Saturday, 2 July 2011
Garmin Zumo 660 Motorcycle GPS / Sat Nav Review
I bought my Garmin Zumo 660 eighteen months ago and after riding with it for 21,000 miles on my tour of the USA and using it extensively across Europe on tours in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Spain, I feel it is time I presented my thoughts on how well it performs.
Overall, some aspects of the Zumo are really good and beat the competition hands down, but sadly in other areas, it is simply dreadful. It is a real shame that what could be a fantastic device is ruined by some aspects that should be a lot better than they actually are.
I have looked at and evaluated the Garmin Zumo 660 in ten key areas and given my brief thoughts on each area below. I have scored the performance of the Zumo out of five, with the scoring system being as follows.
1 = Unacceptable
2 = Poor
3 = Reasonable
4 = Good
5 = Excellent
Looks / quality / feel. Points awarded = 5. When you first open the box and pick up the unit, it looks and feels just how it should. The build quality looks very good and the unit looks superb.
User manual. Points awarded = 1. When I first received the Zumo I briefly wrote about my first impressions of it on this blog. I wrote that there was no manual in the box. Finding it online was very difficult and needing a copy, I eventually found one and had to print one myself on my home printer. This was not a great start to my Garmin experience.
Mounting the device. Points awarded = 5. This was very easy and the mounts look good. After thousands of miles using the unit, the mount has worked superbly.
Loading the mapping software. Points awarded = 1. One of the really great things about the Garmin Zumo 660 is the ability to do your route planning on a computer and then transfer those routes to the unit. Being able to do this planning on a computer rather than on the unit itself is a huge benefit, if like me, your trips are long and complex with many places you want to stop and see. However, getting to the point where you can do this is an absolute nightmare. In order to prevent copying of the maps from computer to computer and unit to unit, they have locking codes. Unlocking the maps by entering these codes should be straightforward, but it turned out to be one of the most complex things I think I have ever had to do with any software, ever. Due to the lack of any clear instructions on how to unlock the maps, I had to call Garmin Support twice before I could even get the maps to work. This is completely unacceptable and very nearly caused me to abandon the Zumo before I had even used it once.
Route planning on a PC. Points awarded = 3. The fact that route planning can be done on a computer is perhaps the best feature about this GPS / Sat Nav. For my 21,000 ride in the USA, having to do the route planning on the unit itself would have been a nightmare and this is where Garmin have the competition beaten hands down. This in itself is probably the best reason to use a Garmin Zumo. You can use just about any GPS / Sat Nav for simple journeys where there is a single destination, but for anything more complex, you need something different where route planning on a PC is possible and the Zumo is great for this. However, I have only awarded 3 points for this and that is because the software itself, called Mapsource, is distinctly average. It is clunky to use, not at all intuitive and I am surprised that Garmin still supply it. Compared with modern, well developed software, Mapsource seems out-of-date and not at all user friendly.
Device route calculation. Points awarded = 4.5. In most circumstances, the route calculation the unit carries out seems to be very good. Okay, the unit does take a long time to find the satellites when first turned on, but that is just a little frustration compared to how well the calculation seems to happen. The calcuation is fast too, including both working out the route when first entered and recalculation if you take a different road to the one the unit expects you to. My only slight reservation is when in the USA and riding with my friend Paul, we had identical units, with identical map software loaded (the exact same version) and identical custom routes planned, but the two units calculated different routes. We never got to the bottom of this, but it did seem very odd.
Use while riding. Points awarded = 5. I cannot fault the operation of the unit in any way. The screen is bright and clear. Use even when wearing riding gloves in excellent and the options and features all worked fantastically well.
Reliability. Points awarded = 3. Almost all of the time I have used a Zumo, the reliability has been fantastic. However, occasionally, the unit will turn off for no reason. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but on two occasions, I couldn’t turn it back on. One of these times, the problem was solved by removing and replacing the battery, but the other time was much worse, needing a telephone call to Garmin support to fix the problem, plus my laptop to download a fix. If I hadn’t had my laptop with me, the problem could not have been fixed. This turning off problem seems to have gone away, presumably solved by one of the software upgrades I have done with Garmin support (Garmin have to talk you through these, they don’t happen automatically).
Value for money. Points awarded = 2. The Zumo isn’t cheap, but there is a much worse roblem that means you may end up spending much more money than you need to because of Garmin’s policies. This has happened to me twice now. When you buy a new Zumo you get the maps for the country you are in on a disc. If you buy it in the USA, you get the North America Maps and if you but it in the UK, you get the European maps. However, if you buy additional maps (like I have) there are three ways of doing this and two of them will lead to problems if you want to plan your routes on a computer. DO NOT BUT NEW MAPS BY DOWNLAODING THEM AND DO NOT BUY THEM ON A DATA CARD, because with either route, you cannot use those maps for route planning and you will have to buy exactly the same maps again in order to be able to use them in the Mapsource software. ONLY buy them on a disc! Shockingly, Garmin do not make this clear and when you telephone them to complain, they say it is your problem and you bought the maps on the wrong media.
The CD version of the maps can be used for both the route planning and it can be transferred to your unit, but by downloading or buying the maps on an SD card, you can only use the maps in the unit itself. This is dreadful bad practice and Garmin should hang their heads in shame due to it. There is another reason why I have awarded only 2 points in this category and this relates to me needing to replace my Garmin unit. I failed to properly fix my unit in its mount and the unit fell of my bike at 70mph and was smashed in the process. This was totally my fault, but what happened next also appalled me. I purchased a new unit and tried to use my existing maps in my new unit, only to be told by Garmin this is not possible. They fix the use of the maps to a particular unit and even in my case, where my unit was broken, I could not transfer my existing maps to the new unit. I therefore have perfectly usable maps that are registered to my Garmin account that I cannot use. This is nothing short of a rip off and again Garmin should hang their heads in shame. My view is, don’t expect to be treated fairly by Garmin as this will not happen.
Customer service. Points awarded = 2. I have mixed views about the Garmin customer service. They have a call centre in the UK and if you have a problem, don’t even bother trying to call them as all of the times I have tried it, I found them to be totally useless and on a number of occasions, I knew more about their product than they did. On another occasion, they simply referred me back to the Garmin website to get the help they couldn’t provide. However, Garmin customer support in the USA is much, much better and I have always had a really good experience when I telephone them. I now am happy to pay for an international telephone call from Europe to the USA because they are so much better.
That was until recently, when I ran across another of Garmin’s policies regarding maps. It is a complex issue, but essentially Garmin told me to buy new maps to replace the ones I couldn’t use when I broke my existing unit when it fell from the bike. Having been burned by Garmin before, I specifically asked how I should buy a new European map so that I could use it both for route planning and on my new unit. They told me to download the maps and I did so, only to find I could use these only on the unit and not on my laptop for route planning. After a huge amount of argument, they accepted they were wrong and said they would send the maps in the correct format (on a CD) but they would only post to an address in the USA and they don’t have the capability to send a package to Europe!!! I provided them with a USA address form where the CD could be forwarded, but the CD never arrived and despite trying to contact Garmin a few times by e-mail, they are not responding. The Garmin customer service therefore ranges from excellent at times, to appalling. Sadly it is most often appalling.
Conclusion. Overall points awarded = 3. The average score from all of the categories above is just 3 points. Despite having a potentially fantastic product, my overall experience of the Garmin Zumo 660 is no better than reasonable. For the long trips I often make on my motorbike, the Zumo is still the best product I have found, but I use it reluctantly and will swop to another manufacturer as soon as something better comes along. Or Garmin coud just fix the many problems they have and change into a really great organisation. Garmin really must do better.