One can check for the latest hardware version information (HERE) . For the Latest Discount Prices on GPS equipment click (HERE). All Garmin screen captures are courtesy of Ron Henderson and his G7ToWin.
WHAT DOES A GPS RECEIVER DO?
A GPS receiver (GPSR) is a RECEIVER of radio signals and it does not transmit anything to anywhere. The GPSR provides, as its primary function, the ability to locate your CURRENT POSITION anywhere on the planet. Normally, it can do this to an accuracy of perhaps 6 to 8 meters with 95% certainty depending on obstructions to the sky. Some models also have built in (or uploadable) maps to allow you to view on the GPSr's screen your current position. Also selected models will receive WAAS corrections, resulting in accuracies of 3 to 4m 95% of the time as shown (HERE), PROVIDED your are in the clear. WAAS is more susceptible to tree cover than non-WAAS.
For a GPS to lock on, it must receive a COMPLETE navigation message that takes 30 seconds to transmit from each satellite. If you are moving, the slightest blockage from a tree limb or reflection from a building will prevent perfect reception, so the 30 second cycle is repeated -over and over. The best thing to do is hold the unit perfectly still so that the signals to the unit don't "flicker" and ruin the reception. Once locked on and under way, there is so much signal redundancy, the unit will remain locked even with partial signal reception. So, get lock first, and travel later!
Generally, the state of the art in map making, with the current NavTeq (used by GArmin) and TeleAtlas maps (used by TomTom), is such that your position on the map will be pretty accurate. But some maps are based on the US Census Bureau TIGER maps (such as Garmin's old Roads and Recreation and the newer Garmin Topo US 2008) which have errors of tens or hundreds of feet . Some maps (such as world maps or built in "base" maps have larger errors). Maps are being improved constantly, but the world is a big place and the number of map makers working on improving consumer maps is small.
Some (mostly mapping type) GPSRs have the ability to FIND locations such as: POIs (Points of interest) such as restaurants, hospitals, malls, markets, police facilities, hotels, garages, banks, and other such places, single street addresses, road intersections, cities, waypoint locations and similar. This capability varies widely and you must research what you want BEFORE you buy a unit. These mapping equipped GPSRs are NOT normally equipped with data to FIND the more obscure points of interest such as cemeteries, swimming pools, and a host of other such. However, if you already KNOW the longitude/latitude of, say, a cemetery, then the GPS can point you right to it.
GPS receivers and map software are continually getting more features. The following is a description of the most popular hardware and software currently available. Since individual products don't contain all the features available, hopefully this review will allow you to be a more informed buyer and put together the combination of products necessary to obtain the features YOU need..
Garmin Mobile-Navigation Units ° Garmin Color Hand-helds ° Garmin Marine and Chart-Plotter Units
Garmin Archive Information
A summary of the major features of these types of receivers:
With automatic routing, users can input the address or waypoint of a destination and the units will compute a route and give turn-by-turn instructions as the route is navigated. The GPS provides a moving cursor on the moving map showing your position on the GPSR's internal map. As a turn approaches, the map switches to a track-up display to aid in the visualization of the needed turn. Two warning messages are spoken prior to the turn.
These units are very similar to the 660/680 units (below), so only the significant differences will be noted here.
They comes pre-loaded with City Navigator NT for street-level detail and addresses, plus listings of nearest restaurants, hotels, ATMs, etc., throughout the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico in 1.87 GB of internal storage. (There is about 570 MB left for other maps or data.) But without a CD of the pre-loaded map, one cannot manage their Waypoints and Personal POIs. In Europe, the nüvi 660 comes with full Western European detailed street map coverage. Also supported are SD card data.
The unit has the new SiRF Star III high-sensitivity GPS receiver and contains an internal re-chargeable battery. Closing the antenna to the stored position turns the GPS receiver OFF and is then small enough to fit into one's shirt pocket. The package also includes a combination GTM 20 FM-Traffic-receiver, cigarette-lighter adapter cable.
FM TRAFFIC SERVICES:
There are two FM traffic services. The TMC (Traffic Message Channel) and MSN Direct.
The 660 package includes a combination GTM 20, TMC-Traffic-receiver/cigarette-lighter adapter cable.
The 680 package includes a combination GDB 50, MSN Direct receiver/cigarette-lighter adapter cable. However, the 680 is also compatible with the GTM 20 TMC-receiver.
The significant difference is the while the TMC traffic service only displays Traffic. The MSN Direct service (in the 680) displays Traffic, Weather, Gas Prices, Movie Times, and (in the 780) adds displays of: News, Stocks, Local Events, and Web Favorites (Send to GPS) .
In the Atlanta
area, MSN Direct uses more of the traffic monitoring stations than TMC,
resulting in a more-detailed display of changing traffic conditions.
As for "reality", MSN Direct also seems superior.
Even though you register these units in a particular city, they work in any major city that has the service. We know they work in Atlanta, Memphis, Nashville, Denver, and San Francisco.
This portable (only 9.2 oz as compared to the GPSmap 76C at 8.3 oz) StreetPilot c550 is about $760 (or about $190 less than the StreetPilot 7200). It comes ready-to-go right out of the box with preloaded maps and many options. The unit has an internal rechargeable battery and provides the same, easy-to-use, navigation as the c300 series with enhancements like Bluetooth wireless technology hands-free cellphone calling, an integrated traffic receiver, and an MP3 player. The unit was tested with Software Ver. 4.10. It has only an ON/OFF button and a thumb wheel volume control on the right side. The internal battery powered the unit for approximately eight hours with the backlight at 50%.
This unit has the new SIRF-III high-sensitivity GPS receiver -providing faster acquisition times and maintaining signal under heavy foliage and near city skyscrapers. The screen is a very sharp, 3 1/2" diagonal, sunlight-readable TFT. The screen is brighter than the c300 series, with one of the highest-resolution (320x240) color screens we have reviewed. The Mass Storage has 1.94 GB of internal memory with about 667 MB left for other data and maps. It's interesting that the unit is "Ready to Navigate" the instant it is turned on, as if the receiver is running in the background when the unit is turned off.
