It’s more or less expected that advances in on-board navigation will come with metronomic regularity and that any leaps in features and capabilities will become larger over time. That may be true for general consumer products, but for motorcycle-intended navigators, the pace has been a bit less brisk. Until now.
In 2013, Garmin introduced the second of its new-form-factor zumos, the 390LM; it joins the 350LM and stalwart zumos, the 660LM and 665LM, in Garmin’s motorcycle lineup. With the 390, Garmin has brought full Bluetooth connectivity to the 300 series. When paired with a phone and a Bluetooth headset, the 390LM can be used to make and receive calls, giving you a keypad on the navigator itself along with access to your phone book and other features. Audio quality is on par with direct phone connectivity, and it’s nice to be able to see who is calling on the GPS while your phone is safely tucked away. What’s more, you can dial phone numbers right from the zumo’s points-of-interest database. It’s nice to save a few steps. A Bluetooth connection to a headset also allows turn-by-turn navigation in your choice of languages. (Pick Cantonese to simulate an angry spouse. It’s fun!)
Too bad the necessary valvestem caps are so expensive.
The other key update in the 390LM is a tire-pressure monitoring system (TPMS) that does not require a complicated installation. Instead, the optional sensors run in place of your normal valve caps and send pressure data to the zumo wirelessly. The system works very well as soon as the sensors note a bit of wheel movement and wake themselves from sleep. You can see tire pressures in real time from a page accessed through the Apps menu, plus you can set a warning threshold to alert you of a tire going down. TPMS is a great feature, but this application is compromised in a couple of ways. First, the cap-replacement strategy requires rigid (not rubber) valve stems, and, because the valve itself must be compressed to get a reading, you must count on the O-ring in the Garmin cap to keep air in the tire. Second, the sensors are pretty pricey: $70. Each. Gulp.
Garmin continues to update its software and map options, so the 390LM benefits. A “curvy roads” feature selects more interesting roads from Point A to Point B. An “exit services” feature helps you find gas stations and restaurants ahead of you on a specified route. Great idea, but it only really works on interstates. For that matter, we’d love to see the search feature for fuel stations have a filter that returns only locations ahead of you; it takes a lot of scrolling through stations to see if there’s gas, say, 40 or 50 miles ahead of you.
One of the reasons you pay extra for a motorcycle-specific GPS is its ruggedness. The 390LM’s rubberized case has proven durable and the 4.3-inch touchscreen resistant to nicks and dings during nearly a year of use. We wish we could say the same for the new-style mounting cradle, whose small power pins are much fussier than the 600-series mounts. We had sporadic power dropouts on three different bikes with two different cradles; when power drops, the unit starts to shut down and Bluetooth un-syncs. Overall, though, the 390LM is a solid unit and packs all the geek-out features a high-tech traveler could want. And no doubt there will be something new with each software update. Just keepin’ the beat.
Garmin zumo 390LM
Price: $700; $140 more for two TPMS sensors
This improved and more capable version of Garmin’s latest motorcycle-specific navigation system doesn't come cheap.