On test: Garmin DriveAssist 50 LMT-D EU satnav
E&T hits the road with an in-car helper that does much more than just give you directions to your destination.
This new satnav from Garmin doesn't just have a built-in dashcam, it has lots of built-in smarts. It uses the data from the GPS and camera intelligently to give you extra features. For example, it promises to alert you when you make tired mistakes.
At its most simple though, it's a decent satnav with a five-inch touchscreen. The device is slim – just a bit chunkier than a smartphone. It comes with a cradle that you attach with suction to the car windscreen. The positioning of this is pretty important because to set up the dashcam you'll want to align it to point straight forward, but you also want to be able to see it well when driving. We found just beneath the rear-view mirror in the middle of the windscreen worked best. It attached very well.
It comes with a power cable that plugs into the car lighter socket but it's frustrating that this hogs the socket; you can't, for example, charge your phone at the same time.
Plug it in, adjust it so it's pointing straight forward, and you’re away. You can navigate using it straight out of the box. Anywhere in Europe because maps for the UK and continental Europe are built in, and they come with free lifetime updates.
Type in a postcode or pick from a category (restaurant, shop, petrol station, cash point etc) to navigate. After a brief pause to calculate the best route, it gives turn-by-turn directions – a loud, clear voice and on-screen arrows on a map.
The navigation side is pretty standard issue and works well. The additional features are more interesting. The built-in dashcam is a nice addition, even if only for recording your side of the story if you're ever in a collision. Maybe you wouldn't go to the trouble of buying and setting up a dashcam for this reason, but if it's built into your satnav anyway then happy days, it has you covered.
The Garmin also uses the satnav picture, presumably combined with speed data from the GPS, to alert you to issues in real life. For example, if you're not paying attention, it beeps to tell you that the line of traffic you're stuck in has started moving. It also gives collision warnings when it thinks you're too close to the car in front.
This feels a bit ‘nanny state’ at times but it can be a godsend. All drivers have moments when they're not looking dead ahead. You could be leaving yourself a lovely big stopping distance on the motorway, glance at your wing mirror, then someone cuts in front of you and the first you know about it is the Garmin's beep.
The much-vaunted ‘tired driver sensing’ comes in the form of it beeping if you accidentally swerve lanes. This definitely works but it tends to beep whenever you drift lanes, even if you're just slowly pulling in or out, which is a bit annoying. But again, on balance, it felt useful. If anything, we wanted this and the distance alerts to be much louder to really get our attention, but you can only turn them on or off – try to up the volume and the voice directions get louder too.
Navigation-wise, we had a couple of peeves. The first is that the descriptions of directions aren't always intuitive. For example, there were a few times it told us to go straight over a roundabout when the roundabout layout was such that any human would have called it a left turn. And very occasionally it has a hiccup and lost the map all together, leaving us in limbo, a dot on a screen. But this was rare and very brief.
Largely though, it directed us efficiently on a good route and alerted us to various stuff along the way. If anything, the screen was a bit too busy so you might want to turn some stuff off. Alerts pop up for speed cameras, changes in speed limit, even stuff like "animals crossing" signs. You can also see icons on the map for petrol stations and more.
When we did need petrol on the motorway, the Garmin impressed. Without cancelling our navigation it was easy to add a stop. With just a couple of taps on the screen, we asked for the nearest services. It told us the distances while arrows indicated their direction so we could be sure to pick one that was en route and not behind us.
It was only later, looking for lunch, that we realised no screen taps were necessary. Say "voice commands" loud and clear and a menu comes up – you can navigate to a new destination, use the map and much more, all just by using your voice. It takes a few goes to be understood, but because it responds by voice you don't need to look at the screen, making it safer for driving.
There are no traffic alerts on screen – a major loss if you're used to navigating with the likes of Google maps, which suggests new routes based on traffic conditions. You can add a separate module for this or use a Bluetooth link to your smartphone to add traffic data to the Garmin for free. But then you could just navigate on the smartphone.
But the Garmin's directions on screen are far superior to a smartphone app. Most of the time, you see directions on a map. When you get near motorway junctions though, it splits the screen with one half showing you an eerily accurate video of the road ahead – the lanes, the road sign overhead, everything – overlaid with a coloured arrow to indicate which lane you should be in.
And when you arrive at your destination, the map disappears in favour of a video of the street with an arrow pointing out the house you're looking for. It feels just one step short of augmented reality.
The whole experience is slick and could only really be improved upon with built-in traffic alerts or augmented reality display. If you're looking for a standalone satnav that covers Europe, the Garmin DriveAssist 50 LMT-D EU is well worth your consideration.
RRP £279.99 garmin.com
Google Maps, free
Free and highly featured smartphone app that includes traffic alerts. But it drains phone battery quickly, incurs data charges overseas and you'll need an in-car cradle.
Tom Tom Via 52, £139.99
Similar satnav features to the Garmin, with smartphone connectivity, and at a reasonable price, but without the dashcam and driver awareness. tomtom.com
Mio MyVue 658, £155
No satnav but this dashcam captures high definition video footage and can act as a parking guard while unattended. Some insurers lower premiums if you have a dashcam. mioglobal.com