7200 -Large Touchscreen, XM Radio:
This unit has a (very) large 7-inch diagonal screen and is designed to work with XM Radio's XM NavTraffic in order to display traffic and weather information on the maps. The XM Radio service must be purchased: Basic annual service is $142.45, XM NavTraffic annual service is $47.88, and the activation fee is $14.99 - for a total of $205.32 for the first year if paid annually. The unit comes pre-loaded with street maps of the entire USA, Canada, and Puerto Rico.
The only difference between the 7200 and 7500 is that the 7500 has a gyro for dead reckoning and can provide guidance information when the satellite lock is lost. The XM Radio will also provide real-time stock quotes and 160 channels of music and news. The only button on the 7200 is the power button. All other features are accessed via the touch display or using the IR remote.
A nice new feature is that the unit will pronounce the names of the automatic routing turns onto streets and highways. The 7200 supports both 'Map' supplied and user supplied POIs. Waypoint, track and route data is transferred to and from the unit via a USB cable.
The four switchable sources of audio are: An internal MP3 file, an internal audio book in Audible format, audio via the A/V line in, and audio from the XM receiver. The unit has its own internal speaker or it can broadcast though your FM car radio.
StreetPilot 2610/2620 Touchscreen: This was Garmin's first model with Finger TOUCH SCREEN for data input and control and map storage up to 2GByte Compact Flash memory cards and USB data interface for map loading and data input/output. The 2GByte CF card will hold the entire CityNavigator maps (1.44Gbytes) for the USA (including Alaska/Hawaii) and the maps of covered Canada areas. The 2620 comes pre-loaded with all the maps on a compact hard drive.
This unit has the GPS antenna integral within the unit and is designed to fit on top of your dash and provide visual and audio directions for navigating your car on unfamiliar streets and roads. A battery powered IR remote control is provided so that passengers can program the unit even from the back seat. ALL functions of the SP 2610 are operable from both the main unit and the remote.
The StreetPilot 2610 has a very good user interface. There are four push buttons for major functions (PAGE/mark, MENU/route, FIND/recent, and SPEAK/volume. (The first function requires a momentary button press, the second requires that you hold the button in for about 2 seconds.) New to SP 2610 is that it is designed without internal batteries and operates ONLY when plugged into an external 10 to 24vdc power source. Uniquely (to Garmin equipment), the SP 2610 automatically turns ON and OFF with the power application from its external power cord. A switch is provided to turn the unit on and off manually as desired. SP 2610 was designed from the ground up to economically replace the combination of GPS/Laptop Computer/Mapping Software system that many use to maneuver around cities in the USA.
These Older in-car units do not provide text-to speech spoken driving instructions:
StreetPilot-III: Garmin's StreetPilot III was their first model with automatic present-position-to-address routing and voice command. This unit came with a copy of Garmin's City Navigator mapping program which (using NavTeq maps) had the most detailed highway and residential street level electronic maps available for the USA. At the time the SP-III was released, the USA coverage area for City Navigator was only the 120 largest metropolitan areas. Outside these metro areas, enhanced "base maps" cover the entire USA with a map of major highways and interstate freeways. One region of 10 different pre-defined regions in the USA and Canada is provided without charge. Other region unlock codes can be purchased (HERE).
The SP-III allows a user to automatically route using both the CityNavigator, MetroGuide USA-4, or the Base Map. Thus, with a "routeable base map", you can automatically route from an address in New York City to San Francisco with only CityNavigator map sections for NYC and SFO loaded. The SP-III is the only autorouting system that we are aware of that can do this sort of intercity routing without the need to load intermediate maps as you go from one region to another. SP-III is the lowest priced Automatic Car Navigator (with voice) and one of the best performers.
The GPS-V (and
StreetPilot series; StreetPilot, StreetPilot ColorMap, and StreetPilot-III
with the flash memory cartridges), can upload any of Garmin's MapSource
maps on CD.
The SP receivers at first sight looks like an "inflated" G-III+.
However, in their ample interiors are some significant hardware and software
StreetPilot and ColorMap require the help of outside software to indicate the quickest point to point routing. Garmin MetroGuide USA with MapSource 4.03 or later can provide uploadable route for the SP and SPCM. Rubberbanding is necessary for the unit to give turn-by-turn instructions.
The StreetPilot-III and the GPS-V (and the maps that come with them) require no help from a PC to generate automatic routes.
GPS-V: This gray-scale unit was a versatile navigator that first delivered automatic routing, detailed mapping, and (WAAS) capability —all in a compact handheld GPS. It came with the MapSource City Select CD from NavTeq, which gives you access to detailed street-level maps with locations of restaurants, hotels and other services.
Use the GPS-V to look up a location and it will automatically calculate a route and guide you to your destination with turn-by-turn directions and audible beeps that alert you to upcoming turns. You can switch the display from horizontal, for mounting on a bike or a vehicle dash, to vertical for handheld use. The G-V is visually identical and functionally similar to the G-III+ but with autorouting.
The Color Hand-held Units now Provide Automatic Route Calculations
The color models have sunlight-readable display with 256-color transreflective TFT display. Indoors, the backlight makes the screen quite visible, and outside in even cloudy weather, we found the displays bright and readable without the backlight. Garmin's new hardware technology offers a longer battery life. Garmin's claims 30 hours on just two AA alkaline cells, which seems to be about right for intermittent use without a backlight. The normal battery drain is a low 62 ma, and with the backlight full, it is 160 ma.
"S" (and Vista)
is for Sensors:
The Garmin sensor series, which includes the 76S, 76CS, 60CS, Vista, and Vista-C, have an added electronic compass and barometer. We don't have a 76CS or 60CS to review, but those sensors were evaluated in our GPSmap 76S, Vista, and Vista-C reviews.
