Review: Garmin GPSMap 60CSx by GPS Lodge
Ok, it's been a while since we got our hands on the Garmin GPSMap 60CSx, and it's about time we wrote up this review. The Garmin GPSMap 60Csx sits at the top of the Garmin handheld line with loads of features, capabilities and does a pretty good job of maintaining its position there offering a lot in a handheld GPS. The unit comes with a relatively large screen for a handheld that makes things easy to read on the map as well as the capability under the hood to make the thing a nearly bulletproof performer. The SiRF star III chipset is fed through the bulbous helix antenna for excellent reception in all kinds of situations, and the expandable micro-SD card storage system allows you to take a lot of maps and data with you on your trip. The unit ships with a 64MB card, but the cards are always coming down in price and it's easy to find a 1GB card for well under $50. I was able to load up the 60CSx with topo maps and use it for a couple of weeks outdoors and around town, and thoroughly enjoyed the unit. The GPSMap 60CSx is certainly a portable handheld device, but not exactly pocketable. Anyone not absolutely fixated on portability will enjoy the extra screen real estate and the luxury that the SiRF star III chipset can bring in terms of no-doubt satellite reception.
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Features and Capabilities
The GPSMap 60CSx is loaded with features, and the primary difference that separates it from its 60Cx sibling is the added electronic compass and barometric altimeter functionality. Both come with the SiRF star III chipset, the big screen, microSD slot and great GPS capabilities. The on/off button is placed at the top of the unit next to the antenna. The unit has a series of buttons across the bottom that allows you to access the most used features easily and quickly. At the top of the arc on either side, you get a "+" and a "-" button that allows you to zoom in and out on map pages. Going down the left side you have the "Find" button which brings up dialogue for finding waypoints, and Points of Interest, like towns, geographical features, etc. The button also functions as a Man Over Board button when held down. The unit will then mark the location of a man over board and then navigate back to that location. The Mark key is next, which allows you to mark your location as a waypoint. "Enter" and then "Menu" are classic software navigation keys that are very handy to have access to. Lastly the "Page" button allows you to flip through the various pages that you can pull up and look at.
On the backside of the unit you have three ports: 1) The Mini-USB connection, 2) an aux antenna port, and 3) a serial external data port. The unit also has a lanyard holder and the battery door where you access the two "AA" batteries, under which there is the tiny microSD cardholder. The unit is waterproof to IPX7 standards (1 meter of water for an hour), which essentially keeps you safe in rain and splash situations. The 60CSx is rated for 15 hours of use on a pair of batteries, which is pretty good, but is probably driven down by the big screen it's using. (For comparison the eTrex Vista Cx claims about 30+ hours.)
Endless Information Available
The Garmin Handheld systems are based on offering you several "pages" of information. So, for instance on the 60CSx you can get a map page, then an altimeter page, a compass page, a menu settings page, etc.
The GPSMAP 60CSx has a configurable interface that allows you to put in or take out the many information page views as you wish. This means that you can insert information pages into the queue or take them out if you don't need the information presented to you on a regular basis. You can see the following main pages: Satellite status, Trip computer page (lots of settable fields that allow so you to see key data quickly and easily), map page, compass page, altimeter, and the main menu page. Don't want to see all of these, that's OK, you can go into the settings and deselect any of the ones you don't want.
On each of these main pages, there are several things you can do to use this powerful GPS to its maximum capability. The trip computer page is a good example, with 8 data fields displayable, and 48 data options, you get the picture of what you can observe while using the 60CSx. A lot of these are easily understandable and useful in almost any situation: speed, average speed, odometer, etc. Then there are some that are very specific to the application or what you are doing at the moment, like: Off course (the distance off the course you have already set), total descent, heading (either in letter format, or in degrees), velocity made good (the velocity that you are making towards your destination), or glide ratio! Anyway, you get the picture, lots of information for the taking when you need it.
You will spend a lot of your time on the Map page, so let's play there for a while. I like the larger screen here, as I like to have at lease 2 data fields at the top of the map, and the larger screen keeps a lot more map information on the screen when navigating. You can set the top fields to include any of the selectable information that is available in the unit. You can also select to see none, 2, 3, or 4 fields of information. Just remember the more you select, the less of the map area you will see. I like to have 2 fields across the top, as it seems to give me a good balance of info and map area. There are also numerous customizations that allow you to get the map to look just the way you want it: North up, direction of travel up, turn guidance text on when you are navigating a route, set the amount of mapping details you want shown on the screen, turn on/off track recording, etc. Mind boggling number of options, but easily ignored for a simple approach to navigation. It's there if you need it, but the bottom line is that the unit works very well without drilling into the options. It's intuitive and easy to deal with as is. If you happen to need to lock the device to show you always on a road, or need navigational aid lights shown on the map, yea, you can do that.....
