Garmin Zumo 550 review: Garmin Zumo 550

Starting at $900
  • Recommended Use motorcycle
  • Features 2D / 3D map perspective, XM Satellite Radio support, XM weather support, clock, custom POIs, hands-free calling via Bluetooth, preinstalled POIs
  • Navigation Software & Services MapSource City Navigator NT

Roadshow Editors' Rating

8.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8

The Good The Garmin Zumo 550 provides text- and voice-guided directions to motorcyclists and comes with an easy-to-install mounting kit for a motorcycle or a car. All maps are preloaded on the device, and the unit has a built-in MP3 player and integrated Bluetooth for hands-free calling.

The Bad The Garmin Zumo 550's points of interest database is outdated and occasionally gave us wrong street names or no street at all for some side streets. Also, automatic route recalculation is a bit on the slow side. The compass only works in off-road mode, and there's no Mac support yet for Garmin's MapSource software.

The Bottom Line Despite some very slight performance glitches, the Garmin Zumo 550 is a fantastic navigation system for motorcyclists (and cars), with good Bluetooth integration.

Garmin Zumo 550

When we reviewed the TomTom Rider last year, I was a happy camper on two wheels. With the release of the Garmin Zumo 550, I'm a really happy camper on two or four wheels. As the only two motorcycle-specific portable navigation systems, it's hard not to compare them. Though the TomTom Rider, released a year before the Zumo 550, did the job I needed, I anxiously awaited the release of the Zumo 550 for so many reasons. It was pretty hard not to get excited considering Garmin pumped it up like it was the biggest thing for motorcycles since the invention of the wheel, and it delivered on all fronts.

With a sleek design, a boatload of features, and solid performance, the Garmin Zumo 550 is a top-notch navigation system for motorcyclists (and cars for that matter). Of course, you'll pay for those features. The TomTom Rider goes for $799.95, while the Zumo is a bit more pricey at $1,076.91. Both are well-equipped devices, but for the extra bucks, the Zumo is well worth it. It will be interesting to see if TomTom makes any modifications to the Rider in response to the Zumo 550.

Unboxing the Garmin Zumo 550
Upon opening the box, I was surprised to see how much was included with the Garmin Zumo 550. There's the Zumo, a motorcycle mount, a car mount with an adhesive plastic disc for attaching to your dashboard, black plastic faceplates (if you don't like the gray ones), an AC charger, a motorcycle power cable that connects to the bike's battery, a car charger, tools needed to mount the Zumo to motorcycle handlebars, a tiny screwdriver for the "safety screw" on the unit, a USB cable to sync and download software and updates, a City Navigator DVD, a CD-ROM of the owners manual, a quick setup guide for mounting, and some stickers. Tons of stuff.

The only thing that didn't come with this unit was a Bluetooth earpiece for the helmet. Yes, it may be a big deal to some but not for others, including me, and here's why. The TomTom Rider's earpiece was so horrible that the company may as well not have included it. It was a cheap earpiece with low volume and wires were hanging all over the place. I can't say for sure why Garmin didn't include one but the company may have thought it better to spend time perfecting the unit itself. There are already a number of Bluetooth-integrated helmets and standalone earpieces for helmets out there. Just a guess, of course.

Design
There's one word to describe the design of the Garmin Zumo 550: sexy. It has a silver shell with two removable caps on top and bottom of the unit that you can exchange (ahem, I mean purchase) for the unit with a plethora of designs including racing stripes and flames. The unit is compact, measuring 4.8 inches wide, 3.9 inches high, and 1.6 inches deep and weighing 10.6 ounces, a hair lighter than the Rider's 10.9 ounces. In addition, the Zumo 550 meets IPX7 standards, which means it can withstand accidental immersion in three feet of water for up to 30 minutes.

Overall, the Zumo has a sturdy shell, though a little less so than the Rider; I'm not sure it could completely withstand a fall. That said, the handlebar mount was very sturdy and held the Zumo securely in place. For extra security, the handlebar mount has a safety screw to ensure that the unit doesn't fall out of the mount and comes with a mini screwdriver to put on your keychain.

There are two choices for mounting the Garmin Zumo 550 to a motorcycle: a u-bolt mount or a clutch mount. I chose the u-bolt mount for my 1998 Honda Magna VF750, and installation was a breeze. In addition to the provided tools, you'll need a Phillips head screwdriver and pliers or a wrench to tighten the nuts on the mount. Other elements of the mount include a rubber weather cap that plugs into the connector if the unit isn't on the bike and a cable that can be connected directly to the bike's battery for constant charging. The latter, however, may require professional installation if you're not good with the electrical system on your bike.