Unlike the GPSmap 76S, the GPSmap 76CS and Vista C don't show a continuous readout of GPS altitude. All the data fields show barometric altitude. GPS altitude must be accessed from the Satellite Page by pressing the Menu/Find Key, then select GPS Elevation. This is a "one time" reading, and is not continuous. A similar procedure is required in the original Vista. However, the Vista does not have a "barometer" function, only Barometric Altitude. In the Auto-Calibrate mode, the Vista-C GPS altitude does appear to calibrate the barometric altitude. And contrary to the Vista's original Normalized Pressure, the Vista C's Barometer doesn't go up and down when you go down and up. Units with an electronic compass can turn the compass ON and OFF with the press of a button to conserve battery power.
It may be our imagination, but the color units seem to have better sensitivity than the gray-scale units. All units have a (WAAS) capability which improves position accuracy in the (AREA) of WAAS coverage. Outside this area, operating the units with WAAS Enabled will actually decrease accuracy. Specific tests for accuracy haven't been made yet for any of the color units.
The Dakota seems to fit into the same category of the popular eTrex handheld series, but is the next generation unit with a touchscreen interface. There are two versions of the Dakota series: the Dakota 10, which is the basic version selling for about $290 and the Dakota 20, which adds a 3-axis electronic compass, barometric altimeter, ability to add additional memory with a microSD card slot, and to wirelessly share data with other Garmin compatible units such as the Oregon/Colorado. The Dakota 20 retails for $349. The Dakota units do not come with any preloaded map data, but have approximately 900 MB of internal memory available for Garmin compatible map products.
The Dakota is designed to work with Garmin's new free program, BaseCamp, which is geared to manage waypoints, routes and tracks. When you connect the Dakota to BaseCamp, it will bring up not only waypoints, routes, tracks, but also any geocaches you have loaded in, and you can access hints, logs, descriptions, etc. The edits you make, will be saved in the Dakota when you exit the program.
The Dakota also supports Garmin's new feature, Custom Maps, where you can upload your own maps. An inexpensive program that will convert the USGS 1:24,000 DRG topo maps to .kmz maps (required for Custom Maps) is G-Raster.
The new and improved Oregon 550 series adds a built in 3.2 megapixel camera, with automatic geocoding of where the photo is taken, a three axis compass, giving accurate readings regardless of how the unit is held and what Garmin says is improved visibility with the touchscreen. The 550 and 550t model, which adds preloaded 100k topo maps of the United States, also benefits from the recent firmware improvements made to the original Oregon units (six months of frequent beta updates.) In addition to the camera and three axis electronic compass, the 550 has a barometric altimeter, and the ability to share wirelessly between other compatible Garmin units.
The Oregon 550 comes in a similar package as the previous Oregon models. It does however, include an NiMH battery charger which will charge four batteries at a time. However, the package only includes two rechargable batteries. The 550 also supports operation with lithium or alkaline AA's. There is a very brief quick start guide and the owner's manual comes on a CD-ROM. However, it is a manual for all of the Oregon models, 200 through the 550t. It is not as detailed about the features as I would have liked.
The Colorado 300 is the same unit, but without the preloaded TOPO maps. You can load Garmin's TOPO 2008 software into the 300, although you are limited to the amount of map segments you can load. The terrain shading topo maps look spectacular on the screen. It really makes a huge difference, from the traditional flat view, especially in mountain terrain.
The screen has 16-bit color and 240 x 400 pixels resolution as compared to the (about same size) GPSmap 76C's 8-bit color and 160 x 400 resolution. The improved screen is the first to show the TOPO US 2008 shading on a Garmin hand-held unit. "Buttons" of previous Garmin units have been replaced by a "Rock and Roller" control function. This allows you to operate the Colorado with just one hand. Other features are simuilar to the GPSmap 76c and 60C serries.
This unit has a barometric altimeter, electronic 2 axis compass, and the ability to share wirelessly between other compatible Garmin units. It has the same high-resolution 16-bit screen as the Colorado, except the unit is totally touch screen. The Oregon 300 is the same unit, but instead of preloaded TOPO maps, has a basemap of North American with terrain shading.
It uses a different GPS chipset, the STMicroelectronics version (this is different from what is in the Colorado.) This gives the Oregon the "HotFix" option, of storing GPS almanac information to allow for faster acquisition when a unit has been off for up to three days. The Oregon also has a Time Zone file, to automatically determine your location and Time Zone, instead of requiring user input. We also found that the Oregon will save your last location as a .gpx file, similar to Garmin automotive units which have the "Where Am I" feature.
Saving a screen shot is very easy in the Oregon. Go to the Setup, Display, and then turn screen shot on. A press of the power button will then save the current screen shot. You can access this bitmap image by connecting the Oregon to your computer and finding it in a folder called 'scrn.'
You can get a realistic view of the terrain that lies ahead, scroll the view with the arrows, and also zoom in or out.
Garmin's ANT system allows you to trade waypoints, geocaches, routes or tracks between other Garmin compatible units. This is a nice feature for exchanging data with friends or new friends you meet on the trail. You can only connect to one unit at a time however and geocaches only transfer basic waypoint information. No description, hints or logs from geocaches can be exchanged. You can exchange data between Oregon units and also between an Oregon and a Garmin Colorado.
The Oregon is quickly becoming a favorite with Geocachers, with its paperless caching. The geocaches are stored separately from your waypoints, which keeps them from cluttering your waypoints. The Geocaching mode is very helpful if you are a premium member of Geocaching.com, because you can get the cache information, including the last few logs and the hint automatically loaded into to your GPS. (When you register your Oregon at garmin.com, you are eligible for a 30-free premium membership)
Are upgraded eTrex Vista/Legend packages. One major difference between the Vista-C with its electronic compass and the other color "Sensor" units by Garmin, is that the unit is held HORIZONTALLY for best reception (the only way the electronic compass can work) is most important for geocaching work. These units have only a USB connection and no active antenna jack.
