About eleven months and a couple of My Gear chapters ago, I described my frustrating experience with a Garmin nüvi®. When the chapter ended, I had just discovered that Garmin did still produce a line of GPS units that handled routing the way I wanted which the nüvi® line most definitely did not. I explained, to a small degree, what I meant and I’ll give an even briefer explanation here. The more capable routing of Garmin’s zūmo® line accurately follows a predefined path to a destination. The simpler nüvi® style routing provides guidance to a destination along whatever path it thinks best. Once I understood the difference, I sold (at considerable loss) the nüvi® 2460LMT and bought a zūmo®. In January of 2012, the bottom of the line zūmo® 220 cost not quite $140 more than the top of the line nüvi® 2460LMT had in April of 2011 ($447 vs. $308).
As I’ve said before, “just get me there” routing is perfectly fine for most people and most uses. It is what the majority of stand-alone GPS units provide and I believe it is what most or all units built into vehicles do although I have no experience with them. The software is simpler for a number of reasons but perhaps the most apparent is that only two points need to be dealt with at any instant rather than an entire route. Reduced complexity makes the software easier to develop or cheaper to buy which makes this the right choice for most manufacturers.
But what about Garmin? Since they are supporting the more complex multi-point routing in one line of processors, why not us it in all their products? That’s a purely rhetorical question since there are any number of reasons for maintaining two different lines of software and everyone reading this has probably already thought of half a dozen. One of the most plausible is hardware cost and, though I have no way of knowing, I’m thinking there’s a pretty good chance that the hardware required to run the more complex software is more expensive and it doesn’t take much of a cost difference in high volume components to justify some additional work.
Hardware is certainly the reason that zūmo®s cost more than nüvi®s. zūmo®s are intended for use on motorcycles and, while there may or may not be increased cost associated with more powerful processors to run the software, there is certainly increased cost associated with ruggedized components and waterproof construction. Then there is the additional hardware not shipped with automotive units. Clamps for handlebar mounting and cables for hardwiring power are packaged with every zūmo®.
So zūmo®s are more expensive, zūmo®s are what’s required to do multi-point routing, and the 220 is the least expensive of the line. Is it any good? Yes it is.
The screen is considerably smaller than the nüvi® it replaced and the unit is thicker and less pocketable. But it does exactly what I want in terms of routing. It accepts pre-planned routes from the free Garmin Basecamp program and it tracks them as they were intended to be tracked. While I really don’t feel like heaping praise on a product for doing its job in a manner that I consider proper, since this seems to be the only line of GPS receivers which do that, maybe praise is deserved.
The 220 has not been entirely trouble free. Many Garmin units come bundled with “lifetime maps”. The 220 is not one of them but I added this option when I bought mine. On about the third or fourth update, I received a message telling me that there was not enough memory in the unit to hold the latest maps. That problem was fairly easily solved by installing a microSD memory card and installing the maps on it. It wasn’t long, however, before another problem appeared.
Part way through the power up sequence, the unit would, on occasion, shut itself off and it took repeated restarts to get it up and running. At least initially, the problem seemed to occur when restarting after a normal power off but there have been occasions when the thing just shuts down after being on and running for quite some time. Because of when it first appeared and the fact that it often, but not always, happens during the “loading maps” stage, I’ve attributed the problem to bad behavior following an error reading from the microSD card. Like a hole in the roof that’s only a problem when it’s too wet to fix it, I rarely even think of the problem when I’m at home with time to research it. Maybe writing this will prompt me to do something.
I’ve spent a goodly amount of space justifying the higher prices of Garmin’s zūmo®s and it may seem like I’m resigned to paying more for “proper” routing. I am. to a certain degree, but I still feel like I’m being gouged when I’m forced to pay for handlebar mounts and the like just to get a routing function that meets my needs. It’s a fact that I know of no one in the old road crowds I’ve mingled with who uses a GPS the way I do. In fact, they’re more likely to deride the whole concept of GPS in favor of paper maps. I don’t doubt that Luddite tendencies account for a certain amount of this but I’m also confident that having someone in the passenger seat to hold and read those maps and guide books affect much of their thinking and rightly so.
If the market for proper multi-point routing in four wheeled vehicles truly is infinitesimal, then Garmin is right to ignore it. However, I find it hard to believe that I’m the only person in the country who would welcome a zūmo® that was a hundred bucks cheaper because it omitted handlebar clamps and direct wire power cabling or maybe two or three hundred bucks cheaper because its housing was not water proof.
Of course, in order to appreciate better routing at a better price, they would need to know what better routing is and Garmin’s not going to tell them. I have found nothing on Garmin’s website or in their literature that explains the difference between zūmo® routing and other routing and not much that even acknowledges it. My impression is that very few Garmin employees, and none in marketing or sales, know the difference. It falls on vendors like River Pilot Tours and MAD Maps to at least hint at a difference by pointing out that some of their products are only compatible with specific GPS models.
ALERT: At the time of writing, Spot It Out, who both River Pilot Tours and Mad Maps had partnered with to deliver their GPS based products, has ceased operation. River Pilot Tours has taken over delivery of their products although purchase of the turn-by-turn product is not directly offered through the website. Zūmo® style routing is required and the company is asking customers to contact it by email or telephone to make sure they have hardware capable of running the product before purchasing it. It is not yet known how or if MAD Maps’ turn-by-turn products can be obtained.