The smallest, cheapest DriveSmart is still one of the best satnavs you can buy
- Intelligent, reliable routing
- Snappy and intuitive UI
- Excellent voice and visual guidance
- Voice commands aren’t perfect
- Screen now smaller than your average smartphone
Launched towards the end of 2021, the Garmin DriveSmart 66 takes over from the old DriveSmart 55 as the new baby of the family. In some ways it marks a bigger step forward than the DriveSmart 76 is over the old DriveSmart 66, with a bigger screen than the outgoing model and a more premium feel. However, in a world where big-screened smartphones are the norm, does it still make sense to buy a dedicated £160 satnav with a smaller, lower-resolution screen?
Garmin DriveSmart 66 review: What do you get for the money?
That £160 buys you a comparatively sleek dedicated satnav with a 6in, 1,280 x 720 resolution screen. As with previous models in the DriveSmart range, it resembles an old-school phablet. Most of the frontage is covered by the screen, but the bezels are much chunkier than a modern smartphone.
The edges are relatively slim, minimising the bulk, but there’s a sizable bulge at the rear to house the internals, the microSD memory card slot and a USB Type-C connector. The latter is predominantly used for charging, as it’s easier to update the firmware and the maps over Wi-Fi.
Garmin supplies the DriveSmart 66 with a very sturdy suction cup windscreen mount, the USB Type-A to USB Type-C cable and a 12v socket to USB adaptor. You’re also getting free lifetime map updates for the UK, Ireland and Europe – not bad at all, given the price.
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Garmin DriveSmart 66 review: How easy is it to use?
Ease of use is a strength across the DriveSmart range of satnavs, and it’s no different with this smaller, cheaper model. The UI is beginning to look a little dated, but it’s easy to plot a route to an address or a point of interest, or add in rest stops, pubs, petrol stations and tourist attractions along the way, thanks to genuinely useful integrations with TripAdvisor and FourSquare. The DriveSmart 66 feels nippy when calculating routes, and there’s no hassle in selecting a different option if you’d rather avoid a certain road.
And while the screen on the DriveSmart 66 is one inch smaller than the DriveSmart 76’s 7in display, it’s actually crisper and a little bit sharper, thanks to a higher 1,280 x 720 resolution. This means that, while the DriveSmart 76 is a little better when you’re using Garmin’s clever split-screen features for alerts, junctions and upcoming POIs, the difference isn’t major – and almost non-existent when you’re setting options or searching for a place to stop and eat.
Garmin DriveSmart 66 review: How well does it perform?
Garmin’s mapping and route guidance is as solid and reliable as ever. True, there are points at which lane guidance could be clearer or a road where you need to bear right is described as a right turn, but TomTom’s satnavs aren’t infallible on either point, while other solutions are frequently worse.
The voice guidance is excellent, using street names and landmarks where they make instructions clearer, and you get good warning of a turning followed by a timely instruction on when to turn, accompanied by clear visual guidance if you’re able to take a quick glance (or have a front-seat passenger who can help).
Your mileage will vary on the more advanced visual guidance features depending on your location – you’ll see a lot more 3D buildings if you live in a major city – but the emphasis is always on clarity rather than spectacle, which is exactly how it should be. It’s this that makes the difference between using the DriveSmart 66 and using a satnav or maps app on your phone; your phone’s display may be bigger, but the Garmin’s software and hardware are designed from the ground up for this one job.
It’s also worth mentioning that the DriveSmart 66 still has the Bluetooth phone connectivity of the more expensive models, meaning you can get Bluetooth calling and smartphone notifications through your satnav, which may be a real plus if you don’t get them through your car. Sure, there’s nothing you won’t get if you put your phone in an in-car holder, but the larger text size and driving-specific UI make the satnav easier to use.
Garmin DriveSmart 66 review: What could be improved?
Of course, there’s one area where your smartphone is likely to have an advantage, and that’s voice control. Even the basic version of the DriveSmart 66 has this built in, while paying £20 extra will get you a version with Amazon Alexa as well. However, the standard “OK Garmin” commands didn’t work brilliantly, often failing to recognise place names or points of interest or finding locations hundreds of miles away instead of results in the immediate area. What’s more, to select an option, you have to pick it from the screen.
The Alexa commands are better, particularly if you want to control music playback or find a nearby petrol station, but still not ideal across the board. What’s more, using Alexa means you need to have your DriveSmart connected to your phone, in which case you already have access to Alexa or the often-superior voice controls of the Google Assistant (though you can’t control your Garmin satnav through the latter).
Garmin DriveSmart 66 review: Should I buy it?
The DriveSmart 66 is a great entry point into the range – and it’s also the cheapest satnav that I’d wholeheartedly recommend. It’s a little cheaper than the DriveSmart 76 and you don’t lose much beyond the extra inch in size.
I’d still recommend opting for the 7in model if you can afford it, simply because the bigger screen makes the satnav slightly easier to see and use, but there’s not a lot in it, and the DriveSmart 66’s crisper image really helps. It’s not the best all-round satnav, then, but it’s certainly the best for value.