Both units have 24 MB of map memory -the same as the old Vista and retain the "Click Stick" key button, in order to keep the unit one of the smallest on the market. The new color display is 176 x 220 pixels and is 1.3"W x 1.7"H. This compares with 160 x 288 pixels and 1.1"W x 2.1"H for the Vista/Legend. Thus the color screen is not as tall, but is wider. We have criticized the text size on previous eTrex models as being difficult to read, because the text was so small, but the Legend and Vista-Cs are considerably improved with the map and text easier to read, and we now consider it satisfactory.
Are considered a "Marine" units. They are essentially identical to the 60C, but the physical layout is different, and have over twice the map memory for street price of only $35 more. For example, the 76 memory is 8 MB, the 60C is 56 MB, and the 76C is 115 MB. The 76 and 76C contain tide information while the 60C doesn't. The 76C(S) units also have the new USB capability for uploading large map in addition to a serial jack and an active antenna jack. The "S" units also contain an electronic barometer and compass.
The color units have more user screen options than any unit that we have reviewed. See sample screens (HERE). A nice addition to the 76C is control of just WHICH of the many screens are actually displayed. This is accessed through Menu, Menu, Page Sequence. The unit is the same size as the Garmin GPSmap 76(S) but with a slightly smaller display (1.5" W x 2.2" H, vs the 76's 1.6" W x 2.2"H). The display size is exactly the same as that in the 60C.
The GPS-60C appears to us to be the new "GPS for all". It comes with a Basemap and POI CD software which allows upload and download of waypoints, routes and tracks. The units provide 56 MB of map memory, for the (extra cost) maps. Just as each previous Garmin hand-held model has been an improvement over previous models, the GPS 60C will have about every GPS feature available including auto-routing, except for the voice prompts. The GPS 60C comes with both a USB jack and an older round-style serial cable jack.
In the past, Garmin has "segmented" the GPS market into Outdoor, Marine, Car Navigator, and Aviation. The 60C does a good job at Car Navigation and Outdoor applications and a passable job with marine guidance. This combination will fit a lot of people's needs.
These Units do not have the Automatic Route Calculation Feature
The 76S also contains an electronic compass. This appears to be the same compass as in the Vista, except it has a larger display. It is activated when the unit is traveling slower than some selectable speed. When calibrated on a non-metallic flat surface in a magnetically undisturbed area, the 76S heading accuracy was within the spec limit of 2°. Although no warning is displayed when batteries are replaced (as with the Vista) the unit should be re-calibrated in order to retain its 2° accuracy. By holding down the Page key, one can quickly turn the compass ON and OFF as needed. The barometer and GPS altitude are constantly combined with a filter to provide the best measure of altitude.
GPSmap 76: Is quite a lot of GPS for the money. What does it have going for it? A larger, higher-resolution screen than the eTrex series, (WAAS), map or marine navaid capable, many customizable options, all buttons on the front for easy access, and features not found on other Garmin units. The unit superficially looks like an eMap with the same screen size and key layout above the screen with a layout similar to the G-III+. The screen is 180x240 pixels as compared to the eMap's 120x160 and the G-III+'s 100x160.
The unit is somewhat bulkier, weighing (with NiMH batteries) 228g as compared to the eMap's 196g, but lighter than the G-III+ 251g. However, the GPS does fit in a shirt pocket. The unit is surprisingly light for how large it is; this allows the unit to float. The GPSmap 76 has 8MB of memory, and if you are a G-III+ or G-12Map user, this is a good upgrade. You can load all of Garmin's map types, although only one MetroGuide area, so there you may be a little cramped. The unit does support the address look up and next-intersection features like the eMap.
eTrex Summit: Is an upgraded eTrex package with the addition of a built-in electronic compass which shows your receiver heading even when you are not moving, and an altitude profiling system showing a profile of your elevation movement along your route of travel. These new features are made possible by a built-in electronic flux-gate compass, and barometric altimeter. The compass is compensated by the user turning around slowly twice in an interference free area.
The compass display changes from direction-traveled to direction-pointed depending on a user selectable minimum speed and time. Readouts include maximum and average Ascent and Descent distances and rates. The altitude profile can also indicate pressure changes over time. The Summit has the highest resolution tracklogs while walking of any Garmin receiver. See plots (HERE).
Garmin Software Compatibility:
All Garmin hand-held receivers are compatible with all the map software programs we have tested that use the NMEA 0183 Ver. 2.0/2.3, 4800 baud standard for real-time tracking. Later units and firmware revisions have Garmin's "PVT" protocol so that switching back and forth between NMEA and GARM/GARM modes is no longer necessary to change from position tracking to data upload/download when using a compatible external mapping or support software.
G7ToWin: Can download (the last listed) Route, Waypoints and Tracks retaining the 10 characters in the Waypoints and Routepoint names. During this process G7ToWin can create .SA4/5/6/7/8/9 files that show the data on Delorme's Street Atlas (but not Street Atlas 2003). G7ToWin can also upload these files back into the GPS with the 10-character names and original Symbols preserved. Routes that rubber-banded before downloading will rubber-band again after uploading, and old 6-character archived waypoints can also be uploaded. Another feature of this program is that it can download and display as .bmp files the screens of most all Garmin units.
GARMIN MAPSOURCE MAPS:
See examples of WorldMap maps (HERE) and USA Topo maps (HERE). Some receivers require a flash memory cartridge for these maps. They can be purchased as follows: 8MB ($60), 16MB ($90), 32MB ($120), 64MB ($195), and 128MB ($310).
USA Topo set of three CDs ($100) is a later Garmin map product. Topographic data is added to street-level maps. These contain contour lines and extensive small stream data for the USA. The road database is 20 to 30 years old, but are more accurate than those in the R&R CD or any version of Street Atlas. They are: Alaska/Hawaii, USA West (Setup), and USA East. Areas to be selected are now rectangles of various sizes in a grid. Contour lines are those of the USGS 1:100,000 topo maps and are in multiples of 10 meters to 50 meters, depending on terrain steepness. On the larger lakes, elevation contours (not depth contours) are also shown.
