Garmin DriveSmart 76: Compelling case for the stand-alone satnav

You don’t need to touch the device and can simply say ‘Okay, Garmin’ to get going

Garmin DriveSmart 76
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Price: €260
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It’s been a while since I have used a stand-alone satnav. My phone has largely replaced any navigation device I’ve needed for several years while my current car, like many others, has onboard satnav if I really need it.

But that’s not the same for all cars. And if you are dependent on your phone, losing data signal at an inopportune time can mean you are left without any guidance. It’s a particular concern if you are out of the country, because although mobile roaming charges have been abolished in the EU, most networks impose some sort of cap on your available data used outside your home network each month. Phones can also be a distraction, with endless pointless notifications popping up while you drive, although smartphones now have various features to cut them down to the essentials – if you remember to activate them.

So a separate satnav device might still have its place.

The DriveSmart 76 is one of Garmin's latest range of GPS devices that bring smart features such as voice control, live traffic and driver alerts to warn of potentially hazardous curves, speed changes and more. Pair it with your smartphone through the Garmin Drive app and it becomes an extension of your smartphone while keeping you on the right side of the law, offering notifications and hands-free calling.


The DriveSmart 76 sits in the middle of the new range. Slim and sleek, the satnav has a large, high-quality, seven-inch touch display that makes it far better than your smartphone for giving you a visual heads-up about your upcoming route.

The key thing about it, though, is that it is easy to set up. It takes less than five minutes to get going with it, assuming you are outside and have good satellite signal. It asks you some basic questions, before moving on to more involved data such as your car’s make and model, building a profile of its environmental impact. That informs the Environmental Zone warnings on the device, allowing you to avoid areas that your vehicle may be excluded from thanks to it emissions rating.

Other smart features come through the smartphone connection, which is all done in a couple of taps. That’s where you enable Alexa, too, which can subsequently be activated through a button on the top of the satnav.

Your satnav can also be used to play your music over its Bluetooth connection. The speaker isn’t spectacular, but it will fill a gap when necessary.

You don’t need the phone connection, though; the satnav does plenty by itself. Garmin has its own system of voice commands, triggered by simply saying “Okay, Garmin”. You can ask it to find a place, an address, a location near a town, saved place names, your favourites or ask for route information. You can also change route, place a call or change volume. You don’t need to touch the device at all, unlike with Alexa.

As you’d expect from Garmin, the navigation element is excellent. The usual caveats about not blindly following a satnav apply, of course, but in general the satnav guided me perfectly to my final destination without trying to send me down a dead end or a one-way street, or losing signal.

The good

The Drive Smart 76 is far removed from the satnavs of old, both in looks and function. That high-quality seven-inch display is just the right size – not too big, not too small – and makes it easy to see when your turn is coming up without having to squint at the screen.

The ability to link it to your smartphone means you can get notifications for important messages and other useful features, but you don’t need to do it.

The not-so-good

The software updates can be unwieldy and take quite a bit of time to download, so don’t attempt to add new maps 10 minutes before you leave on a journey. Once you start, you can’t interrupt the process or you risk causing problems with the whole satnav.

Also, at €260, this is not a casual purchase. Unless you feel you would get the use from a separate satnav, this may be a “nice-to-have” purchase rather than an essential.

The rest

Having Alexa built in will appeal to some people but will be an unwanted feature for others who feel the digital assistant is a privacy no-no.

If you have a compatible wireless reversing camera, you can connect it to the satnav to display your footage.

The verdict

In a world where the smartphone has taken over, Garmin makes a compelling case for the stand-alone satnav.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist