Boasting must-have features like voice control, real-time road safety notifications, live traffic updates and smartwatch compatibility, Garmin’s latest in-vehicle navigation offering – the DriveSmart 51 LMT-S – is decidedly high-tech. In fact, the device is so intuitive to use that it’ll surprise you. And, to sweeten the deal even further, it comes with free lifetime map updates for Southern Africa, potentially making it the last vehicle GPS you’ll ever need to own.

When Doors frontman Jim Morrison belted out the classic lyrics “Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel” in their big 1970’s hit Roadhouse Blues, this legendary music icon was definitely onto something. The unintended consequences of driving while distracted, or when not fully in control of one’s vehicle can be disastrous – as the SA road accident stats for 2016 clearly show. Here’s the scary bit: Of the 14 071 tragic deaths that happened on our roads last year, 77.5 percent of them were caused by human error.

If this fact alone doesn’t make a clear argument for autonomous vehicles, then I don’t know what does. But the reality is self-driving cars for mere mortals like you and I are still years away. Fortunately, to fill the gap in the meantime, we have products such as Garmin’s new DriveSmart 51 LMT-S vehicle GPS to help keep us safe while we’re out and about on our roads.

More than just a sat nav
I really mean this. The DriveSmart 51 LMT-S is one sophisticated piece of kit. For example, real-time road safety notifications tell you exactly what’s coming up ahead – so you’ll never get caught out by potential hazards such as sharp bends in the road while driving at night ever again. The same goes for when approaching schools. Thanks to the advanced warning the unit provides, you’ll always be on the lookout for young scholars darting across those normally quiet suburban streets the moment the final bell goes. It’ll even warn you when you’re driving the wrong way down a one-way street, and lets you know when the speed limit changes.

Live traffic updates help you avoid bad congestion, and it provides alternate routes to your destination. However, it does this intelligently. If it calculates that the alternate route, although keeping you moving, will actually take longer than the route you’re already on, it’ll suggest you rather sit tight for 10 minutes instead. The unit also provides pit-stop suggestions every two hours when you’re on long trips to help minimise driver fatigue.

Then there’s Voice Command. This brilliant feature allows you to control and operate the device by voice alone, whether it’s finding an address and getting directions, or searching for a phone number – all without you ever having to remove your hands from the wheel, it can even dial the number for you. And don’t think this is just a gimmick. I drove around with a test unit for a week and was constantly amazed by how well it worked. It’s also an extremely practical safety feature.

Much of the DriveSmart 51 LMT-S’s modern functionality comes from being paired to a smartphone via Garmin’s free Smartphone Link app. This is where the live traffic updates and hands-free phone functionality (mentioned above) come from. Other handy features include red light and speed camera alerts, along with regular weather reports. You can also search for POIs and peruse TripAdvisor for great eat and sleep spots up ahead, as well as safely read smart notifications like text messages or calendar reminders from your phone on the display. Plus family or colleagues can use LiveTrack to follow your drives, long or short, on a map in real-time just to make sure you’re doing okay.

In short, this deceptively simple-looking nav unit comes packed with cutting-edge features designed to help minimise human mistakes and distractions, silly or otherwise – thus contributing towards greater driver safety and awareness in a big way.

Key DriveSmart 51 LMT-S features at a glance

  • Easy-to-use GPS navigator with connected features
  • Bright 5-inch capacitive touch display
  • Real-time services such as road safety notifications live traffic and weather updates
  • Voice-activated navigation
  • Bluetooth calling and smart notifications
  • Detailed maps of Southern Africa with free lifetime updates
  • Built-in Wi-Fi for simple, convenient map and software updates over home networks

In much the same way that simple mobile phones evolved into the sophisticated mini computers, we all carry in our pockets today – vehicle navigation devices have progressively improved over the years, too. But, as these tech developments never garner the same kind of attention as new, cutting-edge smartphones do, they go largely unnoticed. Garmin moved on from just providing simplistic in-vehicle navigation solutions years ago. Nowadays, their devices include a number of practical features to help increase one’s situational awareness while behind the wheel. Improved functionality also means they’re much simpler to operate than ever before. The DriveSmart 51 LMT-S showcases all these developments, making it one of the most advanced, user-friendly vehicle GPS units to come out of Garmin’s stable to date.

Sticking with the smartphone analogy, I’m not going to go into great detail about the DriveSmart 51 LMT-S’s crisp, easy-to-read 5-inch capacitive touchscreen display – Garmin perfected this tech a long time ago. Anyway, when was the last time you read a smartphone review where the writer gushed about the screen’s pixel count and readability? Exactly. It was probably so long ago you’ve forgotten. Nowadays we just take it as a given that they work. Well, the same can be said for modern Garmin vehicle GPS touchscreens – nowadays they’re all easy to read (even in bright sunlight), plus notifications and driver alerts are clearly noticeable without causing any unnecessary distractions. And this is exactly what you get with the DriveSmart 51 LMT-S.

