August 26, 2007

Garmin RINO 530HCx Full Review

The Garmin RINO series is a long standing part of the Garmin line up that takes their core GPS capability and extends it by paying attention to the needs of the consumer out in the field. GPS answers the “Where are you” question and help you get to where you are going, but when you are outdoors you may also want to know where your friends are too.
"The Garmin RINO 530HCx is a great tool for the outdoors that can not only get you there but also get you there, along with the rest of your party while being fully informed and in constant contact. "

The unit combines a fully functioning GPS with an FRS/GMRS radio allowing you to not only talk to your hiking or biking partners but with the special polling features, it will show you the GPS location them too. In concept it’s a great premise for the RINO series, and I will say that in practice, it’s like Instant Messaging for the outdoors enthusiast. I wish I had the current capabilities when I first started using the first FRS radios years ago. For this review I was able to take the new RINO 530HCx and the older RINO 520 for a trip to the White Mountains and for several general “playing around” hikes and walks. They performed well, and gave added confidence and convenience to our travels.

The RINO 530HCx is not a svelte little pocket receiver, as it’s got a lot going for it and they packed a lot into this device. RINO530HCxPowerButton.jpgThe unit has FRS and GMRS radio capability that is user customizable for various transmit power levels (1/2, 2, & 5 watt). On top of that, the unit has a great high quality GPS as the foundation, with a large screen, and a high sensitivity receiver. In comparing the RINO 530HCx vs. the Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx, the basic features are the same, but the RINO adds a lot of capability with the FRS and GMRS radio feature. The basis is essentially the GPSMAP 60CSx series, with rubberized buttons, GPS and radio antennas out the top, and a rocker button on the front that acts as a mouse to move around the screen and select options. The rocker switch is smaller than the 60CSx in order to accommodate the speaker on the front side of the unit. The on/off switch is a small button on the top of the unit nestled in between the two antennas. By pressing the on/off button briefly, you get to the backlight control, and can set the slider to the desired level of backlight brightness using the rocker switch.

Our main trip took us to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and to the hut system of the Appalachian Mountain Club, which runs a series of huts and lodges in the middle of the White Mountain National Forest. We started in the Highland Lodge, and hiked up to the Mizpah Springs Hut and back down the next day. RINO530HCxTopoMap.jpgOur group took two routes up, so we had a chance to see how the RINO worked telling us where the other group was. It was not a terribly long hike, but one that would span two days and with our heavy-handed gadget hungry crew, I was a bit nervous that the battery life wouldn’t quite last the whole trip. The battery pack on the RINO 530 HCx and the RINO 520 is a Lithium Ion battery pack that has a claimed 14-16 hour life with certain usage patterns of radio and GPS. So what do you do for power at the top of the mountain where there is no place to charge the unit? We rolled the dice, and took off. There are optional battery packs for alkaline batteries for those of you who truly need the ability to take more battery life with you, which is a great back-up option. The Li-ion battery pack is a bit of a bulbous protrusion out the back of the unit.


The Garmin RINO Easy to Use Belt Clip

So the unit is not designed to fit in your pocket, but is designed with a great belt clip. The RINO 530 HCx has a screw-off button/nub that fits into the back. The nub snaps into a belt clip with ease and confidence. The RINO sits safely in the belt clip and rotates freely on the nub with your movement and does not get in your way. To release the unit, you push down on a thumb button and the RINO pops out of the holder. It’s a great little clip and makes carrying the unit very easy.


Down the left side of the unit, the rubberized polling button is at the top followed by the call button that is your classic radio button, finally you get the “Page” button that rotates through the pages on the GPS. On the front there are three buttons, with the main one being the rocker button that is the joystick and the selection button. On the left, the volume and squelch, while on the right, the zoom button. Both of these smaller buttons work in conjunction with the rocker button. Press the zoom button, then use the rocker button to zoom in and out. It takes a bit of getting used to as you need to deal with operating with both buttons, but after a few hours, I didn’t have any trouble cruising through the menus and making adjustments as needed.

High Sensitivity Chipset - Worth the upgrade!
The RINO 530 HCx has a high sensitivity GPS chipset, and it was a step above the older RINO 520. The RINO 530 HCx consistently grabbed GPS satellite signals that the RINO 520 couldn’t get to, in cabins, in huts, in narrow notches and valleys, and under heavy tree cover while sitting on my belt. If you are going to be investing this money in a unit like this, get one of the new units in the HCx line, and be assured that you are going to grab and hold the GPS signal.

1. The Mini-SD card slot, 2. Cover for the Mini-USB inlet, 3. Nub/Button for belt clip, 4) Li-Ion Battery Pack

The HCx series also has a Mini-SD slot under the battery pack. Remove the battery pack to reveal the tiny sliding lock that holds the minute chip; with a 1GB chip in there, you can carry a LOT of map data, and still allow for tracks, routes and waypoints.

Set-up & Operation
The RINO 530 HCx has a set up that is similar to the GPSMap 60 CSx, in that it offers a mapping page, a barometric altimeter page, an electronic compass page and the main menu page. The Radio gets its own page, and allows you to do a lot with the radio while there.

  • Channels - First of all, you’ll need to set the channel, which has the unit on any channel from 1-22, with GMRS channels being from 1-7, and 15-22, RION530HCxRadioPage.jpgwhich are the channels that you’ll be able to broadcast at the full 5watt power. Channels 8-14 are for FRS only. The RINO is also able to work with GMRS repeaters on channels 15 – 22, which are only available in the US models. More information on GMRS Repeater sites see:

    There are 38 privacy codes (CTCCS) that allow you to set privacy codes to make it easier to talk with others in your party without having others on your channel. These codes DO NOT make your conversation private.

