“Would you like to try out one of our GPS navigators?” This invitation, from navigation specialists Garmin, came at a good time. For part of our summer, we’d be navigating around country roads in the remote lowlands of Scotland. And at the end of our trip, our drive home to London would see us clocking up almost 400 miles, down motorways notorious for their traffic snarl-ups.
Our plan was to drive these 400 miles in just one day.
We needed all the help we could get.
Getting lost in the countryside
Garmin’s DriveSmart™ 51 LMT-D arrived at our forest cottage before we did. An omen, if ever I saw one. After we’d taken the delivery slip to the local post office, in St John’s Town of Dalry, and collected the boxed-up navigator, my friend and I decided to drive on to New Galloway with no SatNav to guide us. Following the road signs had to be easy, right? Wrong. After a 20-minute drive past hedges, fields and woodland, we ended up right back where we started: at Dalry. Time to unbox the Garmin navigator, and call for its help.
Calling was the right word. The DriveSmart™ was voice activated. Switching over to manual keyboard controls was easy, but if you followed through the voice command option, you could instruct the navigator to direct you to any town, street, postcode, place of interest, restaurant…the menu was long.
You can see the voice command in action here:
Unlike some voice controls, the DriveSmart™ seemed pretty good at recognising unusual names. It picked up the town of Kirkcudbright when I pronounced it both the correct way (Kir-coo-bree), and the way that you might imagine it to be pronounced, reading the name. Clever Serena (the navigating voice we chose) also gave near-human directions: ‘turn left just past the post office’ eg.
The DriveSmart™ pinged a wide range of alerts at us. The animal crossing alert flashed up regularly on the rural backroads, as did the alert for bends. A warning sounded when there was a speed limit change coming up. This was particularly helpful for those roads where a 60 mph limit suddenly drops to 30 mph, when you come to village. Garmin’s DriveSmart™ also let us know when a school was nearby.
Like all navigators, the DriveSmart™ came ever so slightly unstuck when directing us to our rural cottage, using just a postcode. There was no street name or house number to input, so the navigator just directed us to the most central area of the postcode: the middle of a field. On that occasion, we chose to follow our own judgement, and not plough through the barbed wire fence. No doubt the DriveSmart™ would have taken us right home if we’d given it a precise GPS co-ordinate (there was an option to do that).
Garmin’s DriveSmart™ 51 LMT-D came with traffic alerts, and this was the most useful of all its functions. We didn’t have much call for the alerts in rural Dumfries and Galloway, but they made the journey back home a lot quicker than it would have been.
The digital traffic alerts worked via DAB, and they appeared without us having to connect anything up to the navigator. Our first alert pinged up in the small town of Moniaive (you can see it in the picture above). The DriveSmart™ told us there would be a five minute delay in 16 miles. There was no alternative route this time, but a little further along, the Garmin told us there would be a 29 minute delay ahead, if we kept on this route – and suggested an alternative, which would knock 15 minutes off the delay time.
We followed the navigator’s suggestions, and avoided at least three major traffic snarl-ups. Our journey was supposed to include seven hours’ driving time. In the end, it was more like eight. Some traffic was unavoidable. But it would have taken much longer if we hadn’t had these digital traffic alerts to guide us.
We connected my smartphone up to the DriveSmart™ via Bluetooth. This meant that any alerts coming through to my phone, displayed on the navigator. Along with CNN alerts about Trump, and a call from a charity asking for money (which I was able to take hands-free), there were some text messages that popped up, asking about the journey. You could play audio versions of these.
Help along the way
Garmin’s DriveSmart™ had so many functions that it would take weeks of playing around to try them all out. It really was a natty little toy. After I’d been driving for a couple of hours, it started gently suggesting that I might want to take a break, by letting me know every half hour which service stations were nearby. You could switch these messages off if you found them annoying. There was a parking service, to help you find a parking space at your destination. On the major roads, a visual aid popped up telling you which lane to take at a junction. No more frantic swerving between lorries.
As we drove along, the DriveSmart™ found us a wide range of local attractions, including museums, zoos, breweries and parks. This would have been helpful if, say, we decided to break the journey at a place where the children could stretch their legs. It connected to Foursquare and Tripadvisor, so you could see ratings for the places. This did lead us slightly astray on the journey back to London, when we decided to stop at a restaurant ranked with 5 stars by TripAdvisor, instead of a service station. It turned out to be a private members’ cabin clubhouse, and was closed. The club’s loyal members had clearly all gone onto TripAdvisor, and given their seedy shack five stars. Lesson learned: don’t always trust Tripadvisor scores, and do your research before you decide to head off to a restaurant with hungry kids.
Pros and cons – the verdict
Garmin’s DriveSmart™ 51 LMT-D retails at £219.99, which is at the top end of the price spectrum. If your finances can stretch that far, and you do a lot of driving on busy roads, I’d say it’s a good investment. When my in-laws drove to meet us in Dumfries and Galloway, a journey that should have taken them five and a half hours ended up being ten hours long, because a large chunk of the M6 was closed. The DriveSmart™ would have taken them on a detour to claw back some of this time. Let’s face it: a bad journey can put a real dampener on a family holiday, so it’s worth investing in something that helps make things go a little more smoothly.
Another plus is that the DriveSmart™ is easy to update. It comes with lifetime maps, and you just need to plug the device in and connect it to wi-fi for it to update automatically.
One little niggle I had, was that you couldn’t see the arrival time and the time remaining for the journey on the display at the same time. You could switch between the two, but personally I like to keep an eye on both at the same time while I’m driving.
The DriveSmart™ might seem a little complicated to someone unused to technology. Although the basic driving instructions were clear and user-friendly (as were the traffic alerts), it took us a little while to work out, for instance, how to see all the details of our route the navigator before we set off.
On balance, though, the Garmin DriveSmart™ 51 LMT-D is a fine navigator, and I’ll find it hard to downgrade back to our old SatNav.
Pin for later:
Garmin loaned us a DriveSmart™ 51 LMT-D for the purpose of this post, and I was compensated for my time. All views are my own.