I finally decided to get a used eX610 from eBay, which cost £162 including 1:50K OS maps. The unit was 15 months old and had never been out of the box. Here’s my thought’s comparing it to the Garmin GPSMAP60 CSx and the Oregon.
The screen is well recessed into the body of the unit, which provides some protection. I found the screen to be much more legible and bright than the OR. I also found it much more responsive to touch. I had been concerned about this from other reviews, but this unit scrolled and responded to taps with ease. The menu system is a triumph on the whole. Touch the map and an icon appears in each corner of the screen while the map remain visible. The dashboard shows data or compasses, one touch menu is a screen of your favourite shortcuts (application of location), the main menu is self explanatory and the option menu gives access to functionality related to the screen you are on. The whole thing is very customizable. In addition there are two physical buttons that are again fully customizable. I have camera on one and trip stats on the other. Some may prefer add waypoint for example.
Playing around with it at home I had been horrified at how it had drained a fully charged pair of 2500mAh batteries in two hours, but in practise it lasted all day without any problem on a less than charged pair of batteries. One reason was most likely that I had set the 3-axis compass to activate at less than 2mph. Sitting at a desk meant it was on continuously. I also turned the barometer off and set the battery type to alkaline (even though I was using rechargeable batteries) as I understand that the other battery profiles are faulty. As the device was new I spent much more time playing with it than I normally would too, taking photographs and doing a few geocaches too.
The touch screen eXplorist ranges comprises the 510, 610 and 710. They are all very similar with the main differences being the maps installed and the internal memory capacity. The 510 doesn’t have the 3-axis compass or the barometer (I think). As the pre-installed UK maps are nigh on useless this means that there is little difference between all three device, although the compass is important to me, hence I could not entertain the 510. All three have a built-in 3.2mp camera, voice recorder, video recorder, take microSD cards and have the all important SiRFstar III chip set. All three are waterproof to the IPX-7 standard.
OS maps on the Garmin (Discoverer series) are really poor in image quality. They clearly are not saved with a high enough resolution. There’s no such problem here, but it gets even better. I messed with the custom maps on the Garmin, but the restrictions were so great that it was totally impractical. You don’t get any of that with the eX, so you can make excellent maps (rmp) via various methods. Mobac seems to be the easier and versions prior to 19.2 give access to 1:25K OS mapping as well as a host of other popular maps from around the world. If you have a routable map the device will also provide proper audio instruction, again unlike Garmin handheld devices. The only thing I didn’t like is that if you buy Ordnance Survey maps (on a microSD card) you can’t move them to a different card as they are linked to the card and device. This is the same as Garmin do. I don’t like because a) if the card becomes faulty you are stuffed and b) the card has little available space on it, so I would want to move it to a larger card.
While Garmin have Basecamp as their PC based management tool Magellan have Vantage Point. I have never got on with Basecamp and have stuck mostly with Mapsource and Memory Map. While Vantage Point does a lot, it does it with a lot of crashes. Copy your maps to the PC and you never need to buy Memory Map. Make your own maps (see previous paragraph) and view them using VP. There are no restrictions on the map window size or on printing unlike the Garmin products I have used. Even if you’re not a Magellan user that’s got to be worth a go. VP manages your maps, media, routes, tracks, waypoints and geocaches. It even has an interface to Geocaching Live. Media is geotagged of course, so it appears in it’s geographical location too.
After breakfast I dropped a gpx route file onto the device and off we went. The first thing I noticed was how the blue flag issue from the Garmin didn’t exist. This is where every point along the route is represented by a large blue flag that obscures the map. The flags on the Magellan were tiny and didn’t get in the way. You need to reset the trip time and trip odometer separately. Magellan could learn from Garmin here where a reset lists several options with a tick-box next to each. These options are remembered so you can easily reset several counters in one go. The eXplorists have a standby mode which continues to log your track whilst turning everything else off. I tried it a few times, but found the wake up time to be too long, so gave up on this. It would be useful if you didn’t need to look at the device much though, say walking up Ben Nevis where you just follow a the path.
Passing through Piercefield Park I took the opportunity to hide in the grotto. It’s not dissimilar to a lime kiln. I held the receiver right against the back wall, but reception was not an issue at all. Back at home I compared the track log to my CSx which was in my pocket, and it was almost identical to the CSx, something that the ORcame nowhere close to. As well as the tracks being spot on the OS marched tracks there was less spidering on the eX when we were stationary.
We reached Chepstow and decided to do a couple of geocaches. The one feature that I miss from the Oregon is the compass that displays on the map page showing the nearest cache. The eX has other useful features like the proximity alarm which you can set to go off when you are within a set distance of a cache. One of the many details I liked on this device was the vibrate feature, so that even in a blizzard you would know when you were being notified. The cache icons were very small. This was also an issue on the Garmin, but replacing the icons was child’s play. I will have to see if the same can be done here. Touch the cache icon and a header comes up with the main cache details. Touch the header and you are into the cache details. One more press to navigate to the cache. The listing are much clearer than on the OR. Cache page photos can also be displayed, although I didn’t use this feature. I really didn’t like scrolling through logs on the OR, but it’s much easier on the Magellan.
We found the caches, registered them as found and moved on. Some people like to record their logs on the device (probably because most people do 20+ a day these days), but we don’t. This is probably just as well, as the alphabetic keyboard is spread over two pages. Yuck! You can download your logs to geocaching.com also. What we found more useful was the ability to record a message, photo or video and attach it to the cache (or a waypoint, track, route or POI). You know the sort of thing. “Another lame nano in a car park when there’s a stunning castle in a park on the other side of the wall”. The compass is excellent. Not only do you not need to keep turning it on and off (see above), but it was very steady, quick and accurate. Again far superior to the Garmins. There is also a Smart Compass, which changes gradually from green when you are pointing it towards your destination, to red as you go off route. Yet another great feature was the off-route alarm, which you set to activate when you stray by more than a certain distance from your route. It did appear that this only alarmed when you were more than the said distance from a waypoint along the route, which isn’t so good, but I need to investigate more. A quick workaround would be to add frequent waypoints.
The device can hold 2,000 waypoints, 200 routes and a whopping 10,000 geocaches. If that’s not enough caches (for example) you could copy several gpx files to a holding folder on the internal memory or microSD card. You can move these files around on the standalone device, swapping out one set of 10,000 caches for another one. Fantastic. Boot up time didn’t seem to be too affected by the amount of data on the device either, unlike the OR.
Everything was going swimmingly then I found a bug. You can see the details here. It was getting pretty dark by the time we finished our walk and the camera couldn’t cope with this at all, but to be fair I didn’t expect it to. You can see some snaps I took along the way at the bottom.
In summary I loved this device. It was so much better than any current Garmin for accuracy, functionality and usability. I keep discovering little things like there is an in-built magnifier when you hold you finger on the map. Despite all the good news the eX is certainly not perfect. The first concern is that there are so few users that there is little information available, though there are a couple of excellent user forums. Secondly Magellan support is notoriously woeful. They’re owned by MiTac (remember the Mio PDAs?) and they seem to think that a device costing several hundred pounds is not worthy of support. There are also a lot of small bugs that should have long since been resolved and even more small improvements that would have taken little effort. It is a mystery to me why so many users, particularly geocachers, stay loyal to Garmin when their products are so inferior.
After this test I had to return the device as the OS maps had not been created properly and were missing large areas of detail all over the country. I’m now playing a waiting game for a newish device, either with or without OS maps. I just wish I had had a chance to test custom maps on the device before I sent it back rather than just in Vantage Point.