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Screen Brightness: Garmin Vs TomTom


Recently there have been many heated discussions about the screen quality on the latest Garmin Nuvi and TomTom GO models. Arguments surround which is the brightest, which is the most readable, and which can be viewed from the widest and highest angles. Evaluating a screen isn’t quite as simple as just looking at which is brightest, so we put a Nuvi 760 and a TomTom 930 to the test to compare screen performance.

Update: There is also a good thread about this same subject happening in the Poll: TomTom screens really that bad? thread of our forums.

From the Front

GPS Screen FrontHere is an image showing both devices, from straight on. In both cases the devices are very legible, the logo is easy to see, the colors are true, and the screens are bright. The GPS on the top is certainly a little bit brighter though. The Garmin is on top and the TomTom is on the bottom. The edge here goes to the Garmin, as looking at a GPS “head on” is how most people will have their PND setup.

From the Top

GPS Screen TopNext, we take a look at each device when viewed from slightly above, looking at an angle down at the GPS. The screen on the left is avery bright, but look at what happens to the logo. The contrast is two low and the logo becomes more difficult (but not impossible by any means) to read. The screen on the right is a even more noticeably dark, however the logo is still legible. The Nuvi is on the left, and the GO is on the right.

From Below

GPS Screen BelowNext, consider the view looking “up” at the GPS. I see many people put their GPS up near their rearview mirror, though I probably wouldn’t recommend that location. From this angle, the screen on the left is again the brightest. However look what happens to the “p” in the logo from this angle– the color completely changes. Note that you can’t really read the “review.net” in the second line. Compare that with the screen on the right. While a darker screen, the logo is still just clear enough to make out, and the color stays true. The 760 is on the left, and the 930 is on the right.

In Bright Light

GPS Screen SunThe previous pictures were taken in dark light to better illustrate the differences between the screens. On the road, glare can become an issue, and honestly there isn’t a screen out there I’ve seen that will perform well in direct glare. When lots of glare is introduced, I no longer see a considerable difference in screen brightness between the models either. The color scheme used on the GPS will likely make a bigger difference at that point over screen brightness. In which case there might be a slight advantage for the TomTom since you can change (and even create your own) color schemes.


The Garmin Nuvi has a brighter screen, hands down, no doubt about it. But that brightness isn’t always an advantage. The screen has too little contrast when viewed from high angles and the colors shift. The color scheme also cannot be changed other than night/dark modes making the TomTom GO more versatile. Users have also commented to me that at night the Nuvi screen is so bright “vertically” that the screen creates a nasty reflection up on the windshield in the line of site of the car. I’ve seen that happen as well, although in my car it didn’t seem to be a tremendous issue.

It is also worthy of noting that taking photographs of GPS screens is a difficult task in good conditions, and I tried my best to pick photos that most accurately reflected what I was seeing with my own eyes. As the camera adjusts to the lighting conditions, it might tend to make the bright screen look even brighter than it is and the darker screen even darker than it is. Again, I’ve done my best to pick photos that most accurately reflect what I was seeing with my own eyes.

My utopian GPS would have the screen (hardware) of the Nuvi, probably keeping it at 70% brightness, but with the ability to change the map colors like the TomTom has beyond just day/night. Unfortunately, that combination only exists right now in the HP iPAQ, and assuming you are comfortable with “user modifications”. :)

14 Responses

  1. I don’t know under what circumstances a user would be looking at the display from a severe angle. At the end of the day, the Garmin screen is certainly easier to see, the colors are more impactful and the fonts easier to see on the Garmin compared to the TomTom under most circumstances, IMO. NONE of the included screens on the TomTom are as clear nor easy to see as the stock Garmin screen, again IMO. This doesn”t mean the TT scren is unreadable. It isn’t. Most of the time it’s great, in fact. But under certain bright light conditions in my vehicle, it washes out, whereas the Garmin does not. But as Tim pointed out, a talented advanced user can create his own screen. In fact I downloaded a screen asked for by many users. Oddly the maker named it Garmin Day Scheme. It’s match is Garmin Night Scheme. Ironic. Available at YourNav

    Gatorguy - May 24th, 2008
  2. In general I don’t disagree with you, gatorguy. That’s why I came to the conclusion I did… I’d love to have the screen (hardware) of the Nuvi with the ability to change color schemes of the TomTom.

