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The second best GPS Garmin ever made


While the nuvi 50LM is the best GPS Garmin ever made, the DriveSmart 50LMTHD comes in at a close second - if used in a very specific way.

If you've bought Garmin GPSes in the past, chances are pretty good you have never seen this model. There's a reason for that. The 50LMTHD model was a Costco exclusive. For those of you not familiar with Costco, that's a membership-only warehouse club similar to Sam's Club and based in the United States. The only other place the 50MLTHD was sold was to rental car companies...

...which leads me to how I acquired two of them. There was a seller on eBay that acquired a whole pile of these things from a rental car company. And the reason I know this is because in there are dedicated rental-specific menu options on the Where To? and Where am I? menus. Fortunately, these menu options can be easily hidden so it's not a big deal.

Why did I buy two? I bought one and it ended up working really nicely, so I bought a second as a backup. There eBay seller who was selling these things was getting rid of them for an insanely low price of $29.99 each. The seller sold these as unit-only with no mount or power cord, but that was fine because I got those things separately.

It does have a built-in traffic receiver that works with the TA20 power cord.

This is the older style traffic reporting that updates once every 15 minutes instead of once every minute, but still, it works and you do not need the stupidly expensive GTM60 cord, nor is any smartphone connectivity required for traffic reporting to work. All traffic data is received over good 'ol RDS (and weather, too!)

Garmin's web page for the 50MLTHD states you need the GTM60 for traffic reporting. It lies. The TA20 works. I know because I use it myself. The 50LMTHD absolutely does have a built-in traffic receiver and states so in the "About" page of the unit itself. GTM60 not required. TA20 is all you need.

Daylight readable and polarized sunglasses friendly - if used in portrait mode

This is the reason the photo above shows the Garmin being used vertically.

In landscape mode, the display washes right out if wearing sunglasses and trying to read this thing. But if switched over to portrait, ta-da, nice bright screen. And if in the future I get another set of polarized sunglasses where the direction of them cancels out the Garmin screen in portrait mode, no problem. Switch to landscape mode and off I go.

No wi-fi, no dashcam

The only wireless thing in the 50MLTHD is Bluetooth, which can be disabled easily. It has no Wi-Fi whatsoever. This means it has to be plugged into the computer for map updates, and I don't have a problem with that. The unit also has no dashcam either.

With less hardware on the inside, the advantages are that the speaker is larger and can be heard more easily, and the unit has less chance of overheating when blasted by sunlight.

It does have nanny nags

The nanny nags in the DriveSmart are those stupid animated orange banners that you can't turn off. This banner happens for what the unit thinks is a dangerous curve ahead, school zones, animal crossing areas and so on. The worst one is railroad crossings simply for the fact that it will give you this warning even for railroads that have been out-of-service for years.

If it were not for these nags, it would be my #1 recommended Garmin GPS. But it's #2 compared to the nuvi 50LM which has no such nags.

The most annoying thing about the nags is when you're trying to read directions at the top of the screen telling you of your next turn, and uh-oh HERE COMES THE BANNER and it completely blocks the turn information.

Fortunately, there is are two workarounds.

Workaround #1: "Turns"

When you start a route, you can enable the map tool "Turns", which will show the next 4 upcoming turns on a separate part of the screen where the animated orange banner crap does not show up. The map gets slightly smaller when you do this, but that's fine. What matters is the text telling you of the next turn without some ridiculous driver alert blocking it.

Having "Turns" enabled is best used in two specific driving situations. City driving and dense residential neighborhoods. As in places where the roads are small, there's a lot of them and you'll be taking many turns to get to the destination.

For larger roads like highways and interstates, "Turns" usually isn't needed. The nice part is that you can enable or disable it whenever you like.

Workaround #2: Use OpenStreetMap map data

While true OSM maps aren't as good as Garmin maps where points-of-interest and addresses are concerned, where it really shines is that it is the easiest way to defeat almost all (or in some instances all depending where you are in the world) the nags in the DriveSmart.

With OSM you lose the speed limit indicator. Sounds bad, but it isn't because the speed limit nag goes away completely. You also lose several (sometimes all) other dopey alerts - most of which you will not miss at all.

In the myMaps area of the Map & Vehicle menu in the DriveSmart, you can in fact have both Garmin and OSM maps loaded into the unit at the same time. The 50LMTHD has "LM" in it which does mean "Lifetime Maps", but if the nags from using the Garmin maps annoy you too much, no problem. You can load in the OSM maps to the memory card.

However, I don't recommend using both maps at the same time from myMaps because that can result in routing weirdness. You can have them both loaded in, but I recommend only using one at a time just by checking off the one you want in myMaps.

My recommended settings for using a DriveSmart 50 (or DriveSmart 51)

  1. Settings > Display > Orientation - Test while wearing sunglasses on a bright sunny day. If the screen looks too dim in landscape mode, use portrait. If the opposite is true, use landscape.
  2. Settings > Map & Vehicle > Map Tools - Generally speaking, you want every option here checked except Up Ahead to decrease map clutter.
  3. Settings > Map & Vehicle > Map Layers - Uncheck everything except Traffic because that's probably the only one you care about. Again, this is done to decrease map clutter.
  4. Settings > Map & Vehicle > Audible Driver Alerts - Uncheck everything unless there's something here specifically you want to hear an audible warning for.
  5. Settings > Navigation > Fatigue Warning - Uncheck this.
  6. Settings > Navigation > Avoidances - At bare minimum, uncheck Unpaved Roads here.
  7. Settings > Navigation > Environmental Zones - Set to Allow.
  8. Settings > Navigation > Restricted Mode - Disable this.
  9. Settings > Navigation > Bluetooth - Disable this.
  10. Settings > Display > Display Timeout - Set to Never.
  11. Settings > Traffic > Traffic Alerts - Set to Most.
  12. Settings > Units & Time > Position Format > Coordinate Format - Set to h ddd.dddddd°. If you ever use GPS coordinates, this is the easiest one to get along with since Google Maps and Bing Maps uses this format primarily.

Important things to know

Pressing the power button doesn't turn it off

Press the power button and the screen blanks. It's not off. It's "sleeping." If you really want it truly off, press and hold the power button for 4 to 7 seconds while on, and a confirmation screen will appear asking if you really want to turn it off. Press the on-screen button to power off and then it will.

Resetting if it freezes

Unplug the DriveSmart, wait 10 seconds, plug it back in. If nothing happens on the screen, press and hold the power button. Eventually, the unit will reboot after you hold the power button long enough. It may take as long as 30 seconds for it to happen, but it will happen. As soon as you see the Garmin logo on screen, let go of the power button and let the unit continue to boot.

Resetting the software

This is a "delete everything and start over" thing where the unit is reset to factory standard settings.

Go to the main map, press the speedometer indicator, then press and hold the middle of the speedometer on the next screen. This brings up the Diagnostics Page. Choose the option to Clear all user data. The unit will reboot. Make sure it's plugged into a power source before you do this. Don't do it on battery power alone or you could brick the DriveSmart.

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