Garmin provides instructions on how to install the motorcycle mount, and we found it to be a breeze.

Now, I know the Garmin Zumo is more a motorcycle-specific navigation system, but it's just as good in the car, and the car mount deserves a mention. First, it's a nice bonus that Garmin even included a vehicle mount (both windshield and dash) whereas TomTom did not, and there's an integrated speaker on the apparatus. Here in California (as well as Minnesota), it's illegal to use windshield suction mounts while a vehicle is in use, so I chose the dashboard mount. I mounted it to my dash in a second, but be warned that it comes with a very strong adhesive on the disc, so this will pretty much be permanent. I have a small, two-seater convertible so the Zumo was perfectly positioned on the dash, and I wasn't stretching to use the touch screen. In addition, I liked the fact that the unit is already at eye level instead of being integrated in the car. You don't have to take your eyes off the road at all. The speaker volume is perfect with the top up. I had it cranked (along with my stereo) and I could still easily hear the voice commands. I did try the windshield mount while parked, and the suction cup is fantastic for attaching to either the windshield or to the adhesive disk for the dash. It actually has a tightening lever that pushes and locks the suction cup into place so it doesn't go anywhere.

The Zumo's display is the same size as the Rider's screen. It's a 3.5-inch (diagonal) UV resistant touch screen with a 320x240 pixel resolution and a white backlight. I didn't notice any difference in display quality between the two units--they both looked great--but I do wish they were just a tad larger. One unique feature on the Zumo that we appreciated is the ability to choose the size of icons. Garmin provides you with two choices: standard and large. The standard size is still big enough for gloved fingers, but the large buttons are perfect. I should note, however, that if you choose the large option, the letters and numbers on the onscreen keyboard and dialpad then come grouped in fives (see image below), rather than having all of them accessible at once. It only takes a miniscule amount of extra time to key in your entry, and I really liked this feature.


If you choose the large icon option, letters and numbers are then grouped into fives such as above.

The power button is on the lower right corner and you have to push it in for a couple seconds to power the device on and off. Again, as with the Rider, I really liked this feature since it prevents an accidental shutdown. There are also four buttons on the left side that are used for volume control, scrolling between menus, zooming in and out, and more. On the bottom of the unit there's an SD expansion slot (unfortunately, you have to purchase an SD card separately whereas TomTom included one with the Rider), a mini USB port, and a 24-pin mount connector. The compartment lid flips up easily with no hassle. Finally, on the back of the unit, there is the battery compartment and an MCX connector for an optional antenna under the rubber weather cap.

Features
The features are endless on the Garmin Zumo 550. For starters, the Zumo is powered by a 20-channel, SiRFstarlll high-sensitivity GPS receiver and all maps of North America are preloaded on the device. Operation is even simpler than with the TomTom Rider, but as always, we recommend that you really familiarize yourself with the Zumo and its features before hitting the road.

From the main menu, you are presented with two large and clearly marked options to begin navigation--Where to? and View map--as well as several items along the bottom of the screen, including a phone icon (if you are already paired to your Bluetooth phone), a musical note icon for the MP3 player, and a tool icon for the Settings menu. Tapping any one of these icons takes you to a bunch of submenus for that function. For example, if you touch the phone icon, another menu comes up that includes phone numbers for points of interest (POI), call history, and phone book.


With clearly marked icons, the Garmin Zumo 550 is easy to use and operate.

Navigation features are on par with the latest portable navigation systems. The Garmin Zumo 550 gives you turn-by-turn text- and voice-guided directions, plus it has text-to-speech functionality, so the system will actually speak street names. Other navigation features include automatic route recalculation, detours, and a healthy POI database. You can also get real-time traffic updates from Clear Channel's Total Traffic Network or XM NavTraffic service, but you will have to purchase a compatible traffic receiver and subscription plan.

There are almost 6 million POIs preinstalled on the unit. POI-loving riders can also install software from the additional CD that gives you access to download lots of extra ones. I haven't tried this feature yet because I use a Mac, but it gives you the ability to upload POIs and routes or download those created by others, then sync this info between your PC and your Zumo. Check out this blog on POI- and route-sharing riders with compatible navigation devices. With the software installed, you can also get alerts when you are in a certain distance of a point or, if you're speeding, distance to school zones and so on. I haven't tried this feature yet since I'm on a Mac OS, but it gives you the ability to upload your favorite POIs and routes, while downloading POIs and routes created by others from your PC to your Zumo. Check out this this cool blog on POI and route sharing riders with compatible navigation devices.

