While on our trip to Florida over the holidays my trusty Garmin eTrex Legend GPS unit decided to become less trusty. I had been having trouble with it prior to the trip. Any power cable I got for it never seemed to work correctly, and now I was getting weird lines on the display. It had served me well for five years, but it was now time to replace it.
I had gotten some Best Buy gift cards as well as some cash for Christmas. I had enough so that I could either get a really nice handheld unit or a really nice unit for my car. I decided to split the funds and get two GPSs, a handheld Garmin eTrex Venture HC for geocaching, geotagging, and hiking, and a Garmin Nuvi 205 for car navigation. Here’s a quick review of both units, and my reasons for going this route instead of buying a single higher grade unit.
The Handheld – Garmin Etrex Venture HC
I had looked at several handhelds before decided on this unit. The Magellan Triton units had caught my eye, but they consistently got bad reviews from online reviews. The Delorme units also looked intriguing, especially since they could incorporate Delorme’s vast library of excellent maps into the units. However, these, too seemed a bit untried and quite a bit more than I wanted to spend. This left Garmin and a smaller group of also-rans.
I looked at the new Garmin Oregon and Colorado units with their nifty touch screens and color displays. However, I’m planning to use this thing in a rugged outdoor environment – hiking, kaying, and geocaching. I had to wonder how a touch screen would hold up.
I liked the form factor of the eTrex series. The units are not too large, but the displays are fairly easy to read. Eventually it was a matter of price that pushed me to the Venture HC. It has a color display, which is nice, but there are other features I like, too. I love the geocaching mode, which let’s you take caches as “found” then automatically reroutes to the next cache. The unit has WAAS capabilities, and seems to lock onto satellites very quickly. It also came with a MapSource CD, so I can upload topo maps to the unit, too. I haven’t had time to play with that little feature yet.
There are a couple of things I’m still getting used to. The screens and controls are a bit different from my old Legend unit. I’m not so sure I like where the waypoints are now located. There was an instant button that would let me jump to a waypoint on the Legend. The color screen can also be a bit dark when it’s not backlit. These are trivial things, though. I do wish I had spent just a bit more money and gotten the Venture HCx, which has a micro-SD slot, but oh well. I think I can manage without it.
The Car Unit – Garmin Nuvi 205
Automotive units are now designed to be fool-proof, as many more consumers add them to their cars. The trick was to find a unit that had the features I wanted, but not to have too much junk as a distraction. I had already decided I wanted a Nuvi xx5 series unit because of the photo navigation capabilities. I wasn’t really interested in TomTom, Magellan, Harmon Kardon, or any of the others that have jumped into this field. My dream auto GPS would have been the Nuvi 265WT, with a wider screen and FM traffic updates. But, since the updates are only available in certain cities, this wouldn’t have been as useful a feature.
I decided to save a bit of cash and go for the 205 instead of the wider 205w unit. So far this doesn’t seem to have been a problem. I can see the maps just fine, and the smaller screen is less of a distraction on the dash.
What makes these GPS units is the quality of the maps. Garmin uses the NavTeq maps for their units, and so far they seem to be fairly good. However, it still doesn’t show the new cul-du-sac at the end of our street, and routes through as if the street continues. Overall, though, it does seem to be fairly reliable.
Since this is the first time I’ve played with an automotive unit, some of these simple things fascinate me that others may take for granted, such as the ability to re-route on the fly and automatically recalculate if you’ve left the specified path. I also like the built-in points of interest, even though these are not as inclusive or accurate as I might like.
What I do like about the unit are the things that most casual users wouldn’t bother with – photo navigation and the ability to add custom waypoints through the micro-SD card. Photo navigation is cool, but for now it’s restricted to photos downloaded from Panoramio through the Garmin Connects interface. I’m hoping that they add Flickr, because that would give a wider range of photos from which to choose.
The Nuvi 205 seems to lock on quickly, and tracks well. However, under the clouds yesterday at highway speeds it did occasionally have trouble keeping up, but not too bad. The unit has a rechargeable battery, so it can be used away from the car, but most of the time it will run off of the car battery.
For both of these units I like the fact that Garmin has now switched to a standard USB cable interface. Getting cables for my Legend was always a pain, and the things always seemed to fall apart. Now I can use one cable for both units. While traveling to Fairfield County yesterday I was able to keep both units running powered off the car battery, greatly extending the units’ battery lives.
The choice of two lower-priced units came down to a matter have having the right tool for the right job. As stated, I could have gotten one flashier unit, but each of these does exactly what I want. You could use a car unit for geocaching, but it wouldn’t be as detailed, and I certainly wouldn’t want to take it kayaking. I’ve been using a handheld unit in the car for years, but the map database just isn’t as accurate, and there is no way to navigate to an address on the fly without having first loaded it in. As I said, right tool for the right job. For me, I think I made the right choice(s).