In addition, nautical navaids for the 50 states are provided, including radio beacons, RACONs, fog signals, river, harbor, and other lights, day beacons, and lighted and unlighted buoys. Wrecks and obstructions such as shipwrecks, submerged rocks, obstructions and other hazards to nautical navigation are displayed.
WorldMap CD maps contain many Nautical Navaids around the US coast and the rest of the world. The street/highway detail and accuracy, however, are relatively poor. Several Garmin, Lowrance, and Magellan WorldMap examples are shown (HERE) and (HERE).
The G-12XL was introduced in January 1997 to replace the single channel G-45(XL), the GPS-12 "Little Brother" in June 1997, the G-II+ in April 1997 and the G-III in Oct. 1997 (all no longer in production).
The first handheld mapping GPS from Garmin was the G-III+ ($350 v. 2.04) released in Jan. 1999. (Map CDs run from $75 to $150). Next came the G-12Map ($330 v. 2.04) in Oct. 1999, eMap ($250 v. 2.50) released in Nov. 1999, and the eTrex released in July 2000. Then came the eTrex Summit, Legend/Vista, and later the GPSmap 76 in 2001. The GPS-V Autorouting receiver arrived in October 2001. In 2002 we have the GPSmap 76S (sensors). The GPS 60-Color appeared in 2003, and the GPSmap 76(S)-Color and eTrex Legend/Vista Color in 2004. NOTE: The Color series now all contain an automatic route calculation feature.
Mapping GPSs include a base map of all the Interstate, most of the state routes, railroads, rivers, and shorelines in the Western Hemisphere with seven levels of detail. An International version contains road maps of most countries in the rest of the world, and the Atlantic versions have higher-detailed maps of Europe. The eTrex Summit is the only non mapping GPS we have reviewed lately, but it contains features new to hand-held GPS receivers.
Basic features of the hand-held
At least 500 waypoints storage, 20 routes of 30 or 50 routepoints, and 2,000 to 10,000 trackpoints. All have a Track Back feature that converts a track to 30 to 50 routepoints providing steering directions to navigate the Track Back route -either way. All current units have icon symbols for waypoints. Erasure of Track Back waypoints is now easier with "delete by symbol". All have a serial data or external power capability. A "three-way" cable provides for both.
The receiver performance in the Garmin GPS receivers is good enough in many cases, so that an external antenna will not be necessary. Reports indicate that you may need an external active antenna to maintain continuous coverage under difficult terrain and tree cover conditions. Garmin makes three active antennas, the GA-26(C) and GA-28 (29) for the G-II/G-III(+) series receivers BNC connector and the GA-27(C)for the MCX connectors of the G-12XL, eMap, and GPSmap 76. "C" designates a low-voltage version. The GA-28 (or low-voltage GA-29) pole mounted 'marine' antenna comes with a 30' cable. An MCX to BNC adapter cable is available if necessary. Garmin receivers are also compatible with most 3rd party amplified GPS antennas as well as Garmin brand. Tri-M is the only other antenna vendor making an amplified external antenna compatible with Garmin's MCX antenna connector.
Some general differences are:
The G-12 and G-12XL have internal antennas. The G-II+, G-III(+), and StreetPilot (ColorMap and III) have rotateable external antennas with a BNC connector. The G-12XL, G II+, G-III(+), GPSmap 76, and StreetPilot (ColorMap) have powered jacks for remote antennas, but the G-12 and eTrex series have no external antenna capability. The eTrex Legend and GPSmap 76 have fixed 8MB of map memory, Vista 24 MB, and the 60C 56 MB.
Only the G-12XL, G-12Map, eMap, GPSmap 76, GPS-60C, and GPS-V have an audible alarm. Only the G-II+, G-III(+), and G-V have rotateable screens (Horiz. or Vert). The G-II+, G-III(+), G-12, G-12Map, and G-12XL, units run about 20 hours on (4) AA alkaline cells. All Garmins will accept external 12vdc power and serial data through a four pin plug, except the G-12, G-38, G-40, eTrex (Series), and eMap which require a voltage regulator.
The G-12Map, eMap, eTrex (all), GPS-60C, and GPSmap 76 units operate at 3.0vdc and require "low voltage" antennas such as the GA-27C or GA-26C. However, these low-voltage antennas will also operate on the older "high-voltage" receivers. The "26" antennas have a BNC connector while the "27" antennas have an MCX connector. Check your receiver to see what kind of jack it has!!!
The most noticeable characteristic is that the screen is exceptionally clear and bright with (16) colors -especially with the backlight ON (which also backlights the keys). The default ON is with the screen backlighted to maximum. Pressing (and holding) the power button decreases the backlight to half and then to OFF. The backlight can be set to turn off from 30 seconds to ten minutes. Any time a key is pressed, the light comes on for the selected time and brightness. This procedure enables the screens to be read easily in any lighting condition. The Color screen is much more visible than the Magellan ColorMap and has about 50% more (Pixels) than the Pro.
The 3-axis compass is a major plus for Magellan over Garmin. The compass retains its accuracy with any tilt angle. With the Garmin GPSmap 76S, you have to hold the unit vertically for best reception but horizontally to read the compass. The map and compass can be oriented to Magnetic or True North, and the compass will read out in Degrees or Mils. To switch off the compass (for use in an automobile, for example), use MENU, Setup, Compass Orient, GPS Course. The compass will then show direction of travel. Garmin units accomplish this with just a push of a button.
Magellan SporTrak Pro: about $250US, appears to be a Magellan Map-330 packaged in a more ergonomically pleasing package, and is 14g lighter. Named keys are replaced by symbols. The screen resolution is the same, but the Pro screen is a little whiter, more visible, and the backlight is brighter. The keys are smaller and not quite as easy to use. The Pro has the same operating system as the Map 330 with the addition of a 3-D "Road Screen" which is the same as in the Meridian Gold.
