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two minute review
You'd be forgiven for thinking that dedicated GPS was a thing of the past, usurped first by automakers' embedded systems and then by smartphones. This may be true for many drivers, but for those who want a navigation system that promises to outperform both the car and the phone, a dedicated unit may still be the answer. Especially if you're a road traveler accustomed to international adventure and prefer to keep your smartphone tucked away from your windshield.
The Garmin DriveCam 76 fits that bill, but also adds a dash cam. Like the best dash cams, it silently records the view ahead with every drive, then securely saves the footage if a collision is detected or the manual record icon is pressed.
It's an extension of Garmin's DriveSmart family of navigation systems, only with a Full HD dash cam attached to the back of its 7-inch touchscreen. This addition increases the price from €299.99 / €229.99 for the similarly sized DriveSmart 76, to €449.99 / €419.99 for the DriveCam 76.
The resolution of the TFT panel is 1024 x 600. Although this number of pixels does not seem too impressive compared to a modern smartphone or tablet of similar size, it is perfectly adequate for a satellite navigation system. The interface is bright, clear and intuitive, with large icons that are easy to read and touch on the go. Brightness doesn't adjust automatically, which is a shame, but it only takes a few taps and a swipe to dim the screen from glowing in the dark.
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(Image credit: Alistair Charlton)(Image credit: Alistair Charlton)(Image credit: Alistair Charlton)(Image credit: Alistair Charlton)
The DriveCam 76 attaches to your windshield with a suction cup. It snaps securely into place with pliers and snaps onto the back of the sat nav with a ball joint that allows adjustment in all directions. The dash cam lens also adjusts horizontally, and between these two movements you'll find a position that points the screen at the driver and the camera directly at the road.
Power is supplied via a USB-C port and an included 12V cigarette lighter adapter. There's 32GB of internal storage, plus a microSD card slot for storing up to 256GB of dashcam recordings; a card is not included in the box. Battery life is 30 minutes, but really, this is a device you'll always want to keep plugged in unless you're taking the shortest route.
Considering the size of this product compared to a regular dash cam, you'll need to think carefully about placement to avoid blocking your view. Cars with shallow windshields and built-in displays that protrude from the dash leave very little room for the DriveCam 76. This review was done on a Mazda MX-5 and there isn't enough room to install the Garmin. Sitting between the car's center rearview mirror and its own screen, much of the windshield was blocked for our liking. Naturally, a larger vehicle, or one with a differently placed screen (or no screen at all) should be fine.
That's really the point here: the DriveCam 76 is a great addition to older vehicles that don't have their own navigation and infotainment systems. In addition to the mapping and dashcam functionality, Garmin can display a local weather forecast, in addition to incoming notifications from your smartphone, though you'll want to turn off everything except calls and messages in the system to avoid getting notifications for absolutely everything. There are also speed camera alerts, as well as lane departure and forward collision warnings.
Garmin has made a name for itself with great mapping systems, and that's where the DriveCam 76 shines the brightest. The addresses are easy to enter and the instructions are crisp, clear and to the point. You can also speak locations to the voice recognition system, accessed by saying "Hey Garmin." Being given street names and waypoints with directions really helps when navigating an unfamiliar area, and the interface switches to a split-screen with graphics to help you get into the right lane around roundabouts and junctions.
Switching to Garmin navigation from Google Maps or Apple Maps takes some getting used to. Once you tune into how your instructions are delivered, and how your visual cues look, you won't have any problems at all. It's arguably a better browsing experience than a smartphone, and it just takes some getting used to in the same way as switching from one navigation app to another.
Live traffic data comes from your phone's data connection. This is set up by downloading the Garmin smartphone app and connecting to the DriveCam 76 via Bluetooth. This connection is established automatically after the initial setup. The device also has Wi-Fi, which can connect to your home router to download software updates and new map databases.
Built-in data from FourSquare and TripAdvisor helps you find places by listing their names rather than addresses, but we found this didn't always work perfectly, with DriveCam sometimes suggesting the wrong destination. Some buildings are rendered in 3D to make navigation even easier, and when connected to your smartphone's data connection, real-time fuel prices are displayed at stations along your route. Pair it with your phone and you can also make and receive calls, either by touching the DriveCam or issuing a voice command.
(Image credit: Alistair Charlton)
The integrated dash cam captures images in Full HD at 30 frames per second. By default, DriveCam 76 overlays the current time, date, and vehicle speed. With HDR and a resolution of 1920 x 1080, the video quality is quite good. Details such as street signs and license plates are legible, while the exposure is balanced.
Since the DriveCam 76 is part of a dash cam with a huge screen, we liked how easy it is to view recordings (with a map to show where they occurred) on the device itself, rather than having to transfer everything to a phone. or to the computer.
The 140-degree lens is wide enough, but it falls short of the 180-degrees on the Garmin Dash Cam 67W. The way the footage shakes and distorts also counts against the DriveCam, likely due to the stabilization software trying to smooth out the bumps in the road. This doesn't remove any detail, but it does mean the footage looks worse than other Garmin dash cams. This made the dash cam feel like an afterthought, rather than a key feature of what is an expensive, premium product.
Should I buy the Garmin DriveCam 76?
(Image credit: Alistair Charlton)