I used the unit for a few specific outings that were fun. I happened to go geocaching with the unit, and was able to enter in the coordinates of the geocache as a waypoint and we were off. I parked and then hit "Find" to find the waypoint of the Geocache and then hit the button to "Goto" it. This gives you a straight line to the waypoint that you can navigate, or you can follow trails that are in the area, keeping in mind where you need to go. You can tell from a higher zoom level which trail you should take at the next fork. The unit can display a pointer to get you to the location of the geocache. When you get there, there is always some searching around, as I think that the accuracy of many GPS units aren't perfect, and when you consider a 30 foot "error" circle, that can be a lot of leaves and branches to turn over (if you are in the woods like I was). I will say that I had confidence in the GPSMap 60CSx, as the accuracy under tree cover was still rock solid at about 15 foot accuracy without doing anything special, like standing still for 10 minutes. Once you get to the location, the GPSMap will help you set your geocache collection of icons to "Found"... a nice extra.
The other thing I did was to go on an orienteering course with some local scouts. So while they used an old compass, I whipped out the 60CSx and played with it. When you turn on the electronic compass, there is an odd calibration dance you need to go through to get it acquainted with the world again. This requires you to spin slowly in 2 circles until it tells you it's calibrated. You are then able to stand in place, click sight n go, and pick a direction of travel. The unit will then attempt to keep you on course as you walk that distance. My only sadness was that it is set up to do this in terms of miles traveled, not feet or yards. So while Garmin wants to help you do this over a vast area; i.e. sight and go 3 miles in that direction, I wanted to go 500 yards. Yea I could have done the math to figure out how many tenths of a mile that was, but I didn't want to. It was still better at keeping on a heading than a bunch of scouts picking a heading and walking in the woods a few hundred yards. We frequently had them coming over to me to find the next waypoint. Maybe it was the superior equipment or maybe the years of experience, who knows but I'll take the 60 CSx any day!
Finally, I went for a short bike ride with the unit. I mapped out a route on the unit, clipped it to the handlebars and went. This was a road ride, and it was wonderful having such a huge screen with a nice readout. I didn't go for a mountain bike ride, so I can't tell you if the unit is solid on the handlebar mount.
Speaking of mounts - the Garmin GPSMap 60CSx can't fit in your pocket, but it comes with a very easy to use belt holder. A small knob screws solidly onto the back of the GPS unit, and the belt clip goes on your belt. The knob slides easily and then clips into a nice slot on the belt clip; to release it, an easy push of a button brings the GPS back to you in seconds. It's easy to do without looking and with the SiRF star III and the helix antenna, you still hold onto the satellite signal with the GPS on your belt.
There is one thing that is tough and I don't have a way around it without going to a touchscreen. The data entry on the unit has you using the rocker button moving around an ABC listing and pressing enter when you get to a letter. It drives you to make efficient choices in naming things, and hoping that you don't have to do things twice.
The Garmin 60 CSx has a built in barometric altimeter, and some associated capabilities. The beauty of this is that you can create pressure plots over time, meaning you can get either your total ascent and descent for a trip displayed over time (or distance), OR you can display pressure changes over time. The pressure changes are minimal if you are ascending a small hill or mountain, but it can be useful when looking at weather and storm fronts coming in as pressure changes can be dramatic. I like being able to plot out the data, and scroll through it. With the rocker button you can go back over the plot and essentially touch on a peak let's say to find out on a map where that hill was. As I rode over a 55 mile bike ride, I was able to pinpoint the big ascents on the map.
Satellite Lock On
The Garmin GPSMap 60CSX (and the other "x" GPSMap models), comes with a helix antenna and the SiRF star III chipset that pulls in signals through roofs, through trees and other challenging situations. Roofs? Yes, you can now sit in your cabin or house and plan out routes or trips while you have a satellite signal, a nice plus. You can also hike through the woods under heavy cover of trees and have no issue in losing signals (I do lose them with my old Garmin eTrex Vista C that doesn't have the SiRF star III chipset).
An unintended consequence is that you can also drive around with the GPSMAP 60 CSx in a cup holder or in your center console and still get a good satellite signal. This is great. Gone are the days of holding a unit to the sky as if praying to the GPS gods for a signal. It's locked in and ready to go when you are.
Review Summary Garmin GPSMap 60CSx
The Garmin GPSMap 60CSx is at the top of the heap right now for handheld GPS units. It is so accomplished that it leads a dual life. With the right maps loaded it can give you basic road navigation, and with its pedigree it performs like an expert on the trail. The unit affords you some luxurious screen real estate to view your location along with information you never thought you needed. You may find the antenna obtrusive, but when you think about the capabilities it gives you when paired with the SiRF star III chipset, it can't be beat for accuracy and ability on and off the trail. We've seen some announcements recently that Bushnell coming to the market with satellite image and XM weather overlays on handheld units. That's going to dial up the competition on handhelds for the time being. Although I would say that with the expertise in handhelds that Garmin has and the fact that they are already overlaying satellite images on marine units, don't expect Garmin to stay on the sidelines for long. The Garmin 60 CSx will serve as a solid base onto which Garmin can build other exciting capabilities.
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Posted by Scott Martin at December 3, 2006 11:48 PM