The Pro comes standard with a base map consisting of cities, highways & major roads, waterways, airports, parks, fixed navaids, buoys, lighthouses, marinas, and obstructions. The SporTrak Pro basemap is the same as the MAP 330M base map. The SporTrak Map comes standard with a base map consisting of cities, highways, airports, The 330 contains Cities, Highways, Airports, Waterways, and Parks. The Pro has these and adds Fixed Navaids, Buoys, Lighthouses, Marinas, and Obstructions, waterways, and parks. The SporTrak Map base map is the same as the Meridian GPS base map.
The Pro memory includes 9MB of base map and 23MB for uploadable maps. This compares to the 330's 8MB of base map and 8MB of uploadable map memory. The SporTrak Map has a 2MB base map and 4MB for uploadable maps.
Meridian Gold and Platinum:
The Magellan GOLD (Ver. 2.09) Mapping GPS receiver (about $300US) is a full-featured and medium cost receiver with a built-in 16 MB basemap (competitive units have 8 MB, Meridian basic has 2 MB) showing worldwide political boundaries, U.S. cities, highways, major roads, national parks, waterways and railways. The GOLD also has a slot for another 8 to 128 megabytes of flash "SD" memory available for uploading detailed street maps, waypoints and routes from Magellan's new MapSend Streets CD-ROM (sold separately). Optional SD memory up to 64MB from vendors other than Magellan will operate in the Meridian units. This receiver is larger and has a larger screen than the SporTrak Pro, see (HERE). The GOLD has a feature lacking in most other GPS receivers; waypoints, tracks, POIs, and topo lines can individually or globally be turned on and off.
A FIND waypoints, addresses, cities, highways, parks, waterways feature is provided. You can even ask for the FIND to work "nearest the cursor" instead of nearest present position. There are 8 sequential user screens. You may turn any you do not want to use to OFF so the sequencing will take less time. Fixed elevation (2D) or GPS elevation (3D) modes can be selected. The GOLD can be programmed to automatically turn itself OFF if signals are lost for a user selectable period.
The Meridian GOLD and family is WAAS and EGNOS compatible. In addition, Magellan has elected to
ignore the present "do not use" flag produced by EGNOS signals (the WAAS for Europe) and allow
corrections to operate in Europe. Users should be aware that these signals MAY not be reliable at
When it come to
trackback, Magellan has a significant advantage over the Garmin implementation.
The Garmins select only a few percent of the trackpoints to use in the trackback directions, thus
tending to "cut corners". This (from personal experience) can cause one to run aground when
following a curvy river in low visibility. In the Magellan implementation, each and every trackpoint is
used in the trackback steering directions.
Meridian Platinum Compass and
The function of this electronic fluxgate compass is an advance over the design of the Garmin compass. Where the Garmin compass must be held horizontal to read, the Magellan three-axis compass can be read from horizontal to a tilt to vertical at which point the back of the unit is the heading being read. The vertical position is also the most optimum position for signal reception, thus the best arrangement for locating a Geocache -for example.
COG (Course Over Ground) Pointer
This unique pointer, not available in the Garmin units, is a useful new feature. When using the Compass Screen to steer to a destination, the goal is to align the destination Pointer and the COG Pointer together. When both of these pointers are lined up, regardless of your heading, you are moving in a straight line to your destination. This is a welcome feature for sailing enthusiasts.
In addition to the electronic compass, the Meridian Platinum provides a “mini-weather station” with
temperature and barometer information. The accuracy of the barometer is hard to discern. Tests made in cool weather show that the barometer readings vary considerably with temperature changes. As compared to our measurements of Garmin's 76S barometer accuracy of 0.02" Hg, the Platinum barometer appears not to indicate a useful measurement.
MAGELLAN MAPSEND MAPS
These maps which are in color and support automatic routing are about $130. They are unique in that they can be installed on several existing Magellan receivers not initially designed for automatic-routing maps. They include the SporTrak Color, Pro, and Pro Marine; Meridian Color, Platinum, Gold, and Marine. These units first have to be upgraded to Ver. 5.0 firmware (or later) supplied with the map kit. Users of earlier MapSend maps will appreciate these more accurate and up-to-date maps.
Streets and Destinations:
This map allows map transfer at 115,200 baud, and four disconnected regions can be uploaded.
This map only allows map transfer at 19,200 baud, and the limit is also four regions. The map contains both topographic information and what looks to be the MapSend Streets USA street detail.
WorldWide Basemap (with topo information):
Only one region of this map can be uploaded at a time. It is possible to upload both street information (e.g. as in MapSend Streets USA) and the WorldWide Basemap. The maps are not displayed simultaneously, but if you zoom out far enough, the WorldWide Basemap switches from the detailed map (if loaded) to the new WorldWide Basemap (if loaded). The built-in Basemap can also be displayed if the WorldWide map is disabled. The map-screen 'Scale' is 1/4th the width. All of the many map details can be turned ON or OFF.
The unit switches off the street detail from 350m to 700m zoom and then switches to the WorldWide basemap map at 1.4km zoom. At 2.5km, panning the cursor will reveal the closest waypoint to the cursor whether the waypoints are displayed or not -up to some unknown distance from the waypoints. Past this distance, the cursor reveals the elevation.
Map Detail settings have no effect on the topo map except at 'Highest' where the street map always takes over at 2.5km zoom. From the smallest to the largest region upload, the file was always about 1MB in size. Apparently the first 800K or so is the program to generate contour lines from the Digital Elevation Model (DEM) database.
Map Utilities (also present in the Pro 4.04, but not the Platinum) is accessed from the first MENU selection.
It has two selections:
Change Map and Delete File.
Change Map has selections of: BaseMap and Detail Map
Under BaseMap: Default Map or BaseMap.mgn can be selected
Under Detail Map: Detail Map Off or Secndmap.dat can be selected
Under Delete File: Basemap.mgn or Secondmap.dat can be deleted
Normal operation would be with: Basemap/Basemap and DetailMap/Second-Map
NOTE: One must remember to "Save" these settings, before they will take effect.
