Can you replace a Garmin Zumo with a smartphone? That’s a question that most never thought it would be possible to ask. But as you will see as this article progresses, it’s possible. Not only is it possible but a lot of people are doing it.
At a recent motorcycle rally, I checked out a few thousand bikes. The number of motorcycles with a smartphone mount outnumbered those with a Garmin Zumo mount. I was surprised by this, and that’s how I got the idea to write this article.
First, let’s look at the advantages of a dedicated motorcycle GPS like a Garmin Zumo over a smartphone.
Most motorcycle GPS devices are glove friendly meaning if you’re wearing gloves, you can still interact with the GPS. A smartphone can’t be used with gloves. Now with that said, don’t interact with any GPS or smartphone when riding. Get it setup before you ride and pull over if it needs to be adjusted.
Another advantage of a motorcycle GPS over a smartphone is weather resistance. Most motorcycle GPS devices are weatherproof meaning you can drive in moderate rain. Don’t even try it with an exposed smartphone unless using a weatherproof case with it.
Lastly, a motorcycle GPS has a few software feature not found on a smartphone. One that comes to mind is TPMS which monitors the tire pressure. This is a useful feature that combines some hardware with the software features of the Garmin Zumo. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this eventually make its way to a smartphone as it’s a matter of writing an app with a Bluetooth interface to an intelligent pair of valve caps.
Next, let’s examine the advantages of a smartphone over a dedicated GPS like a Garmin Zumo.
The most obvious reason for wanted to replace a Garmin Zumo with a smartphone is the cost savings. Chances are you already have a smartphone. A new Garmin Zumo will set you back hundreds of dollars. Good way to save some cash.
Second advantage is the wide variety of GPS applications. I am a big proponent of Waze. We have a bunch of Waze articles here on this site and if unfamiliar with this app, be sure to read our introductory article. Waze is what you get when you combine a solid GPS with the input and active use of millions of drivers. There are a lot of other GPS apps as well. Some are specifically targeted towards motorcyclists although I prefer Waze.
Although any smartphone will work, I prefer one of the larger smartphones if using it as a GPS. I like my Apple iPhone 6s Plus. Big screen with a fast processor and a good AT&T network means that Waze works perfectly. The big screen means getting a clear view of the maps from a distance.
So can you replace a Garmin Zumo with a smartphone? Absolutely. In fact, i kind of like the idea of saving the money. The key is to ensure you have two things in place.
First is a good case. Buy a well made case like like an Otterbox Defender. I have used these for many years and these protect your phone through almost anything. Don’t try to use your smartphone on a motorcycle without a good case or skin. Road debris is sure to damage your device without one.
Secondly, get a well made smartphone mount that is made for motorcycle use. Consider the RAM X-Grip IV Handlebar Mount. These mounts feature the expandable X-Grip IV cradle which will open to 4.5 inches which is large enough for almost all cases. This mount includes a plastic insert for smaller diameter bars and fits up to 1.25 inches diameter. This mount has a ball and socket design which enables you to get the best angle. The mount includes a safety tether which is a nice added accessory that we recommend using.
The photo that accompanies this article is the Arkon RoadVise Handlebar Strap Mount. The mount is a good choice for simplicity of installation. You will need two hands to open and close due to the fact that the grip is purposely made to form a firm grip around your device. The sides of the grips are padded to prevent marring and opens to 4 inches. The included handlebar mount is constructed of plastic and fits bars up to almost 2 inches diameter. The ball and socket design allows full swivel for your device to be used in landscape or portrait mode. The mount is easy to install and remove. We always like to recommend adding a tether to any motorcycle mount, you can read about them here.
So what’s the ultimate answer? If you are a casual motorcycle rider and stay conscious of the weather and have no need to interface with your GPS while riding, you can replace a Garmin Zumo with a smartphone. On the other hand, if you prefer to leave your GPS on your handlebar, don’t pay too much attention to leaving your GPS in the rain, and interface with your GPS while riding (which I don’t recommend), then sticking with a Garmin Zumo is the better way to go.