Navigation

Some people like maps, others like GPS. We use both. The maps for determining the best, most scenic routes and the GPS to find our way around. We prepare our routes in advance and put them on our GPS. Of course we can always deviate from the original planned route, but we like to have the same sense of where we are going to. So the GPS is something we wouldn't want to do without.

Garmin Zumo 5x0

When we started our travel, we left home with two Garmin devices. A Zumo 550 and a Zumo 500. As it comes to motorcycles navigation there is (according to us) only one brand suitable for a trip like this and that is Garmin (major bonus: it can handle Open Street Maps). Before we left home Marianne even sold her TomTom Rider, to replace it with the 500. Sander had been using both the Zumo 450 and 550 for a couple of years. And it just makes so much more sense to have everything the same.

We were kind of dissapointed when Marianne's device started to fail somewhere in western Africa. Luckily we found a guy in Ghana who was able fix the device, but he told us that water had been the issue. Closer inspection revealed that the rubber buttons on the housing of the 500 were deteriorating. Also the device of Sander was showing similar issues, but in a lesser extend.

So we contacted Garmin The Netherlands and they replied that they had never heard of this issue. But we could ship the device back and they would take a look at it. Yeah, right! Like you're gonna sent your navigation to your home country when your are on a RTW trip. We decided to use ducktape instead to seal the buttons as much as we could. However we hit Cameroon in rainy season and while we were taking shelter from some serious rain, lightning struck Marianne's Zumo. Both the unit and cradle we're fried.

Garmin Zumo 340LM

By then we decided to buy some new devices as Sander's parents were coming over to Botswana and they could take them. At that point in time, the Zumo 350 and 340 had just been released. We did some online research and decided the 340 was the better choice for us, over the 660 and 350. From the end of august 2013 we have been using the device and here is what we think of it.

The device

The main differences between the Zumo 5xx and 340 are the following. The 340 is thinner. It is a much better fit for a pocket in a motorcycle jacket. The screen is bigger. And apart from a single on/off button on top of the device, there are no other buttons. (Why would Garmin decided to remove the hardware buttons, if they didn't know about leaking issues?). The back of the device is ribbed for better grip. A waterproof speaker can be spotted. There's a waterproof rubber cover, hiding a mini USB port. And only two copper contacts for charging the device while in the cradle. We doubt whether that's an improvement or not, but we'll get back on that in the next paragraph (Cradle and powersupply). On the bottom the are two rubber flaps. One protects a 3,5mm jack plug, the other the micro SD-card slot. Closing this flaps properly is a bit fiddly and they don't provide much confidence on waterproofing the internal hardware.

Cradle and power supply

The Zumo 340 comes with a cradle and additional RAM mounts to bolt the device to the motorbike. It is said that the cradle has been designed to avoid high costs to have it replaced. With the Zumo 5xx you had to buy a pretty expensive new cradle, when one of the power pins was failing (A common issue we suppose, as we have had two cradles replaced). The truth is, that the cradle and power cord solution Garmin came up with, just feels very cheap. Poorly designed, management driven, trying to find ways to cut production costs. Already we experienced the 'power lost, device will shutdown in 15 seconds' error messages.

The cradle itself is just a piece of plastic, with a spring clamp. Which we must admit works surprisingly well. Put the device in and the unit gets locked. Push the little plastic lever/button and the unit comes out. It's that easy. However we wonder how long this design will work in sandy/dusty conditions. We haven't had time to check that. But we know the cradle of the old Zumo units just barely survived Africa. The really disappointing bit of the cradle is it's powersupply. The cable which is supposed to be connected to the battery, has a black box with electronics in it and some EMI noise suppressor which both make it harder to install on a motorbike. The cradles of the old Zumos we had connected using BMW plugs. Nowadays more and more bikes have these kind of plugs so we don't know why Garmin isn't keeping that in mind. Now we had to strip the bikes, to find a way of routing the cables properly. It's something you have to do only once, but it shouldn't require you taking a new bike to a dealer and have them installing a GPS. Also there are quite some stories on the internet about the active cable draining the battery and that it would be better to connect it to a switched powersupply. That sounds like a smart thing to do. But we must admit we didn't do so (too much hassle). However we haven't experience any problems so far.

Software

If you are familiar with the older Zumo's the software is pretty straight forward. And it shouldn't be a real problem, finding your way around. However some options got transferred to a new location. For instance trips aren't loaded by using the 'Where to' button, one should use the 'Tripplanner' which is on a different (application) screen. There are some improvements over the 5x0 series.

