not such a big deal on a bike, but it’s certainly worth considering if you’re going to end up on a closed motorway or similar mega-snafu. Now my old Garmins don’t have any of this, so can’t help in this way. They’ve also not been updated in years (not their fault obvs) so don’t have new roads, cameras, etc etc on their databases. Google Maps is (of course), almost always spot on with most of this stuff.

This new Zumo, though, has a direct link to your phone via Bluetooth, and can update itself that way, downloading traffic info and other updates live. It’s also got a new WiFi function, so it can be updated over your home internet connection without plugging it into a PC. The Garmin Smartphone Link app has a load of usefu functions – some of which you pay for – like viewing traffic cameras, getting selected notifications popping up on the satnav screen, sharing routes, and much more. It can also automatically send an alert if it senses a crash – a useful safety feature which you can set up to your own preferences.

We’ve got this unit on test for a few weeks, and will let you know how it goes. So far, it’s easier to use than a phone in a holder, thanks to the glove-friendly screen. It’s simple enough to mount with a RAM setup, though the power connection is a bit fiddly and will take a bit of work to fit to my GSX-S750. You do get a car mount in the kit which is  useful bonus - letting you mount it in the old 911 GT3 RS when you're popping down to Argos or that.

Round town, it sometimes seems to take a bit of time to recalculate a route when you take a different turning, but we’ll see how that goes on more open roads – perhaps the high buildings in London have been interfering with it.

More info on the 396 here:

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