By April 9, 2008

Garmin XT review

Devicewire have kindly sent us a review copy of Garmin Mobile XT. Since the biggest player in sat nav no longer bother with our industry, it’s left to the others to put together decent sat nav solutions for phones and PDAs.

Garmin is one of the bigger names, and the latest release has plenty of nice features. Installation is nice and easy providing you use the original microSD card, or the supplied card-size adaptors. I have been using the Garmin software with the memory card installed in my Nokia N95 8GB. We’ve since found out that Garmin wont allow you to transfer the software to another memory card, in case you need a larger one, which means you’ll have to card swap if you have stuff saved on another card. Garmin – you need to sort this out!

The install size is on the large side – so there really isn’t much room on the supplied card for much more.

Installation and setup is a breeze, when you insert the memory card the software automatically starts up and installs. After that I simply enabled “Integrated GPS” and off it went. Similar options are available for Garmin Bluetooth, and Other bluetooth gps devices.

Down to business then. The startup time is not particularly quick – in fact it’s quite slow on the N95 but I’m told that it’s much quicker on Windows Mobile devices. However once running, things seem quite fluid. The main menu, and most of the menu area is pretty simple. However I would say that the Garmin boys really need to do more design work as, compared to other sat nav products out there, the UI isn’t very pretty.

Garmin XT main menu

Garmin XT main menu

The GPS signal is shown, with options for tools and settings and a quick link to the main map screen.

Garmin XT settings

Garmin XT settings

The “Where to?” screen looks somehow worse than the main menu – horrible white backgrounds, incomplete titles for buttons, and changing font sizes. However, despite the bad looks, it is quick and easy to understand.

Garmin XT where to?

Garmin XT where to?

The software really falls down on inputting an address – it’s just too long-winded. Firstly, despite being the “GB and Ireland” version of the software – the country selection screen has “England” or “Spell”.

City selection is similar, and combined with Postcode search – and seems to be fairly quick. You can either type in a postcode, or search for a city and then find the street.

The built in POI seems to be fairly well researched, and in plentiful supply. Weirdly, they are helpfully located within the “Food and Hotels” section(!) – I have no idea what was wrong with “POIs” like everyone else uses!

I easily managed to set up a route, and proceeded to mess around and go the wrong way. It copes admirably and recalculates routes quite quickly.

Garmin XT map view

Garmin XT map view

One nice feature I found in Garmin – Free traffic information! – via GPRS, so required a nice data package and compatible phone – but free all the same. It’s a bit more limited than other sat nav packages, and won’t update mid-journey.

However, it’s a nice free service – but perhaps this could be improved in future versions. I’m not sure where the traffic information is sourced from in the UK.

As with many sat navs, the 3D interface looks pretty cool, and is a decent representation of the road ahead. The view will zoom in and out, depending on both speed, and whether there are any turns required ahead. Although this sounds similar to TomTom, Garmin really zooms out – big style. It seems that it will zoom out until the next turn is visible on screen.

Routing options are available, but again seem to be hidden away, with no way of forcing it to ask me every time whether I prefer a short, or fast route. It does have extra routing functions for different types of vehicles – an area where it easily beats TomTom software.

Another cool Garmin feature is “Track logs” which as you might guess, tracks your every move to the SD card, allowing input into Google Earth and other mapping tools. It will also allow you to replay a route. This single feature could be a winner for a lot of people – since TomTom have never bothered with it.

Simulate route is Garmin’s carbon copy version of TomTom’s fantastic “View Route Demo” function. However, although it works well, is very annoying having to turn off GPS whenever I wish to use it. I’m not sure why.

The Garmin XT software has a couple of key selling points:

Free Speed Camera updates forever! – TomTom charge about £50 a year for this feature and with the Mobile XT it’s free. With TomTom’s version as well it’s not that accurate when driving down a road with a camera near by. Garmin can work out what road you are on and if there is a camera on a road close by it ignores it.

Another thing that could be useful that’s included is the ability to SMS your location to anyone – those with Garmin Mobile XT installed will see the option to navigate direct to the person who sent the message – those without the software will get the lat/lon position that can be put in to Google Maps or similar.


Garmin Mobile XT is a good piece of software. It works on all sorts of devices from a single card. Granted there are some differences between versions but it does mean that changing your phone or PDA probably wont mean having to buy new sat nav software.

My criticism is sadly due to the lack of thought put into some of the design work, and default settings. The navigation screen also updates far too slow – sometimes, but not always, to the point of being useless. This does depend on the device though – and you will need a decent CPU on board to get the most out of it.

However, what makes Garmin get a positive conclusion from me, is purely and simply the price. £50 is cheap, and makes Garmin XT very much a bargain purchase. It’s no TomTom, but since that company has all but ditched mobiles and PDAs, it’s good to see Garmin have stuck around, and are improving their software with each release. If you are buying your first GPS enabled device then adding Garmin XT to your purchase is an inexpensive way to get started with proper sat nav software.

When you consider the cost of the Garmin XT software and the fact that weather and travel features are included free of charge then it’s well worth considering!

Review by: Mark

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Posted in: Reviews

About the Author:

More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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