BestReviews is reader-supported and may earn an affiliate commission. Details
Expert Shopper Electronics

Are Garmin’s DriveSmart devices better than a GPS app?

Are Garmin’s DriveSmart devices better than a GPS app on a phone?

Though it might be hard to imagine, there was a time, not too long ago, when traveling by car was a big deal. To get from one location to another required days or weeks of careful planning. Some people would even hire a service to map out the best route and offer suggestions on where to stay.

Now, because of devices like the Garmin SmartDrive, traveling by car is super easy and barely an inconvenience. But you might be wondering if these devices really offer an advantage over the free apps you can get on your smartphone. According to FOX31, dedicated navigation systems still have a couple of important advantages over GPS apps.

What is GPS?

GPS stands for Global Positioning System. In short, it is a navigation system that relies on 24 satellites that are orbiting the earth. By utilizing information gathered from four satellites, any location on the face of the earth can be precisely pinpointed to within a few feet. Additionally, by measuring the change in status over time, GPS can track how fast you are traveling and which direction you are moving.

What is the difference between an app and a Garmin device?

While in some instances, it is possible to set your Garmin device to utilize GLONASS or GALILEO, the Russian satellite system or the European Union satellite system. Generally, both your phone app and a Garmin device pinpoint your location using the same technology. This is important to understand because it means the nuts and bolts of whichever device you choose — your phone or a Garmin device — are essentially the same. In other words, any difference between the two is not accuracy-related. It is based on the interface, screen size and additional convenient features.

What are the pros and cons of owning a Garmin DriveSmart device?

Whereas a smartphone is a Swiss Army Knife of gadgets — able to perform a wide variety of functions satisfactorily — a Garmin DriveSmart is a dedicated device. Every aspect of a Garmin device is designed to make traveling easier. The Garmin DriveSmart features a larger screen and crisp graphics that let you know not only which road to take but also which lane on a highway is best. It has a built-in voice control feature called “OK, Garmin” so you can perform specific tasks on your device such as getting directions, finding gas stations (with the best price), changing volume levels and more, just by speaking. The Garmin DriveSmart also has driver alerts to encourage safe driving and increase situational awareness. Additionally, you can make the most of your road trips by using the built-in TripAdvisor.

Most GPS apps on your phone do not come close to the level of service a Garmin device can provide. But that doesn’t mean the devices are without a downside. One of the biggest reasons people end up using an app is the price. A Garmin DriveSmart device can cost anywhere from $150-$350. On top of that, you may need to purchase additional maps for your device, which cost roughly $80.

Is a Garmin DriveSmart worth it?

A GPS app is not going to give you the level of service you get from a Garmin. If you have the budget, a Garmin DriveSmart device is the way to go.

New line of Garmin DriveSmart products

Essentially, the new line of Garmin DriveSmart devices contains the same features. The difference between models comes down to the screen.

Garmin DriveSmart 86

This Garmin device has the largest screen of the new line of DriveSmart devices. It measures 8 inches diagonally and can be viewed in portrait or landscape mode. The resolution is 1280-by-720.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Garmin DriveSmart 76

The Garmin DriveSmart 76 has a 7-inch screen. It can only be viewed in landscape mode and the resolution is slightly lower than the DriveSmart 86 and the Drive Smart 66 — 102-by-600 as opposed to 1280-by-720.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Garmin DriveSmart 66

This Garmin has the smallest screen (6 inches) and it can only be viewed in landscape mode. It also has a higher screen resolution of 1280-by-720.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Garmin DriveSmart 65

If you’re happy with the 2019 model, which still has most of the same features as the newer models, the popular SmartDrive 65 is most similar to the Garmin DriveSmart 76 but is available at a lower price. It features a 6.95-inch, 1024-by-600 screen.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Home Depot


Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.

Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

Share this post: