Garmin Zumo 346 “Review”

I've spent a long time using various Android phones and apps to navigate on a motorbike, and mostly been unimpressed with dedicated satnavs. I've written a not-unbiased comparison of dedicated units with phones and generally while I'm not completely satisfied with the app offerings, they do seem better than using a dedicated unit.

I did, though, found myself with a surprise £350 and thought I'd figure out what the fuss is about; I bought a Garmin 346 LM in September 2018 (shortly after its release) and here I've noted down my first impression, my opinion after using it for its first week-long trip, and again about ten months later. I've been editing this 'backwards' so that the most-recent opinion is at the top.

In conclusion

It's now July 2019, I've been using this for 10 months during which there's been many one-day rides, fewer extended trips, a bunch of trail riding, an awful lot of routine 'take me to this postcode' and I think I've formed a proper opinion.

In summary: while I do use it often, if it got stolen I wouldn't buy another one. I haven't worked out how to make it better than my phone.

The good

Contrary to my initial assumptions, there's some things it does well

  • The mounting bracket is very good - one-handed fitting or removal of the unit, and it's obviously always automatically charging. It comes with a complete RAM mount.
  • As promised, the screen does not go bonkers in the rain (because it's resistive touch); combined with the powered mount you don't need to think about the rain at all.
  • It can be set to always track your route, so if the device is on you don't need to think about whether to start tracking or not.

The not-so-good

There's also a few things that are good ideas that just feel a bit unfinished; it's not-as-good as the competition but does still function:

  • Perhaps most surprisingly, it's bad at showing maps. It takes a long time to render maps (redrawing when scrolling/zooming), the quality is poor (presumably a function of the low screen res) and the density of information makes it hard to recognise what's being looked at. The Talky Toaster maps resolve the last of this, but at the expense of proper routing - you cannot show one set of maps while navigating with another.
  • There is a Garmin phone app which allows you to send points to the device from your phone, so you can find a POI in your satnav of choice, or using Google maps, and 'share' it to the Garmin. The process is clunky and only mostly-reliable, and cannot send routes (only single points). It does work, but it feels more 2004 than 2019. Bafflingly, it also requires an Internet connection, for some reason.
  • The search is still leftover from the '90s. The norm for satnav apps is to have a search box into which you can enter a postcode, or an address, or the name of a business and it'll just find it. The garmin has no such thing, and you instead need to navigate one or more different search field to find where you want to go. There is something that looks like it will just search everything, but I've never managed to use it to find where I'm going and I'm still not sure what it's actually supposed to be for.
  • Perhaps relatedly, it's not clear what the difference is between searching 'Foursquare' or 'Tripadvisor', but many things are in both, and many things are also only in one or the other. Quite a lot of POIs are in neither; mostly I transcribe postcodes from my phone.
  • Garmin's way of routing using specific roads is using a "shaping point". When you're in the mode for adding these to a route, the maximum zoom level is much less than in other modes, which is frustrating when what you want to do is put a point at a specific part of the map.
  • There's a relatively-useful fuel tracker, where you set a tank range and it can warn you when you're at only 10% or 15% or whatever of fuel-range left. When this is on, though, *every* time you start the bike you get a full-screen warning telling you that it is strictly only for bike use and not car use, which does not disappear of its own accord. As far as I can tell, the only way to see the currently-remaining fuel range is to add it to the navigation screen, but in that case it's only populated when the device has a satellite fix, for some reason.
  • One of my favourite functions of CoPilot is the 'On Route Alerts' which means you can have an icon display on the app when there's a POI in one or more of your chosen categories within 50 miles and tap it to see what it is. I set that to show petrol stations and if that's not displaying by the time my fuel range countdown reckons I've ~75 miles left I'll pull over and find a petrol station. Garmin's 'Up ahead' feature is probably going to be this useful in the future, but isn't yet. It cannot only display things on-route (including also those requiring a minor deviation) so there is no way to use it passively - you always need to tap through the menu to find out where the thing is. It also can't be set to show only petrol stations, you need to set three categories (I have petrol stations, cafes and cashpoints). Perhaps most-tellingly, I tried using it for a bit and now I just always pull over at 75 miles range and check.
  • It doesn't automatically-adjust the screen brightness, which I suspect I only find surprising because most phones can do that and it seems weird to need to find the brightness setting manually these days.

The Bad

  • It can't be set to work in portrait mode, only landscape, which is very strange on an device whose main purpose is to show what's coming up.
  • The maps are out of date - there's a series of junction changes in Central London that predate this device existing by several years, and are not represented on the latest maps. The device is best ignored when navigating around London (and presumably other large cities?) and I don't know what to recommend to people who don't know their way round there. There's a petrol station near me which has been closed for long enough that the building that replaced it has been itself replaced, and that's still offered to me as a petrol station.
  • The device is built around the assumption that you will always do any planning on a PC and transfer it over - there is no pleasant way to set up a route on the device; the built-in map display is a very low resolution, and the device is incredibly slow at rendering the maps so even if they were easier-to-read the scrolling is still an exercise in patience. But when you plug in the USB cable, it will count down 20 seconds before presenting itself to the PC, for no apparent reason. There is no way to skip this, and given both the clunkiness of the process (plug device in, wait, copy GPX file, reboot satnav, import route, view route on map) and the tendency for it to not-work, this gets very frustrating very quickly.
  • It's really slow; recalculation often takes so long that you've already muddled your way back onto the original route round whatever the blockage was before it's figured it out; it can take upwards of ten seconds to render the screen when scrolling around in the maps viewer (yes, really!); and converting from a GPX track to Garmin's internal idea of a route can take between 30 and 60 seconds for a 100mi route with four or five waypoints (during which the device can turn itself off through perceived idleness...)
  • Your options for planning a route while out-and-about are to either use an app on your phone (garmin doesn't specifically support any but Locus Maps can, for example, export its routes as GPX) and a USB-OTG cable to copy files over and then convert that to a trip, or to be carrying a laptop (and a USB cable). It's very tedious and it's telling that I've still not had a road trip that I've been confident to use the Garmin to navigate me round, it's all been one-day trips.

