Smartphones are not the best navigation tools. There, I said it. It’s not that I have anything against smartphones – I have a hundred apps for travel, entertainment, and organization that I use daily. But after a year of traveling across the Florida Gulf Coast, road tripping across North Carolina, and exploring small towns in Virginia, I realized a smartphone was just not the best navigation tool.

That’s when I returned to using a Garmin automotive GPS device.

There are a lot of great navigation apps for smartphones like Google Maps, Waze, and Roadtrippers. With data connections, these maps can instantly find up to date information about places you want to visit and provide traffic updates.

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But there are drawbacks to using smartphones for navigation.

Continuously using a smartphone for navigation drains the battery, and continuously keeping the phone plugged into a charge is bad for the battery. It’s a lose-lose situation. Smartphone navigation is also impossible when you lose data signal unless you think ahead and download maps for offline use.

Although these are not world-ending complaints, they were enough for me to switch it up and take a step backwards in navigation. I reached out to Garmin about testing some of their latest devices. And that’s when I realized I wasn’t taking a step backwards – the new automotive GPS devices were taking a big leap forward.

I tested all their devices for a few weeks before writing these reviews. Be sure to check out the list of features – some of these devices offer much more than smartphones.

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Garmin Drive 52

The Garmin Drive 52 is the base model – and you don’t want it. Starting at $149.99, the Drive 52 has a 5-inch touchscreen and comes preloaded with North American road maps. The device features turn-by-turn directions and visual guides to help you find the correct lane for travel.

The $169.99 Garmin Drive 52 & Traffic features a compatible charging cable with built-in traffic receiver. Alerts are provided when traffic along your driving route begins to snarl from road construction or an accident.

But that’s where the features of the base model come to an end. The Garmin Drive 52 does not include voice-activated navigation, wireless connections, or a high-resolution screen.

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Features

General

IP5X Dust Rating
Magnetic Mount
1″ Ball Adapter

Compatibility

Backup Camera (additional purchase required)
Wi-Fi Connection
Bluetooth Connection
InReach Devices (additional purchase required)

Sensors

GLONASS
Galileo
Compass
Barometric Altimeter
Pitch and Roll Gauges

Navigation Features

Voice-Activated Navigation
Turn-by-Turn Directions
Landmark Guidance
Includes Traffic
Speed Limit Indicator
Driver Alerts
Import GPX Files

RV Features

Specialized Routing for Vehicle Size and Weight
Road Elevations
Road Warnings

Pros: Lowest price

Cons: No voice-activated navigation, tedious to update the road maps, small screen size

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Garmin DriveSmart 66

The Garmin DriveSmart 66 represents a significant improvement over the Drive 52 – but it’s an improvement you’ll have to pay to get. The $249.99 device features a 6-inch high-resolution touchscreen with backlit glass that makes it easily readable day or night.

The biggest improvement is the addition of voice-activated navigation. Speak the words, “Hey Garmin,” and give various commands for finding points of interest, specific street addresses, or adjusting settings like volume and brightness.

The DriveSmart 66 features turn-by-turn directions, visual guides, traffic alerts, and comes preloaded with North American road maps. The device also features a Bluetooth connection for effortless wireless map updates. Amazon users will also enjoy the built-in Alexa device for controlling smart devices and listening to music.

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Features

General

IP5X Dust Rating
Magnetic Mount
1″ Ball Adapter

Compatibility

Backup Camera (additional purchase required)
Wi-Fi Connection
Bluetooth Connection
InReach Devices (additional purchase required)

Sensors

GLONASS
Galileo
Compass
Barometric Altimeter
Pitch and Roll Gauges

Navigation Features

Voice-Activated Navigation
Turn-by-Turn Directions
Landmark Guidance
Includes Traffic
Speed Limit Indicator
Driver Alerts
Import GPX Files

RV Features

Specialized Routing for Vehicle Size and Weight
Road Elevations
Road Warnings

Pros: Built-in traffic updates, voice-activated navigation, Bluetooth connection to smartphone for map updates

Cons: 6-inch screen is a bit small, and the price is a bit high

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Garmin DriveSmart 86

For the past month, I have been traveling with the Garmin DriveSmart 86 fixed to the dash of my Honda Pilot. The device features an impressive 8-inch, high-resolution touchscreen – the same size screen found in most modern vehicles.

The $349.99 DriveSmart 86 includes the same features of the DriveSmart 66. The DriveSmart 86 can also be rotated vertically for a different orientation – interestingly, it makes the Garmin device appear like an oversized smartphone. Use the Randconcept Dashboard Mounting Pad to suction cup mount the device to the dash instead of the windshield.

The Garmin DriveSmart 86 is my top recommended automotive GPS device for personal vehicles. The large screen is easy to read details of maps, the voice-activated navigation is nearly flawless, and the smartphone connection keeps the device up to date and connected to live traffic reports.

