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Garmin DriveSmart 76 review: The right size at the right price

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Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
230
inc VAT

Not a huge upgrade over the old model, but still the best dedicated satnav for most people

Pros 
Big, clear screen
Easy to set routes and find destinations
Excellent voice and visual guidance
Cons 
Voice controls still need work
Screen brightness and resolution haven’t advanced
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The DriveSmart 76 sits in what you might call a sweet spot in the Garmin satnav range, slipping in between the entry-level 5.6in DriveSmart 66 and the more expensive – and frankly enormous – 8in DriveSmart 86.

Sure, this is one big satnav, with a larger screen than even most modern smartphones, but it doesn’t occupy the same kind of space as the 8in model or require the same kind of careful positioning. Plus, at around £220 it’s cheaper than both the 8in DriveSmart 86 and its key rival, the TomTom Go Discover.

Garmin DriveSmart 76 review: What do you get for the money?

The mid-range Garmin DriveSmart 76 replaces the old DriveSmart 65. It has the same 6.95in, 1,024 x 600 resolution screen and it shares a broadly similar design: it has a simple, rectangular front that’s nearly all screen, deceptively slim edges, and most of the bulk is hidden away at the back.

Here, you’ll find the power button, the mono speaker, a micro SD card slot and a USB-C socket for data connections and charging. Thoughtfully, Garmin bundles both a USB cable and a 12v charger to USB adapter, along with a suction-cup windscreen mount. The latter feels very secure and is easy to fit, with the satnav clicking into place via a circular socket on the back.

In some respects, the design now feels a little dated, and we’d have loved to have seen improvements in the screen, specifically a brighter, higher-contrast panel and a higher resolution. What you’re getting, however, is still very usable, particularly as you’re not going to be watching Netflix or browsing the web on this display.

The DriveSmart 76 sells in versions with and without built-in Amazon Alexa. Even the base model comes with Garmin’s own voice commands but, if you want Amazon’s more advanced voice controls, you’ll have to pay roughly £20 extra.

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Garmin DriveSmart 76 review: How easy is it to use?

The DriveSmart 76 has one big advantage over your average smartphone: the bigger screen and Garmin’s interface make it easier to use while you’re actually on the road. Of course, any interactions should be kept to an absolute minimum, but you can get useful info with a quick glance or ask whoever’s riding shotgun to check something out or make a change. The screen is also large enough that Garmin’s split-screen live traffic features, alerts and check ahead features are genuinely useful, giving you a quick heads up while you’re en route.

Garmin’s satnav experience shows in everything from finding an address or a point of interest (with help from TripAdvisor and FourSquare) to routing around motorways or environmental zones. The UI looks a little dated and the 1,024 x 600 resolution means the screen isn’t exactly pin-sharp but, when you’re navigating junctions or fiddly country lanes, you’re not fussed about slick presentation. Here it’s all about visibility and clarity, and that’s where the DriveSmart 76 delivers. Speedy updates over Wi-Fi are another big plus.

Garmin DriveSmart 76 review: How well does it perform?

Garmin built its satnav reputation on rock-solid route mapping and excellent guidance, and that still holds true today. The use of street names and landmarks makes the voice guidance easy to follow and instructions are delivered with plenty of time to act, which isn’t always the case with smartphone satnav apps. The clear maps and 3D buildings also help to clarify more complicated instructions if you’ve got a chance to look at them, or if you have a passenger beside you following the route.

There are areas where the DriveSmart 76 could do better, particularly lane guidance on roundabouts and misidentifying rural roads bearing right as right turns (or vice versa). In my neck of the woods it occasionally sent me down incredibly narrow, single-traffic lanes when there’s a less traumatic route available on wider roads. Still, there’s nothing you can’t sort out with some reconfiguration.

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Garmin DriveSmart 76 review: What could be improved?

Garmin’s basic “OK Garmin” voice commands aren’t great. In my testing, they didn’t do a great job of recognising place names or points of interest and often came up with results tens or hundreds of miles away, rather than results in the immediate area. What’s more, you can only select an option by choosing it from the screen, which isn’t always a safe option when you’re travelling on fast or busy roads.

I didn’t test the Amazon Alexa version of the DriveSmart 76 but, from my experience on the DriveSmart 86, this isn’t a huge improvement. It’s great for streaming music or finding a nearby petrol station, but it still makes odd choices when it comes to potential destinations. It does read search results aloud but then asks you to select your preferred option from the touchscreen.

Garmin DriveSmart 76 review: Should I buy it?

If you find the size of the larger DriveSmart 86 overwhelming and impractical, the DriveSmart 76 is arguably the best satnav out there. It’s easy to use, it finds great routes and it delivers effective voice and visual guidance.

Its biggest rival is the excellent TomTom Go Discover, which matches it in some respects and surpasses it in others. For me, the Go Discover has a better screen, more informative voice guidance and a slightly smarter UI.

Yet the DriveSmart 76 edges in front for features such as live fuel pricing and Foursquare and TripAdvisor integration and, crucially, it’s less expensive, especially if you can manage without the mediocre Alexa integration. For most people buying a new dedicated satnav, that’s enough to make it the satnav to buy.

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