GPSMAP 296 (new product) on the motorcycle


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Jan 16, 2004
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Toronto / Zürich
I'm now using a new GPSR on the moto – a Garmin 296, which is the aviation version of the 276. The 296 is a combined aviation-marine-automotive unit.

I have not had much opportunity to test it (at least, not on the moto, that is) – I installed it about ten days ago, then left for Africa two days later. I have been using it quite a bit in aircraft since then.

My first impression of this unit is that it will make a great motorcycle GPSR because of its very bright, easy to read in direct sunlight display. It also has a blazing fast processor in it, so route recalculations are very fast – I get the impression (very subjectively) that it is faster than my previous GPSR, which was a SP 2650.

The 296 also has buttons on it. Although it's nice to have the zoom in and zoom out buttons back on the front of the unit, I really do miss the user-friendliness of the 2650, which seemed to anticipate what I wanted to do. Garmin gives the users of the marine and aviation GPSR's more control over how they want to configure things, but that additional control comes at a price – it takes more keystrokes (button pushes) to get things done on the 296 than it did on the 2650. I guess we don't realize how much that touchscreen speeds operation up until we don't have it anymore.

The 296 uses a small data chip, same as the SP III. I have a 128 meg data chip, which is the same as what I used to have in my SP III. Changing from a 1 gig CF card back to a 128 meg chip won't be a big problem for me, because I always carry a laptop computer (for email and stuff like that) when I travel, but it will mean I'll need to go back to reloading the chip more frequently.

Garmin has introduced some very neat new display technology with the 296 – not sure if this exists in the 276, which does not have the aviation mode. The 296 has a EFIS-like view with a compass ring superimposed, a very neat view with data fields in the 4 corners of the screen, and a quasi-3D mode which provides a birds-eye view of the route ahead. The 3D view is quite useful in aviation mode, when things really are 3D, but less useful in automotive mode. It might also be handy to have in marine mode, if your marine transport happens to be a submarine.

The 296 uses the same mounting bracket as the 176, I had no problem getting a mounting bracket from my local avionics shop, and installing it on the moto. I used the same old RAM backing plate that I have had for years and used with the SP III and the SP 2650.

I've posted some photos below. NB I am in Angola now and won't be back in Europe until about the 20th of May or so, there are no CD's for Angola (although there are CD's for South Africa, I used City Select and it worked quite well in Pretoria last week). So, I won't be able to answer any questions about road navigation till I get back.



  • 296 display (in bright sunlight, backlight off).jpg
    296 display (in bright sunlight, backlight off).jpg
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This picture shows how you change modes, and also shows the transparent overlay fields in the corners. NB that the background screen is dimmed because there is a dialog box up (same way the SP 26xx dims the background when there are dialogs present).


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    296c modes.jpg
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This shows one of the display screens available in aviation mode. The GPSR can create an entire IFR basic panel, excepting the attitude indicator and the inclinometer, from the satellite signals. Photo was taken at top of descent into Jan Smuts airport in Johannesburg.


  • in flight.jpg
    in flight.jpg
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The 296 uses the same mount as the 176. The photo below shows the Garmin bracket for the 176, and the RAM backing plate behind it (screws not installed yet). The two items line up perfectly.


  • 296c moto mount 3.jpg
    296c moto mount 3.jpg
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Bracket installed on motorcycle (176 bracket, attached to the same RAM backing plate I used for the SP III and SP 2650).


  • 296c moto mount 4.jpg
    296c moto mount 4.jpg
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That price (USD $1,795 list) only applies if you are in the USA. If you are buying it in the UK, you have to add 17.5% VAT, HM Customs duties, and postage.

The price does seem kind of high, but it is actually in line with other high-end aviation handhelds. I doubt very much if anyone would buy this if they didn't have a primary need for aviation navigation. In my case, I am using it to survey bush airfields in lesser developed countries, and to verify construction of standalone GPS approaches to bush airfields.

I posted the photos and write-up here because I suspect (I'm not sure, but I suspect) this unit has the same display as the 276. If this is the case, then it will make the 276 a worthy competitor to the SP 26xx for motorcycle use. The trade-off will be that you lose the speed of the touchscreen, and some of the software features of the SP 26xx, but gain an amazing screen display.

It's worth mentioning that when I first started using the SP 2650, I wished that Garmin had given the users more control over some of the ways we interact with (operate) the GPSR. But after using the 296 for a while, I now fully appreciate why the SP 2650 user interface is designed the way it is - the learning curve on the SP 2650 is much easier than on the 296, and users can operate the SP 2650 much faster, and with less attention needed than operation of the 296. I'm not faulting the 296, its sort of like the same feeling you get when you transition from a car with an automatic transmission into a car with a manual transmission - you don't realize how easy life was until you don't have the automation anymore.

Same screen specs, dimensions, buttons. The other specs read just about the same with the exception of the aviation mode. The 296 lists a 200MHz processor speed where the 276 doesn't.
Well, after using this 296 for a month, I've gone back to using the StreetPilot 2650 that I had before.

The SP 2650 (similar to the 2610 and 2620) is easier to use, gets the job done faster, and offers more software features (custom routing preferences, custom avoids, better waypoint and via management) than the 296 does.

The 296 has an awesome screen, though - I gotta admit that I really missed it for about the first 15 minutes of riding after I went back to the 2650. After that, I didn't miss it at all.

To be fair, though, the 296 does have some amazing capabilities for aviation use, including terrain warning (sort of a poor man's EGPWS), so I will still use the 296 in the plane. But, the moto mount has been changed back (for good) to a 2650 mount.

More details and comments here:
Garmin 276 or 296 vs. StreetPilot 2610/2650 - Comparison Test


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