Easy operator
Having reviewed many Garmin nav units over the years, the one thing that’s always struck me is how each new product line becomes more intuitive and convenient to use than the last. Needless to say, the DriveSmart 51 LMT-S continues this trend. So much so, that it’s going to be interesting to see what Garmin comes up with next. I’ve been giving this some thought, and honestly, can’t see how the company can make anything that’s easier to operate. All I can think of is some kind of sci-fi inspired neural interface!

Seriously though, from the moment I ripped open the packaging and plugged the DriveSmart 51 LMT-S into one of my laptop’s USB ports to power it up and check it out for the first time, it’s been an absolute pleasure to use. And coming from me this is high praise – I’m a complete idiot when it comes to anything software-related, to the extent that I’ve been causing my younger colleagues to roll their eyes in utter disbelief for years. That said, I got the voice control functionality to work the first time. And even performing map and software updates via my home’s Wi-Fi proved to be a breeze. Scrolling through all the menu options to make the changes I wanted was a simple exercise. And, on the odd occasion that I did have to refer to the manual (stored on the device), it helped me just the way I needed. So take it from me, if I can drive this baby properly without experiencing any problems, then so can you.

Another thing I like about this device is its size. Large enough to view everything on the screen comfortably from the driver’s seat without straining, it’s still small and slim enough to slip conveniently into a jacket pocket or bag – allowing you to take it with you when exiting the vehicle so others can’t appropriate your stuff. The suction cup the unit comes with to fix it to your windscreen also works well, proving to be perfectly adequate for driving on tar roads. But if you’re hitting dirt roads on a regular basis you might want to check out the more robust RAM Mount options.

Taking the DriveSmart 51 LMT-S for a spin
While driving I found using the DriveSmart 51 LMT-S to be a complete non-issue. It just worked. However, I can’t stress this point enough: You need to download Garmin’s Smartphone Link app before heading out on your first drive. Because, if you don’t, you’ll miss out on all the high-tech benefits that pairing the unit with your smartphone brings. I’ve had the app on my phone for about a year now and have used it across a number of devices without ever having a hassle with it once.

Another thing that impressed me while on the road was how noticeable the safety notifications and traffic alerts proved to be without getting in my face. Road safety notifications appear across the top of the screen in an orange strip and the large white text is very easy to read, so a quick glance out the corner of your eye is all you need. Same with the traffic alerts, except they appear in red. And the little audible “ping” the device uses to alert you to their presence is just loud enough to cut through road noise and the radio, but not too intrusive to cause any irritation.

The unit’s voice control functionality was another great feature I had fun playing with. Even with my blocked wintry nose, the device had no problems working out what I was saying. All you need do is say “Voice Command” clearly and a menu pops up with all your options. And, as the options are written in large white text and appear on a blue background, they’re very quick and easy to read. You then just speak the option you want out loud. These include “find address”, “find junction”, “phone”, “weather”, “volume”, “brightness” and a good few more. I also found the sound meter that appears in the top right-hand corner of the screen when in this mode to be rather helpful – allowing me to see exactly how the unit was responding to my voice and decide if I should close my window or turn my radio down a notch.

Other cool features you’ll want to know about
This is a small point, but for me, it made a pleasant difference. Garmin has been working on their “spoken turn-by-turn” directions for a while now. Their new system, called Garmin Real Directions, uses recognisable landmarks, buildings and traffic lights in addition to spoken street names to guide you along the way. Basically, what it does provide more human-like directions, guiding you as if you have a buddy in the car pointing the way. Like I said, it’s just a little thing, but I think it’s a nice touch.

Here’s another feature you’ll probably like, especially if you’re into your sport and already own a smartwatch. When you pair the DriveSmart 51 LMT-S with a compatible Garmin smartwatch, you can receive navigation and driver alerts right on your wrist, even after you’ve parked your car and are walking toward your destination. So now you don’t have to worry about losing your car in crowded parking lots (I did this once, it was very embarrassing) – your smartwatch will provide compass guidance from your parked vehicle to your destination, then right back to your wheels again once you’re done.

The DriveSmart 51 LMT-S is also compatible with Garmin’s BC 30 Wireless Backup Camera. Once connected, you can easily see vehicles, pedestrians and other obstacles right on the unit’s display as you move in reverse.  – (c) 2017 NavWorld

Garmin DriveSmart 51 LMT-S specifications:
Physical dimensions: 14 x 8.4 x 1.8 cm
Display size (W x H): 11.1 x 6.3 cm (12.7 cm diagonal)
Weight: 174 grammes
Battery: Rechargeable lithium-ion
Connectivity: Bluetooth; Wi-Fi
High-sensitivity receiver: Yes
Lifetime map updates: Yes
Built-in memory: Internal solid state
Expandable storage: microSD card (not included)
Total waypoints: 1 000
Lane assist: Yes
Junction view: Yes
Route avoidance: Yes
Speed limit indicator: Yes

About The Author

Sean Woods

Originally a photographer for the Star newspaper in the bad old days, Sean Woods turned to writing after the first democratic elections in '94. The career shift paid serious dividends, culminating in him becoming associate editor for Popular Mechanics magazine with a number of technology writing awards under his belt. His interests include anything to do with boats, motorcycles and all those fancy tech gadgets that help the modern world go around.

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