Garmin DriveSmart Review: Great for a Third-Party Navigation System

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You have to take what you can get when it comes to factory-installed navigation systems, so exercise some free will and go third-party.

We live in a world of technological miracles, and one of the most ubiquitous one is the use of the Global Positioning System for navigation. By combining data from the array of GPS satellites around the globe with up-to-date map and traffic information, you can all-but turn off your brain while you drive. Observe the road and do what the voice tells you, and you’ll likely get to where you are going. Because this technology is so universal, it’s found almost everywhere, including in the form of the Garmin DriveSmart.

Most new cars come with a GPS system, and there are dozens of navigation apps available for smartphones. So, it might seem like third-party GPS systems, like the Garmin DriveSmart, are extraneous devices. Yet, there are plenty of advantages to having a standalone system for navigation. Let’s examine them.

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A Bit About the Garmin DriveSmart

Before we dive into the specifics that make the Garmin DriveSmart a great choice for drivers, let’s talk about the tech. We’ll talk about what GPS is and how it works. We’ll also talk about the history of Garmin, one of the pioneers in the industry.

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History of GPS Navigation

The idea of using satellites to track a position on the globe started with the United States Department of Defense. Their system, launched in 1973 but not fully operational until 1995.

However, civilian access to the system began in the 1980s. Though, the US can deny access to these satellites, like they did to the Indian military during the 1999 Kargil War. Thus, other countries are developing their own systems, such as Russia’s GLONASS. Some civilian devices are capable of using these systems as well, thereby increasing their accuracy since there are more satellites.

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Credit: Kskhh, Wikimedia Commons

Originally, GPS tracking wasn’t all that accurate. At first, it could locate a signal within about five meters or a little more than 16 feet. Towards the mid-2000s, after the GPS satellites were upgraded, that accuracy improved that accuracy improved. When GLONASS came online, it could locate the signal’s exact location within a range of about two meters or six feet.

Today, the latest upgrade is known as the L5 band, which wasn’t fully deployed until 2018. Modern receivers, like the Garmin DriveSmart, are now able to pinpoint the receiver’s location within 11.8 inches. This makes modern navigation systems more accurate than they’ve ever been before.

The History of Garmin

In 1983, businessman Gary Burrell partnered with a former defense contractor employee named Min H. Kao. In 1989 they founded their company, naming it ProNav and releasing a GPS unit that cost $2,500.

Ironically, their first big customer was the United States Army, which gave them a contract in 1991. The company then changed its name, combining the first syllables of their founders’ first names: Garmin.

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Already a multi-million-dollar profitable company by 1995, they created products for aviators, mariners, and hikers. But, once the final restrictions were lifted in the early 2000s, Garmin was able to debut a GPS designed for car travel.

They’ve had a number of models, including the Gar Streetpilot, the Nuvi, and, now, the Garmin DriveSmart. Originally a US-based company out of Kansas, Garmin’s current headquarters is in Switzerland. While Burrell retired and hold the title of Chairman Emeritus, Kao is still involved as the company’s chairman.

Who Is the Garmin DriveSmart GPS System Perfect for?

As mentioned above, there are plenty of options for GPS navigation at your disposal already. If you have a car released in the past decade, you almost certainly have GPS navigation installed. If you have a smartphone, you can use GPS combined with wireless signals for navigation.

Yet, those factory-installed GPS systems are usually not updated nearly as frequently as other services. You also might want to keep your phone free so you can listen to music or take handsfree calls while you travel. If you love the idea of having a single device that does everything, then you’re probably fine with just using your phone. However, if you like the idea of having devices that are designed for a specific purpose that it does well, consider the Garmin DriveSmart.

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If you drive an older car that doesn’t have Bluetooth capabilities or a back-up camera, the Garmin DriveSmart can be used to fill those gaps. However, it is primarily a navigation system and that’s what it does the best. With up-to-date maps, detailed turn-by-turn directions, and even the ability to use local landmarks, the Garmin DriveSmart is like having a robotic co-pilot with you wherever you go.

This way, you can use your phone to make calls or listen to your favorite playlist or podcast, not worrying about it being interrupted every few minutes by your navigation app. It’s a great way to keep your tech compartmentalized and ensure you’re heading in the right direction at all times.


Features and Benefits of the Garmin DriveSmart

Now it’s time to dig into the specific features of the Garmin DriveSmart, and how they will make your driving experience better. From integrating your smartphone with the DriveSmart for handsfree calling and notifications to pairing it with a back-up camera, this device has all the versatility you could want with Garmin-quality navigation.

1. A Big Ol’ Touchscreen

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What makes the Garmin DriveSmart so great from the moment you see it is the no-frills design. Rather than cluttering up the device with buttons and a thick shell, it’s a minimalist masterpiece. It’s just screen. The nearly 7-inch screen (it clocks in at 6.95 inches from edge to edge) is bright and clear, and you can use finger gestures to zoom or reposition the image.

Because the screen is so large, features that would be intrusive on smaller devices have plenty of room to breathe. The split screen functions for navigating tricky intersections to seeing what landmarks are coming up don’t encroach on the main display. It also makes it easy for you to use see notifications and messages from your phone while driving.

2. Smartphone and Bluetooth Compatibility

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The appeal of the Garmin DriveSmart is that it’s a dedicated GPS navigation system, but you can connect your phone to it to expand its abilities. The device updates over wireless networks while charging inside the home. You can customize the sort of notifications your phone sends to the display. You can also use the Garmin’s voice-activation feature to make handsfree calls.