The iFinder's electronic compass and barometric altimeter will display direction and altitude for serious hikers and backpacker. The internal memory is large enough to store up to 100 routes, 1000 waypoints and 1000 event markers.
GPS, color handheld mapping GPS unit includes a unique "Scout Mode", electronic
compass, barometric altimeter, built-in microphone, and MP3 player capabilities.
The Expedition will accept pre-loaded FreedomMaps USA (about $100) on a
single 128 MB SD memory card that cover multiple states. They give
you all the features found in the MapCreate mapping software, but without
the necessity of using a computer. The iFinder Expedition comes standard
with built-in continental U.S. and Hawaii background
maps featuring interstate exit services.
Lowrance iFinder: Ver. 1.2.1 with MapCreate 6, is about $365. The Lowrance GM-100 was the first GPS receiver with user uploadable maps. The iFinder is the first consumer model handheld update from Lowrance since the pace setting GM-100. A few of the unique features of the iFinder are: a) Will accept either MMC or SDC memory cards up to 128MB, b) has optional color case faces, c) holds routes, tracks, waypoints AND maps in the removable memory module, d) an "easy" and "advanced" user interface makes for easy initial use while providing advanced capabilities for more experienced users, e) 1000 waypoints, 1000 event marker icons, 100 routes, TEN savable trail (tracklog) points with up to 9,999 points per trail (MOST of any handheld GPS I know of. If you want MORE points, just carry more MMC cards with you.). f) 37 zoom ranges from 0.05 to 4000 miles, All waypoints, routes and tracks are downloaded by the removable memory module (No serial port is currently provided but a USB or parallel port can be used for loading/reading the MMC cartridge depending on model selected.).
There are four iFinder configurations, each including the same GPS receiver but different accessories. a) iFinder (basic) just has the GPS receiver and manual and nothing else. b) iFinder Plus includes iFinder/Manual/MapCreate 6 and a 16MB MMC card and card reader, c) iFinder Atlantis is a marine model and includes a 16 Meg MMC card with high detail mapping of the continental USA coastline and d) iFinder Express is designed for inland USA use and has a 32MB MMC card loaded with much of the SEARCH ABLE POI database.
GPS-to-MAP (Intermediate Software):
G7ToWin is a (free) Windows/NT program by Ron Henderson. The program will download in one operation from the Garmin receivers, waypoints, routes, proximity points, tracks, and symbols (if they exist) to text and Street Atlas 3/4/5/6/7/8 files in all the various ways Street Atlas can present these data.
G7ToWin has been updated to support both Garmin and Magellan receivers with all the symbols Garmin has of this date. It now supports the Street Pilot's 10-character waypoint and routepoint names for down/uploading and display and will interface with the new Street Atlas 7/8/9. Upgrades will be available at G7ToWin above. You have complete control as to how any downloaded track or route LOOKS in Street Atlas. It can be solid, or 'highlighter', and be any SA color or thickness. Routepoints can have Route No., names, comments, or none, and they are connected by lines, where with Street Atlas they are not. Waypoints can have names with or without comments. Street Atlas tracks are lines instead of dots.
EasyGPS (free) is an easy way to create, edit, and transfer waypoints and routes between your computer and many models of Garmin, Magellan, and Lowrance GPS units. Using EasyGPS, you can manage all of your waypoints and routes, and display them in lists sorted by name, elevation, or distance. EasyGPS connects your GPS to some mapping and information sites on the Internet, giving you easy access to street and topo maps, aerial photos, weather forecasts, and nearby attractions. EasyGPS can exchange GPS data with EasyGPS, PanTerra and ExpertGPS users.
GPS Utility ($40) is an easy-to-use application that provides management and manipulation of GPS information. You can use it to transfer data to/from a GPS receiver and store the data in PC files in one of several text formats. The program converts between different map datums and many coordinate formats (Lat/Long, UTM/UPS, country grids etc.). Information can be filtered in various ways and waypoints sorted according to specified criteria.
Using a scanned in bitmap you can digitize waypoints, routes and tracks. Route and track statistics are available and can be transferred into other programs for analysis (i.e. spreadsheet programs). You can plot your GPS information as a map and add map annotations in text or image form GPS Utility is particularly useful for editing and splicing together track and route segments. You can use it to convert tracks into a route and set of waypoints or convert Routes into tracks. Search patterns can be generated in either track or route/waypoint forms. Other tools allow you to analyze and average the GPS information. Routes may be exported as Route cards. Some special purpose file import and export functions are also provided.
GARtrip from Shareit by Heinrich Pfeifer (v. 115, US $30) is a Windows program that presents Garmin waypoint, route, and track data on a "white map" suitable for analysis and printing, true to scale. The program supports the Garmin G-12 and G-III symbols. One feature includes converting coordinates from/to: Longitude/latitude, UTM, German Grid, Swiss Grid, French Grid (Lambert), British Grid, Irish Grid, Swedish Grid and any number of user defined grids, all with the proper geodetic datum. The program shows and accepts great circle distances between waypoints. Advanced route planning with speed and time is included. GARtrip imports and exports Garmin PCX5, Gardown, Garlink, Waypoint+, and OziExplorer files suitable for editing and uploading into the GPS.
Garmin PCX5 program ($75). This program has been discontinued by Garmin in favor of MapSource. At last check, Garmin was giving a US$80 discount to any current PCX5 owner toward the purchase of any MapSource or MetroGuide product.
NAMES and stored tracks can be downloaded and displayed on SA. However,
routes downloaded to SA do not show any lines connecting the routepoints.
An example of how G7ToWin
can distinguish between a mixture of downloaded waypoints and routepoints (with lines drawn between routepoints) is shown (HERE). Draw Object "Text Notes" and "Place Notes" (waypoints created by SA) containing Lat/Long with the first 6 note characters are shown in the Names list; and the first 16 note characters are shown in Comments when uploaded to the Garmin receivers . Uploading "Map Notes" results in no recognizable names or comments in the Garmin receivers. Routes can also be uploaded to Garmin and Lowrance receivers and to later model Magellan receivers. (Consult Delorme or Magellan for specific model compatibility.)
