Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Travel Gear: Buying the Wrong GPS

Whether it's investments or stuff, I'm a buy-and-hold kind of person.

I'd had my handheld GPS (a Garmin, function-key-driven GPSMAP 6OCSx) 8 years when I lost it on a trip in January 2015. I was not ready to replace it because it still performed well relative to current units.

But now I had no GPS. I decided to stick with Garmin because I have sets of Garmin maps, and am impressed how rugged my GPS had been. It has survived immersion in water and many falls onto hard surfaces.

I looked at Garmin devices positioned for hiking and narrowed my choice to two units:
A touch-screen unit: Oregon 600
A function-key-driven (non-touch-screen) unit: GPSMAP 64S.
I decided to try something new and settled on the touch-screen unit, the Oregon 600.

Over the course of a two-month trip, February through April 2015, I decided my chosen GPS is unfit for serious hiking.

So, where did I go wrong?

Problems with the Oregon 600 (touch-screen) GPS
Advantages of my old (non-touch, function-key-operated) GPS
I should be able to operate it with one hand.
I may be hanging on to a rock or a trekking pole with the other hand.
I needed both hands to hold and operate it.
I could hold and operate it with with one hand.
I should be able to operate it without looking at the screen.
I don’t want to have to stop walking every time I zoom or unzoom or select metrics.
It’s impossible to do frequent tasks, such as zooming and unzooming without looking at the screen. This meant stopping on a rough trail to avoid tripping over something.
Using function keys, I did not have to look at the screen to zoom, unzoom, display moving average, etc. I could then just glance at the screen for the information I was seeking without stopping.
The screen should always be on.
I want to be able to glance at a map without having to push a button.
The battery could not power the screen for an entire day, so I opted to set a timeout for the screen. I had to push a button to turn the display back on. The screen is transreflective (sunlight-readable) and should have low power drain. I suspect the touch function was draining some power.
The screen is transreflective, always on. I could hike the entire day with one battery.
The screen should not respond to me holding the unit, or putting it in my pocket.
I don’t want to have to stop walking while I get back to the screen I want.
The touch screen responded to unintended touches, or contact with clothing. I could lock the screen, but then I would be constantly locking and unlocking it. This was one more reason I turned the screen on and off.
I could hold the unit, or put it in my pocket without affecting what was on the screen. My handling of the unit did not affect the function keys.
The screen should not respond to raindrops.
It’s going to rain!
In a rainstorm, the screen responded to large drops of rain as though they were finger touches. This made it almost unusable. If I wiped rain off the screen, I ended up scrolling the map.
Rain did not affect the screen. The display did not change when I wiped rain off it.
I should be able to use it with gloves.
I sometimes wear trekking gloves to protect my hands when clambering over rocks or roots.
The screen was not responsive to my gloved hand.
It was easy to operate the function keys with a gloved hand.
The belt clip should lock the unit to my belt or pack.
I don’t want my GPS to go flying!
The unit tended to roll off my belt or pack because its center of gravity was too high relative to the top of the clip. (See photograph.)
The unit was secure because most of the mass of the unit was below the top of the clip. (There was also a latch I could release with one hand.)

The belt clip should be higher allowing the unit to "hang" more securely.
This week, I sold my Oregon 600 on eBay, and will order the GPSMAP 64S. I thought of returning the unit taking advantage of American Express 90-day return protection. It had enough dings from falling on rocks so I decided that would be pushing my luck.

I miss my old GPS. I've posted about it here.

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