GPS Lodge GPS Review: Magellan eXplorist 600
The Magellan eXplorist 600is a high end handheld that is packed with features and allows you to navigate the world with ease and comfort of the amenities that you'd come to expect or dream of in an advanced handheld GPS. In this review of the Magellan eXplorist 600, the GPS Lodge will take a look at the features and usefulness of the eXplorist 600, we'll sum it up and give you a couple of other units to compare it to if you are thinking of buying one.
The main reason to consider the Magellan eXplorist 600 (and Magellan eXplorist 500 too) is for the color screen, a smallish 16-color screen that does fairly well in sunlight. The backlight can be adjusted for brightness and maximum visibility in the sun. The eXplorist series is a nice handheld series, in a pocketable sized GPS that allows you to go where you want without the burden of a huge GPS to lug around. Of course the downside of this is that they don't easily make themselves useful for using while driving for instance.
The Magellan eXplorist 600 takes a step up from the Magellan eXplorist 500 with a few nice additional features like the 3 axis compass, barometric pressure and a thermometer. The compass is a nice added feature if you are Geocaching, where you are sometimes required to head in a more precise direction from one spot to another along a heading. If you have a destination, then there will be a small graphic that will point to the destinations location. This helps to keep you going on the right direction. I think that the thermometer is a nice additional feature too, and would like to see it on more outdoor focused units in the handheld range. Sure there can be downsides like false readings while the GPS is sitting in the sun, but I'd take it anyways. With the combination of the thermometer and barometer, you can get to the eXplorist weather screen which can give you a quick snapshot of the current conditions.
The eXplorist 600 comes with a rechargeable Lithium ion battery pack. Magellan rates this for up to 17 hours in use, although that has to be without the backlight and the compass. In regular usage, we've seen it last in the 8-14 hours range depending on amount of backlight (big energy draw) and compass use (small energy draw). You need to think about how you are going to use the GPS. We regularly go out for more than a day to use our GPS units, without the ability to re-charge. It's nice to be able to not use a bucket full of batteries in a year, but for us, recharging is not an option. Magellan does offer the eXplorist cigarette lighter power adapter which is one way around this issue if you are out in the car for a few days.
Maps and More
One big advantage that Magellan has over rival Garmin is that Magellan has embraced the idea of storage cards for their handheld line. At this writing, Garmin has not addressed this need in their popular eTrex line, which is a huge shortcoming. Magellan eXplorist 600 comes with 16MB of on board memory (half taken up by the basemap), and an SD card slot for as much space as you can afford. The SD card is installed behind the rechargeable battery in the rear compartment.
The eXplorist 600 comes with a pretty basic basemap. If you want more detailed maps of your area; everyone probably will, you will need to buy additional software. The Magellan MapSend DirectRoute NorthAmerica or the MapSend 3D Topo North America would be two popular titles. They retail for a little over $100 each. Both products allow you to download detailed maps and points of interest onto the GPS, and use the information to navigate. When connecting the eXplorist 600 to the computer, the device comes up like a virtual hard drive, and contains several folders to dump data into. If you are adding detailed maps that you bought separately, you can drop these into a specific folder, which is easy to navigate as it is set up like any computer folder structure. When planning for using these maps, you should know that these maps can chew up a pretty big chunk of memory, so plan on some big SD cards to keep from visiting the computer every time you want to wander off in a different area. There has been some issue with the unit freezing due to large maps and corrupt files. Do a search on the internet for more info on freeze ups for the eXplorist 600.
The eXplorist 600 comes with a USB connection that speeds downloads to the device (card or internal memory). There is a bulletin out on how to connect the device to the USB adapter (see it here on the Magellan website).
Like most handheld GPS units, the eXplorist 600 is water resistant to IPX-7 specifications, which means that is can go for a brief dip in a shallow stream or hang out in the rain without any major issues.
The eXplorist 600 has the ability to autoroute you from your current location to your desired location via roads, if you have the DirectRoute detailed maps loaded. It gives you turn by turn capability with an audible alarm and a turn graphic as a turn approaches. The capability is reasonable, and you can access directions by entering an address or using POI's. A word of caution though these handhelds with autorouting are not as finely tuned as the automotive targeted devices, like the Magellan RoadMate, Garmin StreetPilot or the TomTom Go series. So, entering addresses can be a bit more tedious, and there are not as many advanced features in this unit that you might find in a $1,000 automotive unit.
The Magellan eXplorist 600 has the ability to manage gpx files for use when Geocaching. When adding these files, they become special POIâ€™s and contain some limited data (hint fields) that can help you when out looking for geocaches. Gone are the days of copying down hint info on paper, and hand entering the Lat/Lon data of the cache. These gpx files are available when you become a member of Geocaching.com.
A popular mount for the car is the suction cup mount for the windshield. Not too expensive and not too permanent. The issue I have with lots of these mounts is that they are not all that good if you are out off-roading and really bumping around. The Magellan swivel mount is an option, but make sure your dash is big enough for the base.
The main comparison to make is the Magellan eXplorist 600 vs. the Garmin eTrex Vista C. Both have a color screen, with autorouting capabilities, barometers and USB connections. Garmin has no expandable memory for extra map capacity, but has 24MB of onboard memory to hold a decent but not expansive set of detailed maps. The Vista C uses plain old "AA" batteries, which is a plus for me, because I need longer time away from charging possibilities, but maybe not for you. The eXplorist 600 adds the thermometer and a weather screen as an added feature. While both are friendly for Geocaching, the Magellan takes the extra step of adding support for gpx files that are common for Geocaching.
If you don't need or want to use the compass or pressure features, consider moving down the line. When you move down, you'll need to compare the Magellan eXplorist 500 vs. the Garmin eTrex Legend C . Neither have the compass or the barometer, but both have color screens and the ability to add detailed maps. The Magellan eXplorist 500 has the SD card expandability, where the Garmin Legend C only has the 24MB of internal memory. Both work on USB connectivity.
Want to read more?
See our article covering the review in Wired magazine where they rated the Magellan eXplorist 600 the best handheld.
See our article covering Money magazine's review of the Magellan eXplorist 600.
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Posted by Scott Martin at September 24, 2005 3:06 PM