Now it is possible to add customizable buttons to the driving screen. These actually operate as shortcuts. Which works nice. Also it is possible to change the dashboard. The standard Garmin dashboards don't offer the best view. Personally we like to have some overview of what's behind us. So in case we have to turn around, we can see where we should go even before we do. Unfortunately most Garmin dashboards don't allow this. However some people have created transparent dashboard which provide a lot of information and work pretty well.

But the software itself is far from perfect and there is some things we really don't like. For instance there's the option to (de)activate the autozoom level. Personally Sander doesn't like the autozoom function. However if you deactivate it, you'll get a 300m zoom level by default. This really is a bad zoom level for cities, etcetera. A 120m default zoom level would be much better. Yet better would be if it would be customizable.

There is another zoom related issue. The 340LM like all other Zumo models comes with two screens. The one you are using while driving and a map overview where you can change the orientation of the map. So you can orientate with north being on the top of the screen. We use that second screen quite a lot to find our way. But you'll have to press the screen twice to get there. This is because by default the zoom buttons are hidden. If you press the screen they will appear. Now you need to push the screen once more to get to the map overview screen. That really is a bad user interface design. But what's worse, is that if you actually want to zoom in the driving screen you'll end up in the map overview screen. Because the first time you press the screen the zoom buttons appear. The second time you want to press the zoom button, you hit a bump and you press the screen instead of the button, sending you to the overview screen. It would have been so much better if the zoom buttons would be on the left all the time. Removing at least one press on the screen and minimizing mistakes.

And there's one more issue related to the map overview screen. Once you get there, you'll notice the orientation is the same as the map orientation you configured in the settings. Now personally we don't like the 3D visualisation, because it isn't always clear enough where to go. So we use the route on top setting. Once in the map overview screen it requires 2 presses on the orientation button to get north on top of the screen. We suppose that should be the default orientation for a map overview.

Also there are some common Garmin issues that still haven't been fixed. For instance when calculating a route on two different devices, they will calculate different routes. This probably has to do with how the routes are calculated. But it can be very frustrating when riding together. We solved this problem however. The one who's riding in front will lead the way.

Another annoyance from our side is that the search of addresses doesn't work the same like searching for other POIs. On the road we often search addresses in the city where we are. But for some reason by default the search of addresses isn't based on the city you are in. You'll have to provide the city and even the country if you crossed borders. We can't see any reason why this is different from searching a POI. Where the device knows where you are and where to search. It might have something to do with the fact that searching POIs works with coördinates and searching addresses doesn't. But the device knows exactly where you are. It's displaying the city in the upper right hand corner, so why not use it???

What is majorly frustrating is that the device sometimes crashes. Without no apparent reason. It just goes black. And connecting it to a laptop using the USB cable, for some reason can take hours. Sometimes it's quick and sometimes it just don't want to connect at all. Which can be very frustrating if you want to import a new route just before you leave. There is no visual key of what is going on and why things are taking their time. So that allows for a lot of annoyance.

To cut things short, we do think the Garmin Zumo is the best possible navigation system currently on the market. But we do feel however that there's too little competition for Garmin. Allowing them some sort of sloppiness. In other words the devices are good, but there still is room for improvement.

Here's what we like

  • Installation of multiple maps
  • Configurable (overlay) buttons
  • Search Shortcuts
  • Size and weight
And what we dislike
  • Power supply
  • Zoom button and default zoom level
  • USB connectivity
  • Dashboards (default Garmin)
  • Trip / map removal and importing
  • Searching an address
  • Default orientation overview map
  • System crashes
  • Visibility in direct sunlight
  • Rubber covers sd-card and jack-plug
  • Calculation of routes

Updated february 2016 By the beginning of September 2015 most of my concerns about the device became reality. As the power supply of one of the devices started failing. The power pins just broke off. The second device followed soon after. As we weren't able to source a new powercable for the device we started using a USB powercable. Which seemed to work for just a bit. However sometimes the device would just reboot, or do funny stuff like that. There's been a couple of times the screen of the Garmin just went blank. At the moment of writing it is almost impossible to use the device being connected by USB. Using it without power, the battery is drained in the blink of an eye. So after just 2 years of use I think it is fair to say that it is just a piece of junk!

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