Garmin Brings Motorcycle GPS Up to Speed

As most tech-savvy motorcyclists know, there aren’t all that many options out there when it comes to buying a GPS for a bike. While a handful of manufacturers offer them, the models are few and far between, and seem to lag behind conventional in-car systems when it comes to features.

I was quite relieved, then, to see that Garmin had finally updated its two-year-old Zumo 550 motorcycle GPS with the new Zumo 660, a skinnier, sleeker, and more capable motorcycle GPS that finally brings two-wheeled navigation up to speed.

Putting the new Zumo side by side with the old, they almost look like two entirely different devices from two entirely different companies. The 550 is so bulky, thick and complex-looking, that by contrast, the not-exactly-small 660 looks razor thin. Like the previous version, its case is UV and fuel resistant to deal with everything life on the road can dish out, but Garmin has done away with the rubberized buttons beside the screen and switched to an all-touch interface.

The bike-saviness shines through as soon as you turn it on. All buttons have been made enormous for gloved fingers. Though Garmin didn’t exactly supply a pair of leather Olympias for testing, I’m quite confident that most of the quarter-sized buttons would be hard to bungle.

Garmin modified the keyboard interface significantly from the old version, which had a smaller screen. Instead of a strip of ABCs to touch, and then narrow down your selection with five larger keys for individual letters, the new Zumo now has all characters divided into five categories, like A-L, M-X, Y-Z, etc. Though I’m sure this gets easier to work with in time, initially it threw me for quite a loop (more so than the old Zumo interface, which I was also unfamiliar with) and I would be wary of entering long addresses. The system also has a handful of other nice motorcycle-convenient features, like a fuel gauge that will warn you when you need to refuel based on mileage, since many bikes lack real fuel gauges.

 The only real bad news with the new model would appear to be price, which remains as stratospheric as previous bike models at $800. Given that I only paid a couple hundred dollars more than that for my first motorcycle, I’d be inclined to think twice before biting, but the cost of better plastic, seals, vibration resistance and a glove-friendly interface on a niche product does help explain why this particular model hits wallets so hard.

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