Summer Goodness: Garmin 590LM+Sena 20S

I’m really excited to be an early adopter on both the Garmin 590LM (see my prior post) and the Sena 20S bluetooth headset.

Sena 20S Dual Pack

The 20S is the latest update of the award winning Sena bluetooth headset line. People who know me (paging Steve W. and Dennis S.) thought I would go to my grave ensconced in the Medusa’s head of wires from my Autocom system. However, a very wise physician once said, “Never be the first to adopt a new unproven therapy, nor the last to abandon an outdated one”. So here I am. Never bought into the bluetooth headset game with the 1.X generations of Senas, Schuberths and Cardos. But I’m jumping in now with the new and improved 20S. I haven’t ripped out the Autocom system by it’s wires yet, but I’m very close. The 20S seems to be performing well so far.

First off, I’m going to give one of the negatives of the two devices, at least as I see it so far. The Sena 20S and the Garmin 590LM are unique in the fact that both can have 2 completely distinct bluetooth connections. This is a blessing in many ways. But I also believe a curse in one. Namely, having the ability to connect two things at once doesn’t mean it’s going to work well!  It may be the physics of radio transmission at close range which are the limitation. Let me explain. If I pair my Sena headset with the Zumo 590 and in turn the Zumo 590 with my iPhone, the resulting audio passed from the phone to Zumo and then from the Zumo to the headset is thin anemic quality riddled with pops, cracks and background static–both phone calls and music. Is it too much interference from a narrow radio spectrum of the bluetooth systems communicating within a very close range on the motorcycle? Could be I’m just doing it wrong, or there’s some other firmware glitch. There’s also a pronounced delay factor. That can be annoying when you’re on a phone conversation with someone. It simply takes extra milliseconds going from one device, into another and then being passed on to a third.

Fortunate, however, is the fact that Garmin in their infinite wisdom (or just blind luck) included a USB charging and data outlet on the octopus wiring harness of the Zumo 590LM. Plugging the iPhone into the USB from the Zumo 590 all of a sudden is muy bueno! Robust quality crystal clear audio. And sine the iPhone needs to have a charge anyway, it’s all good. Garmin’s USB plug has a weather proof cap and a rubber wipe to decently seal around a USB plug even in use. Waterproof? No, but better than a lot of USB plugs I’ve seen for bikes. At least 2′ of cable included with the Zumo 590LM harness allows for a convenient spot to plug in the phone (or other music device). Once plugged in, the USB provides a data connection for the phone in place of a bluetooth connection. Music can stream from the phone with control provided by the 590 on screen. The 590 also includes an specific ‘app’ for control of Pandora streaming in addition to the ability to control the usual playlists, podcasts, or audiobooks. As I mentioned in the previous article, the XM satellite connectivity is gone, but in it’s place the GPS will receive the updates from the app called Smartphone Link to provide real time weather, traffic and traffic cams (separate subscriptions required but cheap). And best of all, the audio is clean and pure. No pops or crackles or static to be heard. Whew! It wasn’t clear to me from reading of the manual if the Smartphone Link would work using the USB cable. (It’s not mentioned in the manual and the icons on the screen have the appearance of being a wireless bluetooth type connection.) But it works. And there’s no noticeable delays either. So I do have some wires back in the mix, it’s for a good reason. Bike powering the setup this way I’ve noticed no interference from ground loops or other bike generated noise (which plague the Autocom system).

The nice thing about having dual bluetooth connections within the Sena is it’s possible to pair the phone separately without the GPS as a go between. The Sena 20S will perform nifty voice commands for the phone if directly connected, whereas the Garmin is geared more towards pushing on screen buttons for it’s phone functions. If you have Siri, it’ll work with the Sena bluetooth connection directly, but not so easily with the Garmin in control. (I’ve read that there’s a workaround using the “Voice Dial” feature, however, I haven’t tested it.) It’s even possible to stream two difference sources and listen interchangeably. I can have the Garmin/iPhone streaming Pandora and have the Sena listen to the Garmin via bluetooth. At the same time, I can have the iPhone streaming Spotify and switch over to listen through the  Sena/iPhone bluetooth connection. Why? I don’t know, but it’s possible! The 20S is also the first bluetooth headset capable of multi-tasking. During an intercom transmission with another headset the music is muted by not interrupted. The Garmin itself does interrupt the music streaming to notify of approaching turns, etc, but resumes automatically.

The Sena 20S is very much in it’s infancy at this point. They just arrived to US shores in the past couple of weeks. Nobody has units available for immediate sale, they’re all backordered. I was fortunate to find the last of a handful of units on Amazon and placed my order in time. The backlog could last at least through July if not the entire summer depending on how fast Sena can gear up production. To add insult to injury,  Sena announced the 20S at the AIM Expo in fall of 2013. They promised units in December. Then it was January, then it was April, then it was … June! They also promised to have a control app available for the iPhone and Android market when the unit was released. Well, the Android app is ready, but they’re still waiting for the Apple approval before it’s available in iTunes. The revised firmware updater application for Windows and Mac was released today in order to install of version 1.1 of the firmware. So the whole thing is coming late and gives the appearance of being hastily thrown together. Not reassuring. Fortunately Sena (unlike Garmin) has a good reputation for listening to and responding to customer needs, wants, desires, problems — and fixing problems with responsive releases of new firmware. We’ll see if they keep that good reputation or not.

Garmin 590LM

Overall, I’ve continued to be impressed with the Garmin 590LM. I noticed something new. I had been driving back and forth to work with it on over the weekend. (BTW, it showed me a new way to come home which may be better than the way I’ve been going for the past 10 years.) But aside from that, yesterday and today I was warned about an approaching school zone. Hmm, I hadn’t noticed that before. Well, I figured it out. It was the weekend before and now it’s a weekday. It’s smart enough to know when to warn based on the day of the week and time of day. But even the Garmin’s not smart enough to know that school’s out for summer!