Map Tech Terrain Navigator has a new presentation of a topographic maps in 3-D. The review compares it with Delorme's Topo USA 3.0. Terrain Navigator can also show GPS waypoint, route, and track data on the 3-D maps.
Ozi Explorer v. 3.80 ($65US) is similar to Fugawi with some added desirable features. The first thing you notice is how fast it can import a CD of USGS DRG maps (30 seconds vs Fugawi's seven minutes). The next thing is how easy and fast it is to pan the DRG maps (see example (HERE). One click on the index map re-positions the main map instantly. You can also re-position the map by "dragging" it. Ozi allows you to leave your GPS on the Datum of the map, so that you can observe the Lat/Long in the same datum on both the GPS and the computer, the coordinates of which will then be the same. This approach requires that you remember to change the GPS datum when you change to maps with different datums. Ozi is capable of displaying data stored on Garmin, Magellan and Lowrance receivers.
This version of Ozi recognizes BSB charts (see example HERE). Unlike Fugawi, Ozi shows tracks and waypoints on the index map and can upload an individual waypoint by clicking on it. Ozi supports Garmin Symbols up through the G-III+. Ozi can register maps at nine points providing a better correction for distorted maps where Fugawi registers only three. Both programs switch maps at the neat line. Up to 20 routes in different colors plus the Garmin Symbols can displayed by Ozi. (Fugawi displays one route and no symbols.) Custom track logs can be created by Ozi but not Fugawi. In the above version, Ozi can now print the maps to any desired pre-determined scale or coverage without loss of detail. Fugawi also prints without loss of detail, but it's difficult to predict what will be printed.
has a feature that will calculate an area of an enclosed GPS track or a
manually-made track. The results can be expressed in Sq. m, Sq. km,
Hectares, Sq. Ft., Sq. Yds., Sq. Miles, or Acres. Under Options is
"Area Calculation". When activated, one can load any stored track,
and Ozi will calculate the part of the track that encloses an area.
An actual MAP is not necessary. Just select the "Blank Map" and load
the track. As an alternative, one can CREATE an 'enclosed' track
plot by clicking on selected area points of a loaded map which will also
calculate an area.
See: Comparison Between Ozi Explorer and Fugawi.
Fugawi v. 2.19 (Sam Rea) is a $95 Windows scanned-map program which can upload/download, waypoints, routes, and tracks with the Garmin and current Eagle/Lowrance receivers. Waypoint names are shown on the map next to easy to see small yellow squares with the names in black on green. Placing the cursor over a waypoint causes its Description to be displayed. A sky view of the satellites is included.
A double click on the map creates a waypoint which can be used as part of a route to be uploaded to GPS receivers. The scanned maps will switch automatically as you travel along. Routes are drawn with red lines, and tracks are blue linked cookie trail dots. The GPS present position icon can be selected from several and will rotate as the direction of travel changes. Fugawi allows the GPS to be continuously set to WGS-84 while the map datums are converted by the software. This latest version allows control of printing any portion of the loaded map without any loss of detail. Fugawi now has Canadian topographic maps available in the BSB format on CD.
NOTES: One must remember to select Track/Record in addition to Track/Show in order to display the real time track. With waypoints "Save on Exit" turned ON, all waypoints can't be cleared from the maps on re-load unless ONE waypoint remains.
Vista (v. 1.21) by RMS Technologies ($199): This program can display and record real time GPS tracks on scanned raster maps, Vista Flight Sectional raster maps ($99 extra for each half of the USA), and Vista street vector maps. It works with any NMEA 183 GPS output, including the Magellan. The tracks recorded by Vista can be played back in seconds. Vista can show a vector map, a flight sectional, and a terrain profile at the same time! (Included with Vista is the geological elevation data for the whole USA to a resolution of 3,000' horizontal and 100' vertical.) Thus the terrain profile between any two points in the USA or that in front of the direction of travel can be displayed in a small box.
Vista vector and raster maps can be installed on the hard drive one "square" degree of Lat/Long at a time to eliminate the need of a CD ROM. Vista maps CANNOT be printed. In order to display Garmin Waypoints, Routes, and Tracks on the Vista maps as Overlays, one must purchase the Garmin program PCX5 ($75) and obtain GARMIN.EXE (free) from the URL above. (Note: PCX5 has been discontinued.)
GPSS Moving Map by Robin Lovelock of Sunninghill Systems: GPSS is now running in 115 countries, and you may download the software, and over 1 GBytes of mapping for these countries from the web site. You may also download sound files to make it speak Japanese, Russian, Italian and other languages in addition to English. GPSS is issued free to the public as a means of contacting businesses around the world who supply it in large quantity, or use it for more specialized remote tracking applications such as radio, cellphone, OrbComm and Inmarsat-C satellite communications.
The free USA maps provide displays of the major highways and street-level detail in limited parts of the USA and Europe in response to e-mailed requests from GPS users as follows: Support is provided for the street level mapping off the Microsoft Streets and Trips CDROM within USA, and AutoRoute Express 2000 CDROMs within Europe. The program supports a verbal command package for computer control as you drive along, but this is from another supplier at $50US. Software support for the US Tiger data is available from the web site. The audio output tells you where you are about every two minutes. This is really interesting for awhile, but annoying as time passes. There is no way to adjust the announce interval, but you can turn the audio on your computer off.
The only production Garmin unit that can simulate moving from a keyed-in position is the G-12XL, which makes the unit useful for evaluating map software function and accuracy. The Lowrance GM-100 can also simulate a keyed-in position and movement. The Garmin eTrex series cannot do waypoint averaging. The Garmin GPSmap 76 series are very versatile receivers except, the green-cast screen is not as easy to read as others.
If you have any
comments, additions/corrections, or to request a review of your PC mapping
software or hardware, please let us know via Email below or by fax:
Joe Mehaffey: W2JO (770) 886-1767
Jack Yeazel: N4TEB
Thanks, and good navigating!
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