Garmin Zumo XT motorcycle navigation system – is it necessary?


There are dedicated motorcycle route smartphone apps that cost a fraction of a pure motorcycle sat nav and at least in the eyes of their users can also serve their purpose or even do some things better. What are the differences and what are the advantages of a real navigation system or a suitable app for a smartphone?

The advantage of using a smartphone is that practically everyone has one and does not have to spend extra money on it. There are usually suitable apps for an apple and an egg and the problem with water resistance is also solved with many – mostly higher-priced – models. Without an on-board power connection, however, the battery goes out of hand relatively quickly because the GPS receiver eats a decent amount of electricity during operation. On day trips over 8 hours without on-board power, most devices get very tight.

The topic of “power connection” coincides with the appropriate bracket. There are now a variety of solutions, starting with brackets in which the smartphone can be directly latched, to cases that completely enclose the smartphone (but then make the smartphone more difficult to use). An on-board power supply usually requires a cable, which is why a smartphone solution begins to become critical. It is known that the vibrations on a motorized two-wheeler are not insignificant. A plugged-in USB cable has a certain weight and the vibrations put a strain on the sockets of the smartphone, which can quickly lead to a total loss of the device. But not only the power connection is a weak point; Lately there have been reports of defective cameras because the image stabilization technology doesn’t just put away the harsh vibrations.

In terms of route planning, on the other hand, so much has happened with apps that they often generate better routes with less effort than motorcycle sat navs. Every app can route from A to B, and in principle Google Maps does the same. But motorcyclists have different requirements. They rarely want to take the freeway and are usually looking for interesting, winding back roads. Both apps and motorcycle sat navs can do that, but apps can now do better in a direct comparison. The Calimoto app takes the route of simple operation: even on a smartphone, it is possible to determine an interesting route to continue your journey ad hoc with a short stop – in an astonishingly short time. For me, however, there is no avoiding route planning on the PC – especially on trips lasting several days or vacation trips.

Which brings us to the topic, the dedicated Garmin Zumo XT motorcycle navigation system. First of all, the Garmin company offers route planning on the PC with the associated software package “Basecamp” as a unique selling point, using the same map material as on the navigation system. In other words, the planned routes end up on the navigation system – with a little fine-tuning – usually exactly as planned on the PC. This is essential for me, especially since I meticulously plan routes with the help of general maps.


Garmin’s new Zumo XT shines with a fast processor and great screen, but also annoys with old bugs.

As the successor to the Zumo 595, the Zumo XT continues the motorcycle-specific Zumo series of Garmin navigation systems. Well slimmed down in weight and, above all, dimensions, it is now quite slim. Of course, like its predecessors, it is also waterproof (protection class IPX7) and even certified according to a drop test of the US military standard MIL-STD-810.

The most important difference to the Zumo 595 is probably the display. On the one hand, the resolution was increased from 800 x 480 pixels to 1280 x 720, which is still a long way from today’s smartphone resolutions, but is completely sufficient for the purpose. Visually, the higher resolution is a big step forward, especially when you take a closer look at inputs. Much more important, however, is that the Zumo XT now has a really bright display.

Unfortunately, the display on the 595 was too dark, as many fellow motorcyclists have confirmed to me. Garmin wanted everything at the same time for the Zumo 590 and 595 display: bright background lighting for clear white, resistive touchscreen and, as the only provider on the market, a transflective display on top of that. However, the conflicting goals meant that this display was rarely better than a bright TFT and mostly worse. So now a TFT with a bright backlight.

You shouldn’t be fooled by the nominal quadrupling of the brightness (from approx. 250 cd / m² to approx. 1000 cd / m²): If the blazing sun shines on the display at an unfavorable angle, nothing can be seen here either. This would require a real transflective display, such as the outdoor devices from Garmin (Oregon, Montana, GPSmap) offer. With them you can switch off the lighting completely during the day and still see the better the brighter the sun shines (see example photo gallery). In terms of legibility, the compromised transflective solution of the 595 cannot be compared with that of the outdoor devices in any way.

It should be noted, however, that the Montana with touchscreen only has a resolution of 480 x 272 pixels, the GPSmap 276Cx 800 x 480, but no touchscreen. I don’t know why Garmin does not offer such a transflective motorcycle navigation display with its in-house expertise. Probably technical or even fashion reasons speak against it. The clear white of a bright background lighting that smartphone users are used to is not possible, for example.

As with the smartphone, the battery cannot be changed by the owner. The motorcycle mount looks anything but trustworthy with the simply designed lock. Anyone who, like me, has ever lost a GPS while on the move, urgently needs an additional safety device, and if that only consists of a safety eyelet through which you can pull a lanyard and then attach it to the motorcycle with a carabiner.

At least the power connection is easy to manage, as it only comprises two wires and not, as with some other models, complete cable harnesses with audio connection and pipapo. The only drawback is the cable length. The voltage converter near the open ends prevents the cable from being simply shortened if necessary.

In addition to the motorcycle mount, Garmin also supplies a car mount with (suction cup) for the Zumo XT, which unfortunately is anything but practical. This is because it has no contacts for powering the Zumo. Instead, you have to plug in a mini-USB plug on the back every time and unplug it again after use. You’ve done better than that, Garmin.

On the positive side, the speed of the processor is to be noted, which ensures a fast route calculation. The touchscreen also reacts quickly to common finger gestures. The latter is hardly possible with gloves, but the XT can also be operated easily with gloved fingers and not only when dry, but also in rain.

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