    In looking around at how people mount their GPS devices in their car, in many cases they are looking at them from fairly high angles. I don’t know why they do that… but they do. They will mount them in the bottom center of the windshield pointing straight back, rather than at the user. Or they will mount it up high under the windshield, without angling it down and over towards them.

    Tim - May 24th, 2008
  3. I used a Garmin 760 & a TomTom 930 simultaneously in my taxi for a full week. My goal was to conduct an informal test / comparison as to which GPS worked better for me.

    I never realized how much brighter, easier to view, and easier on the eyes the Garmin 760 was when directly compared to the 930 in a real world application.
    For me, it got to the point where I didn’t even want to look at the TomTom screen anymore, the difference was overwhelming.

    With that said, keep in mind that I drive a taxi and will be looking at the screen for 8-12 hours a day, the average ‘Joe’s would only refer to it a few hours a month, hence I’m extremely nitpicky compared to most.

    The TomTom is a solid, feature packed unit, but for the time being, the only unit that will grace my taxi cab will be a Garmin.


    Alex - May 26th, 2008
  4. I have tested the Garmin Nuvi 550 and 760 against the TT 720 side by side. 550 and 760 hands down have a better screen than the TT 720. As far as the map colors go Garmin has had the right defaults since day one. I never have had a desire to change my map colors on my Garmins. The TT 720 defaults are pitiful but even with a new color scheme downloaded the screen is still very poor and the lack of anti alias on the TT 720 is even worse.

    Mike - June 8th, 2008
  5. Mike – There is no Nuvi 550.

    Tim - June 8th, 2008
  6. Tim- My fault I meant the C550.

    Mike - June 17th, 2008
  7. Update: There is also a good thread about this same subject happening in the Poll: TomTom screens really that bad? thread of our forums.

    Tim - June 18th, 2008
  8. Tim, your screen tests are treally informative. I for one appreciate your great effort in that, and in answering numerous questions ever so patiently!

    Wayne - June 30th, 2008
  9. just bought the nuvi 255 4 days ago and not at all pleased with the screen/colour contrast compared to the 250 which I’ve just sold.I suppose everything’s about compromise and while the 255 has introduced many improvements over the 250 these are let down by the poor screen.shame really or I would give it 10/10

    adam - August 30th, 2008
  10. I also bought a Nuvi 255 and still have my 260. The contrast and brightness on my 255 is not as good as my 260. To make things worse I stopped at Circuit City and found they had the 205 and 255. The 205 looked washed our like my 255. The 255 they had looked as good as my 260. I think Garmin is either buying displays from two different sources or have a Quality Control Issue. Has anyone questioned Garmin on this issue with the 2×5 series display. The GPS is great but this display issue is disappointing.

    Dan - August 31st, 2008
    • I recently sent my Nuvi 260W to Garmin Australia under the battery recall program. They sent me a refurbished 255W. I sent it straight back to them because the display was so dim as to be unusable in daylight. They returned it to me “unable fault”. I phoned them and they were arrogant and dismissive and refused to check it again. Sorry Garmin, you were a great company but you’ve lost me over this.

      John - March 28th, 2011
  11. During a recent trip I saw that most taxis in Spain have GPS units, and all that I saw were TomTom. Several times I saw the taxi driver shade his TT with a magazine or newspaper because otherwise the TT was not legible in bright sunlight. Of course, lack of adequate display brightness is precisely the reason why I no longer own the TT930. It is an excellent unit but I am not willing to put up with its dim display, which I always find difficult (and often impossible) to read during sunny days. Too bad.

    Francisco - September 20th, 2008
  12. My old Garmin 650 still shines in bright light.
    Surprisingly it even added a tone like the normal door tone before announcing road directions. I wonder if this is a new feature for all Garmin GPS units?

    Wayne - September 20th, 2008
  13. I have an old aero GPS (Magellan). I know all the switches and works fine for my simple flying; problem? The display brightness & contrast is too poor to use. Is this normal? Any fixes? (Magellan is out of the aero support business)

    jack byrnes - June 11th, 2010

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