First Trip

(October 2018) I went round a bit of the TET and used the Garmin as my main navigation tool for it. The idea was to just follow the GPX downloaded from www.transeurotrail.org and follow it, occasionally routing off it to find things like petrol stations.

So, the Garmin is very good at drawing a line on a map, which is all it can reasonably do with a GPX that involves trails; even with the Talky Toaster OSM maps it was very unreliable at turn-by-turn on the trail. I wasn't comparing directly (and I've never ridden those trails before) but it felt much less useful than Locus Maps' off-road navigation.

Bafflingly, while the Garmin Connect app lets you send locations to the satnav, you can't send routes. The only reasonable way to plan routes mid-trip is to use a USB OTG cable and/or micro-sd card reader. The unreasonable-but-expected way is to just carry a laptop with you... I'd opted for the latter for several reasons, and found that basecamp relies fairly heaving on having a proper mouse, too, since that's the only not-infuritating way to zoom onthe map...

I tried using the tools I'm used to (Viewranger and Locus Maps on Android) to create GPXes and send them to the garmin to create on-road routes, but it *always* complained that there were too many "waypoints2, and offered to convert them to "shaping points". I don't know what the difference is, but often I seemed to get the right sort of routes, though I don't know how reliable this is.

So, generally, I stuck to having it just draw the GPX route and follow it by keeping an eye on the screen, which is fine at dirt-bike speeds. I did try to use it to find things to use - petrol stations, restaurants/cafes, motorbike shops etc. - and it was all but useless at this, to the point where I think I must have got something wrong. It was *always* faster and easier to use my phone and either transcribe the postcode, or send the location to the satnav.

I think that most of the obvious failings of the device - that you cannot reasonably view or plot maps on it because the screen resolution is so poor - is probably explainable as a result of it needing to be a resitive touch screen and those having a poor resolution. I've not really researched it, but I want to believe there's good reason my £350 navigation device is so bad at navigation. And I've not yet managed to explain why it takes so long to render the map.

I can now see myself using this for trail riding and off-road biased trips where I can create a GPX route and send it to the device and have it drawn on the map. I haven't yet worked out how I'd make it work on an extended road-riding trip, where I'll need something less prone to reinterpretation than a GPX route. But I haven't yet looked.

Second Impressions

(September 2018) I’ve resolved to try to not have fully decided how good an idea this was until at least post-Christmas, but from a first week-and-weekend’s riding (some commuting, two blood runs and a day’s errand-running) this is better than my phone at:

  • Plugging in one-handed
  • Not worrying about charging
  • Always being a satnav and never accidentally-switching to something else

And worse at:

  • Sending me to petrol stations that haven’t existed for five years
  • Finding its position quickly
  • Recalculating a route quickly when I turn off (perhaps because of a road-closure that’s been in place for years…)
  • Creating a route on-the-fly out of a series of waypoints
  • Showing an overview map that conveys much information

I expect some of this this will get better and the rest just more-acceptable with time, but I’ve really not had the “why didn’t I do this sooner” thing that I keep hearing about other people doing.

The "Favourites" feature is very crude and unconfigurable (which it may be worth me figuring out Baseamp to fiddle with?) but the Garmin Connect app installs itself as a mapping thing, so when you "open" a location on the phone (from a calendar event, say) you can send it to the satnav. I suspect that I’ll carry on using my phone for storing locations and whatnot, and just send them to the satnav as I'm used to sending it to a satnav app.

Right now, I think it’s worth having (and will feel less lacking if I can move more audio-player controls to my headset from my phone) and I’m not really thinking about just getting shot of it yet, but I can’t see myself becoming one of those people who advises other people buy one. This is definitely lacking in almost every way compared to CoPilot and friends, and I’m not (yet) convinced that that’s just familiarity.

First Impressions

It's 20th September and it's arrived!

Out of the box, first impressions are not great; they're still using the USB socket that's so old that I know it as "the one GoPro use", and I don't even have a GoPro (or any of those cables):

The bracketry is all easy to fit and the lead's surprisingly long and thing; the 12v/5v step-down box is partly along the wire, but does mean that it doesn't *need* to be on the bars or right by the battery, and is easy to hide away in the plastics.

Bizarrely the screen seems to only have a landscape mode. Hopefully I'll figure out where that setting is later.

Picking One

There's very limited options here, really. The Zumos have the widest selection of features and are the most-modern, the Montana is specifically aimed at off-road riding, and the Monterra is actually an Android device and so may solve all my problems.

The Monterra is an Android 4 device (Android 5 came out in 2014; 4 years ago at time of writing; 8 is current) so even if the apps I like now do work on it, it's likely they will stop at some point in the future. This was clearly Garmin's experiment with Android, and they've sadly decided to not keep it up.

The Montana is the one everyone recommends, because it's got an 'off road' mode and an 'on road' one. The off-road mode doesn't appear to add anything; it's not any more aware of rights of way than the road-mode one and is still largely used to display GPX routes. The on-road mode is much more primitive than that found on the Zumos.

The Zumo can be loaded up with an off-road map (courtesy of TalkyToaster, who is recommended for the Montanas over Garmin's mapping anyway) and can have a GPX file displayed over the top. While you can trivially switch between off-road and on-road on the Montana, it seems you can do similar on the Zumo just by changing whether the map has just-roads or everything on it. It's also got the much-better road mode, and the modern ones have some sort of smartphone syncing.