First impressions on the Magellan 610 eXplorist (Canada) are very positive. I teach the GPS, map, and compass course at trailpeak.com, and I've done so for years - I'll give you my first impressions after using it several times and digging into it's features.|
I remember when selective availability limited GPS reception to about 20 meters. Now, most GPS will give you an accurate location reading to 3m, and Magellan has the Sirfstar III chipset which is the heart of the satellite tracking function. A few years back, GARMIN lost their ability to use Sirfstar III and for a while GARMIN users were struggling to find older GARMINs with this very reliable chipset, so I was pleasantly surprised that Magellan was backed by this solid GPS reception technology.
The 610 has only 3 buttons, the rest of the user interface is based on touchscreen. The buttons are what you'd expect, primarily on/off, and the ability to turn the camera on and take a picture. Otherwise a quick tap on the screen brings up the 4-corner "touchscreen" options for further navigation. I like this approach, and it allows a user to treat each screen in a standard way. The main screen is your map page, showing your location and track over a shaded topographical map, along with waypoints, streets, the direction you are pointing (thanks to the internal compass device) and any picture locations. The built in 3.2 megapixel camera geotags the images (embeds location data in the JPG file header) and so now I finally have a GPS that has camera, GPS, and compass.
Getting back to touchscreen and usability, the 4-corner menu options (you can see these in the picture top-left) are as follows; Dashboard, Main Menu, OneTouch, and Page Options menu. The lower left button brings up the main menu allowing you to access waypoints, tracks, routes, media, and the settings menu. With all GPS, the set-up is very important if you want to match your GPS to a paper map with co-ordinates (datum), or configure power options, display fields, and so on.
I am used to GPS, so I had no problems with the set-up, however, first time users may find learning GPS along with co-ordinate systems and compass terminology somewhat confusing, so stick to the basics at first.
Continuing with the 4-corners buttons, the top left is your dashboard showing compass, and a configurable set of display fields for heading, bearing, distance to waypoint, and so on. The top right button is called "one touch" and it can be set up as a customized menu of searches and shortcuts to favourite tools. The bottom right button offers page options, which on the main map page would allow for adding a waypoint, local search (of waypoints), trip start / summary, or the option to bring up a detailed compass page over top of the map which is very cool.
As founder of trailpeak, I am often mapping out trails with GPS and camera in hand. The camera on the 610 performs well and you can see some samples on one of my test trails here. It's easy to take the images off the GPS, as the GPS appears as a device on the computer via the USB plug-in. The ability to harness the GPS on the shoulder strap to do quick map checks and take pictures helps me out a lot. Another pleasant surprise is the GPX format that Magellan supports directly, and this saves me from having to do conversions using GPS software. I just upload straight to a newly added trail on trailpeak.com.
To amplify earlier comments on GPS reception, I picked up signal in my home office in the house not directly adjacent to a window. I looked down and there was my street and house on the map. Location lock is pretty fast on this release of the product. On the three or four outings on trails so far, I've never lost signal.
I can also say that the display is plenty bright at night.
For those thinking of the eXplorist 610, let me net it out for you. Great GPS reception courtesy of SirfStar III technology, user friendly touch-screen, Canadian topographical maps and streets (no routing function for roads), GPX format for file sharing, 3.2 Megapixel camera with geotagging (trailpeak supports geotagging to plot images on google maps), waterproof rugged design, SD card slot, and excellent navigation features. There is a Barometric altimeter. With all these devices and advanced features, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the power saving options to extend battery life, such as the unit's "suspend" mode which leaves active tracking on but otherwise puts the unit to sleep.
When you re-activate your GPS, it does take a few (annoying) seconds to fetch the track and update the display, so if you are checking your GPS every 10-15 minutes or taking pictures about that often, configure the suspend mode to activate after 30 minutes. One can also turn off the electronic compass sensor inside the unit, the barometric sensor (altitude), so that combined with other power saving steps such as a dimmed display, you should be more than fine if extending battery life is a concern on longer outings.
1. If you take advantage of the power saving mode (active tracking, but screen off) which I commonly do and is advisable, it takes a while for the unit to retrieve the active track log from the unit, about 7-10 seconds. This may impact you when hoping to use the unit to take a picture in a hurry.
2. When taking a picture, not only do you have to wait for the unit to retrieve the tracklog and activate the screen, pressing the image button also has a delay. Combined delay is long-ish in my opinion, so I get used to awakening the unit in advance of a pic I think I may want.
3. When swooshing the touch-screen to move the map (so you can see another part of your tracklog perhaps), I often created a GOTO point instead. But practice makes perfect.
4. Glare: Although in bright sunlight the display isn't bad, I find keeping the sunlight (rays) directly hitting the screen the best for optimum display.
Magellan is back in the game with great GPS reception technology, integrated functions, and a great user interface. There are a lot more features I'll be familiarizing myself with, such as voice annotating an image, which will be very useful for trail mapping. I suspect the 610 and summit series in general will also be popular with geocachers because of the extra features provided for geocaching. Please visit Magellan for more information on the explorist series 610 featuring Canadian topo maps here.