You can view maps in 2D or 3D mode with day or night colors. The colors automatically switch to the night setting at sundown.The map screen is very simple and displays your speed, estimated arrival time, and the distance to your next turn. On the top of the screen, the next turn and the street name is displayed, and there are also plus and minus buttons to zoom in and out of the map. If you touch the speed tab, a slick, trip information screen comes up displaying your direction, speed, max speed, and a fuel gauge. The last feature will only show when the unit is connected to the motorcycle mount, however. You can also view POIs near your current location, but this is one area where the icons were too small to easily tap with big gloves. Obviously it's pretty dangerous when you are actually riding and trying to do this so I don't recommend it.

With the integrated Bluetooth, you can use the Zumo 550 as a hands-free speaker system for phone calls, and it's also one of my favorite features. After some trials and tribulations, I paired the Zumo with a Palm Treo 650 and a Cardo Scala Rider FM. See our Tips & Tricks section for more details on the process. Once your phone is connected, your phone book is synched to the Zumo. If you have a lot of numbers in your phone book, it may take a while to scroll through all the contacts, but you can choose to spell the first or last name, and within a few letters it brings up your matching contacts, which is a great feature.


The phone integration on the Garmin Zumo 550 is great.

From the phone menu, you are presented with five icons: Phone Book, POIs, Dial (takes you the keypad menu), Call History (last dialed, last received, missed), and Call Home. I had no problem scrolling through the phone options safely while driving. Once on a call, there is a phone icon that pops up on the map menu; touch it, and a menu pops up with a huge End Call icon. There is also an Options tab that brings up the touch screen where you can transfer audio back to the phone or mute the microphone.


Road tunes: Load up an SD card with your favorite MP3s and listen to them with the Zumo 550's built-in MP3 player.

Finally, the Zumo 550 has a built-in MP3 player. You can load a bunch of songs onto an SD card and listen tunes for hours via a Bluetooth headset connected to your helmet. The Cardo Scala Rider FM worked like a champ with this unit. The experience was actually better on the Zumo than on the Rider because it never dropped the Bluetooth connection. This happened a few times on the Rider, and even though it wasn't a big deal to reconnect, it was kind of a pain. You can also connect a pair of external speakers (and amplifier) to the handlebar mount since the unit is equipped with a 3.5mm jack.

Performance
I took the Garmin Zumo 550 for a test run in the San Francisco Bay Area. From a cold start, the unit took about 10 to 20 seconds to lock onto a satellite, depending if I was downtown surrounded by lots of buildings or in a more open area. Subsequent starts were quicker. The Zumo accurately pinpointed my location, but the screen is a little choppier than the TomTom Rider's continuous and smooth motion. I didn't really mind this though, because it didn't look like the screen was shaking. It just wasn't as smooth as the Rider. As the Rider did, the Zumo gave some pretty insane directions to destinations on a number of occasions, some of the POIs were outdated, and it had some wrong names for side streets and alleys. But, at least by hitting the Detour icon, it recalculated more reasonable directions. It also depended on what setting (fastest time, shortest distance, or off-road) I chose.

Route recalculations were slower than the lightening-fast Rider. It wasn't much slower, but enough to be annoying. I purposely missed turns to see how fast it would recalculate and sometimes two streets passed where I should have turned before the Zumo gave an alternate route. Hopefully Garmin will fix this in the future with a firmware update.

I was also a little disappointed with the compass setting. You can only view the working compass if you have the route preference set to Off-road. Otherwise, the Zumo simply tells you on the map view screen which direction you are traveling in.

The Bluetooth phone integration was great, especially with the built-in mic on the vehicle mount. I tested this feature many times, calling friends' cell phones and landlines. The audio was really good on both ends. They could hear me loud and clear and vice versa. With the top down, I still had decent results but had to turn the stereo down every time I wanted to hear the voice commands. If I missed the command though, all I had to do is push the Turn in icon, and the voice command was repeated, and the map presented a close-up and text of the next direction.

The Garmin Zumo 550's battery is rated for three to four hours depending on usage. I got more than five hours of ride time before the low-battery warning came up, which was impressive.