Pairing with your smartphone (or integrated data card) also helps making navigation easier. With this real-time connection, it can show you pricing for parking near your destination and keep you up-to-date about where and when you need to feed a parking meter. It also comes with LiveTrack, which allows your family members to see where you are at all times, great for parents wanting to keep track of their teenagers.

3. Driver Assistance

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You might worry that a device like the Garmin DriveSmart is just as much of a distraction as, say, texting. However, used correctly, this device can actually help your teen driver with its real-time driver’s assistance features. It alerts you if you do something majorly problematic, like drive on the wrong side of the road.

However, it also can notify drivers when approaching sharp turns, and will even offer warnings if you speed. It also notifies drivers about animal crossings, railroad crossings, and when approaching school zones. They also let you know where speed cameras are located. Finally, these alerts also offer fatigue warnings after extended periods of driving.

4. Free Lifetime Updates

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A GPS system is only as good as its maps. No matter how much Apple improves their navigation service, customers will always remember it as the device that tried to send people into the river. What makes the Garmin DriveSmart such a great choice is that it comes with free updates for maps and traffic information for the lifetime of the device.

Garmin can use “Real” directions, in which you are told to turn left at “the red building” or some other local landmark. Another reason why the frequent updates are crucial. What this means is that so long as Garmin supports this device, you can use it forever. Unlike smartphones or laptops, which seem to last only a couple of years at most, this a device for use in the long-haul.


What People Are Saying About the Garmin DriveSmart GPS System

People who’ve reviewed the Garmin DriveSmart praise its large display, lifetime updates, and overall accuracy. A number of reviewers say they work for popular ride-sharing services, and that this is their GPS system of choice. People also like that they are able to integrate their phones with the system, allowing for notifications and dialing controls to appear on the Garmin display. As with handsfree calling, people like that they are able to plot a route using voice commands. However, if you need to use the on-screen keyboard, the large display makes doing so easy.

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PROS:

  • plus
    Large Screen
  • plus
    Free lifetime updates
  • plus
    Smart features

CONS:

  • close
    Short battery life
  • Charging cord not included

On Amazon, 80 percent of reviewers have rated this at least four stars, with a little more than two-thirds of them giving the Garmin DriveSmart the full five stars. Those who have complaints about this product all seem to suffer from a software problem or a manufacturer’s defect.

Also, Garmin provides the warranty rather than the seller, so you have to deal with the company to correct these issues. Other users took exception to the fact that you have to purchase a dedicated charging cord separately, even though the battery life is about one hour. Still, with a very cheap cord, the battery problem is no longer a concern.


Alternatives to the Garmin DriveSmart GPS to Consider

Perhaps the Garmin DriveSmart has too little or even too many features, so you are looking for an alternative. Below we offer three alternate choices, one with fewer bells and whistles. If these don’t strike your fancy, keeping reading and look for the link to our in-depth guide of the best GPS systems on the market at the bottom of this article.

1. Garmin Drive 60 LM

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The great thing about the Garmin DriveSmart is that it is primarily a navigation device, but gives users the options for more smart features. However, perhaps you truly want a GPS system that is just a GPS system and nothing more.

This is where the Garmin Drive 60 LM comes in, because it features all of the navigation benefits of the DriveSmart but none of the extra features. You still get lifetime updates for map, and you also get split-screen functions showing business and local landmarks.

What you won’t get are anything to distract from the navigation functions. Unfortunately, abandoning the smart features means that you don’t get traffic updates or are able to use voice commands. Still, this is a great, pared-down alternative with the high-quality navigation Garmin is known for.

​2. Eonon GPS Navigation System

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This system from Eonon is not just a GPS system, though it does have a seven-inch screen to showcase your directions. This device is actually a replacement car stereo, that adds streaming services like Spotify and Pandora to your music options. The screen also displays information about your car and it can sync with your phone.

Unlike many of the devices we’ve reviewed, this one comes with support for Mirror Link for iOS devices. Designed to fit BMW vehicles primarily, this system is perfect for someone not just looking for a GPS device but an upgrade to their whole dashboard system.

​3. Lexxson Car Navigation

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Perhaps you are a driver who does want all of your services integrated into a single device, but just not your Android smartphone. In that case, consider checking out the Lexxson Car Navigation system. You will still need to connect the device to your smartphone, unless your car comes with an integrated data SIM card that connects to the internet.

Once you are connected, you can use this device for navigation, but also to play music from streaming services, control the radio, and even play video games. (Though, it goes without saying that you should neither watch video nor play video games while driving, even when sitting in traffic.) Still, this device has the versatility some of the others lack.


The Garmin DriveSmart GPS system is a worthy entrant into the struggling third-party navigation industry.

The Garmin DriveSmart offers the best of both worlds. It’s mainly a GPS navigation system, but it also comes with specific features that allow it to do even more. Whether you want to use it as a second car display or simply just for directions, you can.

The Garmin name promises high-quality maps and accuracy, and the lifetime updates ensure that this device can stay with you for a long time. Unlike smartphones, which age out quickly, this device will be able to get you where you are going for years to come. Whether it’s simply good navigation you want or that, plus the latest smart features, the Garmin DriveSmart is a great choice to consider.

What do you think? Is the Garmin DriveSmart the sort of GPS system you’d like to have? Let us know, along with your thoughts, reactions, and experiences in the comments below. Don’t forget to share the article on social media if you’ve enjoyed it.

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