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My giant pile of Garmins


I think I may have a problem...

...or do I?

The photo above shows some of the Garmin GPS navigation devices I have, meaning not all. I've not counted, but I think I have close to 40 of them. I know the count is somewhere in the 30s.

My pile of these is only one of two things I have a hoard of. The other is Casio watches, but that pile is significantly smaller and can easily fit in a small box. My Garmin hoard takes up 4 shoeboxes. Two boxes for just the devices, and two for all the cords and mounts.

Physically speaking, 4 shoeboxes doesn't sound that bad. And I suppose it isn't. But I'm not afraid to admit that yes, this is a hoard. For as anti-hoard as I am, something has to be really significant for me to have this pile of specific electronics. I'll get to that in a minute.

Most people who have ever bought a Garmin for the car usually have at least two. One for daily use, and one backup. Sure, a navigation app on your phone could act as your backup, but it's obviously not the same as the Garmin. Having a backup that's a match of your primary matters when it comes to this stuff...

...but having over 30 of these things is ridiculous.

Why do I have them?

Reason 1: It was a quest to see if Garmin had ever made the perfect car navigator. I'll describe the end of the quest in a bit. The answer is no, they didn't.

Reason 2: I wanted to try some of the highfalutin models of the past since they all dived in price, mostly.

I'll talk about price first.

The pricing of used Garmins is a weird animal. If it's a 3.5", 4.3" or a 5" screen, almost every model is cheap to buy even in fantastic condition. But if it's a 6" or 7", people think those are worth crazy money. They're not. All you get is a slight increase in screen size with literally no extra features. And believe me, I know.

I've only owned four 6" models, a DriveSmart 60LMT, nuvi 2689LMT and a pair of DriveSmart 66's. I use the 66's currently, still have the 2689 and parted with the 60LMT. But the 66 is without question the most usable 6" model compared to the older ones.

I obviously didn't buy all my Garmins all at once. The pile I have goes back several years. I bought whatever interested me for as cheap as I could, and purposely sought out different models that had different features...

...and that was The Quest For The Perfect Navigator. I figured that out of all the models Garmin ever released, one of them would be so darned good that I wouldn't want to use anything else.

Out of all that I have, there are 5 that are top tier, but for different reasons.

From oldest to newest: nuvi 1390LMT (4.3"), nuvi 1490LMT (5"), nuvi 40LM (4.3"), nuvi 50LM (5"), DriveSmart 66 (6").

The 1390LMT/1490LMT are the oldest. The run like absolute crap with modern Garmin-issued maps, but operate very well with OpenStreetMap map replacements. It is almost a certainty that any one you pick up will need to have its screen replaced (which I've done several times across several models), and the addition of a 32GB microSD card is required to fit the map data. It's also necessary to punch in favorites using GPS coordinates when using OSM maps. But once set up, oh yeah, this is good. Very legible, great map views for both 2D and 3D. Just great all around.

The 40LM/50LM is the best simple navigator Garmin ever made, no question. Bright screen and ridiculously easy to use. Needs a 32GB microSD like the 1390/1490 to fit map data. Can run modern Garmin-issued maps with ease, even if POI lookups are a bit on the slower side. It can handle hot weather, cold weather, whatever. These models can take a beating. The 2D views suck, but the 3D view is what most people would use anyway. For an A-to-B navigator, amazing.

DriveSmart 66 is a modern offering at the time I write this. Nowhere near as easy as the 40LM/50LM, but that's acceptable since it is an advanced model. It's also the generation where Garmin finally got the voice control working right. The 6" is a good size, route calculation is really fast and recalculation when you miss a turn is also speedy.

The reason I even mention the 1390LMT/1490LMT is because to my eye, the color palette used for icons/maps and voices are better than the 40LM/50LM. Better by a lot? For colors, a little. For voices, a lot. The 1390/1490 uses text-to-speech version 1 while the 40/50 uses TTS v2. I greatly prefer v1 - even though I did have to do a little bit of modification to make it stop saying "recalculating" any time a turn is missed. It was worth it.

As far as The Quest For The Perfect Navigator goes, that ended recently. This doesn't mean I stopped using Garmins. But I determined that the only way I could get one perfect is if I made it a combination of UI elements and features of several models that I have. No one model has it all. But I will say the DriveSmart 66 was the closest it ever got.

As crazy as this sounds, I might actually need these old things in the future

I'm not a fan of smartphone navigation and really don't like the direction it's headed, which is "PUT IT ALL ONLINE!"

That direction is an absolutely horrific idea for car navigation. To have the entirety of your navigation assistance 100% dependent on an always-on data connection is just sheer stupidity. There absolutely has to be a local map data source. And no, a cached source isn't good enough. It has to be a data source that is ALWAYS there and doesn't artificially expire. Without that data source, you might as well go back to a compass and paper maps...

...or use an old Garmin.

All my Garmins have a local map data source. True, the map data will never be as up-to-date as online maps, but I accept that tradeoff because reliability is vastly more important than having the absolute latest map data all the time.

And yeah, this means I have to update the map data manually. Periodically, I have to take the unit out of the car, bring it in the house, plug it in to a computer and update the data - and it's not quick. This is another tradeoff I accept.

Is going through all that crap worth the bother? Yes, because I get a reliable navigator out of it. I don't have to worry about the moody nature of always-on data connectivity, nor do I have to worry about whether the nav app's servers are serving properly that day. My Garmin itself is the one serving the map data locally.

The only time it's not worth it is when updating 30+ units - which I absolutely don't do. In the near future I'll just be keeping only the ones I use updated, which will be a very small number.

Published 2023 Oct 24

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