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Features

General

IP5X Dust Rating
Magnetic Mount
1″ Ball Adapter

Compatibility

Backup Camera (additional purchase required)
Wi-Fi Connection
Bluetooth Connection
InReach Devices (additional purchase required)

Sensors

GLONASS
Galileo
Compass
Barometric Altimeter
Pitch and Roll Gauges

Navigation Features

Voice-Activated Navigation
Turn-by-Turn Directions
Landmark Guidance
Includes Traffic
Speed Limit Indicator
Driver Alerts
Import GPX Files

RV Features

Specialized Routing for Vehicle Size and Weight
Road Elevations
Road Warnings

Pros: Large screen size, smartphone connection, built-in traffic updates, voice-activated navigation

Cons: Price

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Garmin RV 890

The Garmin RV 890 is not just a different model number – it is an entirely different navigation device specifically designed for RVers. The $499.99 GPS device includes a feature for user to select their RV type, input dimensions and weight, and then receive notifications about upcoming road obstacles like low clearance bridges and steep inclines.

The 8-inch high-resolution touchscreen is a good size for RVers traveling in pickup trucks while towing travel trailers of fifth wheels. The windshield mount features a magnetic connection to the device, making it easy to remove and store if you’ll be away from the vehicle. The device is preloaded with North American road maps, features voice-activated navigation and turn-by-turn directions, and includes additional information on campgrounds.

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Features

General

IP5X Dust Rating
Magnetic Mount
1″ Ball Adapter

Compatibility

Backup Camera (additional purchase required)
Wi-Fi Connection
Bluetooth Connection
InReach Devices (additional purchase required)

Sensors

GLONASS
Galileo
Compass
Barometric Altimeter
Pitch and Roll Gauges

Navigation Features

Voice-Activated Navigation
Turn-by-Turn Directions
Landmark Guidance
Includes Traffic
Speed Limit Indicator
Driver Alerts
Import GPX Files

RV Features

Specialized Routing for Vehicle Size and Weight
Road Elevations
Road Warnings

Pros: Specialized routing for RVs, magnetic mount connection, Bluetooth connection to smartphone

Cons: Small screen size if driving a larger vehicle, Android operating system will seem foreign to Apple users

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Garmin RV 1090

The Garmin RV 1090 is the top recommended GPS device for Class C or Class A RVs. The Garmin RV 1090 features a whopping 10-inch high-resolution touchscreen. The HD display is easily readable day or night while traveling on the highway. The device includes a suction cup to attach the magnetic mount to a windshield, but also a plate for permanently attaching with screws to the dashboard.

The $699.99 RV 1090 includes all the same features of the Garmin RV 890.

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Features

General

IP5X Dust Rating
Magnetic Mount
1″ Ball Adapter

Compatibility

Backup Camera (additional purchase required)
Wi-Fi Connection
Bluetooth Connection
InReach Devices (additional purchase required)

Sensors

GLONASS
Galileo
Compass
Barometric Altimeter
Pitch and Roll Gauges

Navigation Features

Voice-Activated Navigation
Turn-by-Turn Directions
Landmark Guidance
Includes Traffic
Speed Limit Indicator
Driver Alerts
Import GPX Files

RV Features

Specialized Routing for Vehicle Size and Weight
Road Elevations
Road Warnings

Pros: Large screen size, specialized routing for RVs, Bluetooth connection to smartphone

Cons: Price, the device is heavy and bulky

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Garmin Overlander

The Garmin Overlander is the answer to GPS navigation for those who like to leave the paved roads behind. The $699.99 device features a 7-inch high-resolution touchscreen, a comfortable size for most off-road vehicles like the Toyota Tacoma.

Inside, the device is like other Garmin GPS devices. The device comes with preloaded North American maps, but additional maps can easily be uploaded – after purchase – to the 64GB internal memory. Voice-activated navigation and turn-by-turn directions will keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. The Garmin Overlander features the same options as the RV 890 for adding information about the size and weight of your vehicle.

Outside, the Garmin Overlander is a very different kind of automotive GPS device. The housing is built to U.S. military standard for thermal and shock resistance and has an IP5X dust rating. The magnetic mounting plate features a 1” ball with AMPS plate for attaching to RAM mounting systems.

The Overland is compatible with Garmin’s InReach satellite communicators. With a service plan, the $399.99 InReach Mini 2 allows for two-way text messages, SOS alerts, and weather updates. Connecting with the Garmin Overlander provides a safter and more alert experience when exploring off roads.

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Features

General

IP5X Dust Rating
Magnetic Mount
1″ Ball Adapter

Compatibility

Backup Camera (additional purchase required)
Wi-Fi Connection
Bluetooth Connection
InReach Devices (additional purchase required)

Sensors

GLONASS
Galileo
Compass
Barometric Altimeter
Pitch and Roll Gauges

Navigation Features

Voice-Activated Navigation
Turn-by-Turn Directions
Landmark Guidance
Includes Traffic
Speed Limit Indicator
Driver Alerts
Import GPX Files

RV Features

Specialized Routing for Vehicle Size and Weight
Road Elevations
Road Warnings

Pros: Specialized routing for RVs, 1” ball mount, satellite communication compatibility, rugged housing

Cons: Cost of the entire system