Garmin 396LMT GPS review

670cc

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Here is a first impression review of my newly acquired Garmin zumo 396LMT GPS. It was on sale for $229, so at that price I bought one to try out.

Background: I have been using Garmin brand GPS units since they were hand held single receiver multiplexed units with no maps. The first one was a GPS 38, followed by the GPS III, GPS V, nuvi 2797, nuvi 500, nuvi 550, zumo 390, and now zumo 396. The Garmin GPS feature trend and market audience through all these models and years has been away from explorer/hiker and toward the common car driver.

The zumo 390 was my most disliked modern unit. While it was marketed as a motorcycle GPS, it appears to be just an automotive model that is water proof and has a few motorcycle related software additions. It leans way toward urban automotive use and not much for outdoor explorer use. The new zumo 396 continues in this way. The Foursquare and Tripadvisor apps, I have no use for. I saved a location of a state park campground, and found there is no icon for campground. There are icons for drama theater, or bowling alley, but no icon with a tent. The zumo 390 or 396 seem better suited for highway or urban travel, or to find the closest hotel and Starbucks, than it is for picking your way through backroads or forest routes back to your campsite.

The 396 has a faster processor than the 390. When panning the 396 map screen, the map can keep up with your finger, whereas the 390 eventually lagged a couple seconds and made it impossible to use. The zumo 390 and 396 both lack fine detail on the map, unlike the nuvi 500 or 550 models I have. I‘ve seen the 390 at times, on the highest detail setting, show two crisscrossed un-named highway lines on the whole screen, and the rest was just useless blank space. Smaller side roads could not be displayed without zooming to the 0.5 mile scale. The nuvi 500/550 will show the same detail on the 0.8 mile scale, which doesn’t sound like a big difference but in actual use it is.

I use the nuvi 500/550 for backroads because of a big advantage they have. On the 500/550, when I am deciding where to go and want to see where I am in relation to roads and features, I can poke at those features on the nuvi map and the GPS will pop up the name of the lake, town, highway, river, address, intersection, or whatever. The zumo 390/396 instead recenters the map wherever I touch it. In short, this annoys me greatly and makes the GPS extremely difficult to use for making route decision on the fly. For that reason I own 4 of the Garmin nuvi 500/550 GPS units for use on my NC and dual sport. The new zumo 396 will stay on the Goldwing, on which I am less likely to be exploring unknown backroads with no plan.

The Adventurous routing feature sounds good, but when I asked it to route me to northern Arkansas, it routed me right through St. Louis on the way, which is not my idea of a fun ride. I will need to experiment and find out how to use the Adventurous routing feature to my advantage

Garmin does other weird things on the 396 that make no sense. If it is middle afternoon, it can show me the sunset time, but I cannot display the next sunrise time. I have to wait until after sunset to see when the sun will rise next. Why can’t it just display sunrise and sunset like the old models did? Also, if I pick a spot on the map and save it, I cannot edit the name of the new waypoint at that time. I then have to go to Where To?, Favorites, choose the new waypoint like I want to go there, and then I can edit the name. There doesn’t seem to be a specific place to view my personal data and make edits.

A nice feature present on the 396 is having it’s own wifi connection for direct software and map updates. Some motorcycle riders may find value in the bluetooth, audio, helmet laws, incident reporting, MP3, and traffic features, but they are of no value to me so I cannot comment on their implementation on the zumo 396. Fortunately you can turn off some of the on-screen notifications if they are bothersome. Some of the features depend on a cellular phone connection and cell signal to work, so if you are in a forest somewhere with no cell phone signal, they are worthless.

In summary, the zumo 396 LMT is feature packed and was a great value at $229 (US). As I use this unit on the road on my GL1800, I may come back and update, correct, or add to my comments. As for the NC and CRF250L, the now discontinued nuvi 500/550 models will still guide the way, as I consider them to be better motorcycling oriented GPS receivers.
 

dduelin

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The biggest niggle I have with the 396 is that nearby saved waypoints ( favorites on the 396 ) do not show up until I am right on top of them and even then they show as an heart icon and not the name. On past units these waypoints showing within 5 miles remind me that there is a good road over there or a point of interest that I saved with a breadcrumb at some point.

When panning on the 396, there is a option that pops up in the upper left in a box. If you tap on it the screen rotates to North up, like older Garmins did, and opens a search box, tap that and scroll down to favorites, tap that and saved locations in the search area will show up. It's convoluted and I wish it was easier but there aren't many motorcyclists compared to cage drivers. I also have one remaining Zumo 550 which I use on the RT.
 

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The biggest niggle I have with the 396 is that nearby saved waypoints ( favorites on the 396 ) do not show up until I am right on top of them and even then they show as an heart icon and not the name. On past units these waypoints showing within 5 miles remind me that there is a good road over there or a point of interest that I saved with a breadcrumb at some point.

When panning on the 396, there is a option that pops up in the upper left in a box. If you tap on it the screen rotates to North up, like older Garmins did, and opens a search box, tap that and scroll down to favorites, tap that and saved locations in the search area will show up. It's convoluted and I wish it was easier but there aren't many motorcyclists compared to cage drivers. I also have one remaining Zumo 550 which I use on the RT.
Thank you for the tip, Dave. I guess I’m old fashioned as I ALWAYS run GPS maps oriented north up, which is how I would always read a paper map. When I pan on the 396, I get an arrow in the upper left corner that switches between track up and north up. In the upper right corner I get a search icon where I can search for things like car rental, buses, nightclubs, train station, other useless places, but I finally found Favorites waaay down at the bottom of the menu. I’ll keep that trick in mind.

I’m sure there are many tricks and short cuts I don’t know about. In fact, I just learned that if you hold down the satellite signal strength icon for 2 seconds, it will show you the old satellite sky map and individual satellite signal strength, like on the old hand helds! That even works on my nuvi models.
 

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Thank you for the tip, Dave. I guess I’m old fashioned as I ALWAYS run GPS maps oriented north up. When I pan, i get an arrow in the upper left corner that switches between track up and north up. In the upper right corner I get a search icon where I can search for things like car rental, buses, nightclubs, train station, other useless places, but I finally found Favorites waaay down at the bottom. I’ll keep that trick in mind.

Speaking of old fashioned, in Boy Scouts I was taught to use maps track up then in my primary flight training cross country navigation was taught track up. It makes more sense to me that a right turn on the map is a right turn on the bike and that lake over there corresponds to the lake over there on the map. The weird thing is that I expect a GPS to rotate to north up when I pan the view. I am used to north up when panning. Your experience may vary.
 
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