  • Set Your Identity - At the top of the Radio page, you need to set your name and your icon that will display on other RINO maps when you are in the same party.

  • Scan and Monitor - There is a “Scan” button on the Radio page that allows you to scan various channels for activity. You can also set up what channels to scan, which will scan that channel, including all privacy codes. The “Monitor” button allows you to listen to a single channel for all activity, including weaker signals.

  • NOAA Weather Radio - The “Weather” button allows you to use the NOAA weather radio. The unit can scan all channels for a broadcast, or you can set it to your local channel. You can also set the unit to enable weather alerts that will allow the weather radio to detect alert tones and switch the weather radio on to start broadcasting the alerts at 75% of the maximum volume.

  • Radio Features Set-up - When setting up the Radio there are several options including power level (1/2, 2, and 5 watts), as well as a setting that allows “Polling” which will allow the RINO to send your location should another RINO “poll locations” and ask where other RINOs are. RINO530HCxRadioSetup.jpgWe set this to “on” so that any time one of us in the party hit the “poll” button, we’d know where to other unit was. This would be of particular use if you became incapacitated and needed to be found. You can also elect to “send location” which allows you to send your location any time you key the microphone and talk with others in your party. We also set this to “on”. You can also elect to scramble the transmission, which means that only another RINO can de-scramble the transmission, another level of privacy, but not that the transmission is truly private. The RINO can also accommodate a headset, with a voice-activated microphone, with different sensitivity levels, but we didn’t test this feature.

    RINO Navigation & Use
    I loaded the units up with Garmin Topo maps for the trip and pre-loaded them with some specific waypoints for our trip; the lodge, the huts and key points on the trails that we were taking. When hiking in the White Mountains, one is reminded constantly about the hazards of hiking in the wilderness, especially in the vicinity of Mt. Washington, where weather is said to be as brutal as the arctic regions and weather can whip up from friendly conditions to deadly conditions quickly. (“Not Without Peril; 150 Years of Misadventure” is an excellent book about those who chanced it and lost through the years. Each chapter is a story of a new adventure that went wrong; arrogance and under preparedness run hand and hand as the causes of the peril)

    This particular trip kept us at or below the tree line for the hikes, but the weather did have others diverting their plans for the 4 hour hike up to the Mt Washington summit due to rolling thunderstorms and the associated issues of hiking along a long exposed ridge above the tree line. So, in these conditions it can be important to understand the weather situation, where you are, where others in your party are, and what the expected time of arrival is at your destination. We had all of this with the RINO 530 HCx. The NOAA weather channel and alerts feature kept me abreast of weather issues, while the GPS capability kept me well informed of my location, the location of the other half of our party and ETA to the hut. The units at full power are rated for 14 miles, but in the mountains we saw that drop to just a few miles. Our party split into two groups and we found that the RINOs were able to talk to each other and exchange positions over a mile away while we were on two different faces of the mountain.

    The screen is bright, and easily readable. The main functionality of the unit is contained in the radio function and the map, where you’ll see your buddy. Like other Garmin handheld GPS units, the RINO 530 HCx has the ability to display fields on the map or not. Along the right side of the screen, you’ll see your buddy’s icon(s). By using the rocker switch, you can select the buddy icon which will show the location on the map of where your buddy is. If you click on your buddy icon, the RINO 530 HCx then flips to an information page on your buddy, which tells you the LAT/LON coordinates of their location, their elevation and distance from your location. You’ll also be able to also navigate to your buddy’s location by selecting the “Go To” button.

    Buddy Details
    There is a TON of information that you can gather from your buddy. While on your buddy’s info page, you can select the details button on the top menu bar, which is the button to the left of the “X” button. What do you want to do or know about your buddy? Well…..

  • Send Location – send your location.
  • View [their] Track – which allows you to see an information page about their track, including the track distance, the area, as well as seeing it on the map. From there, you can also view the elevation track of their track on your RINO. You can also “Trackback” on their track by navigating back along their track.
  • Save as a Waypoint – Save your buddy’s location as a waypoint.
  • Set Proximity – set an alarm so that if your Buddy comes within a settable distance of your location, an alarm will go off.

    The one thing that we would have liked is a read on how current the contact’s location was right on the contact information page. It will give you more confidence if their information is recent vs. if it is 30 minutes or more old.

  • Send POI Location - The other cool aspect to having your GPS connected to your peers is that you can send a POI location. Want to rendezvous at a location? Simple. Go to the Main Menu, find your POI, click to the options menu, and select “Send Location”. The POI was just sent to your peers and you can now all meet at that location. Another great way to use this is to use the map screen to select a location on the map using the rocker switch. Let’s say you are all hiking and you want to meet at a particular ridge for lunch. Mark the waypoint, name it and then send it to the others in the party.

    Overall, having this knowledge about where your buddies are, and how they are doing is great. In the past, I used FRS radios to communicate with other bikers in our group among thousands of bikers when riding in week long bike rides where you would separate on the road, but get together in towns along the way. Having RINOs would have been a total luxury which would allow you to have constant radio and GPS contact, knowing where in smaller towns your fellow riders were congregating, and have a pretty good read on the POI in town too.

    Navigation on the Road
    Yes you read that right, road navigation with the RINO 530HCX. With the right map set loaded (City Navigator), you can navigate along the roads with the RINO 530HCx, and while it’s no Nuvi 350, it does a good job with beeps and screen messages telling you where to go. Do I want the RINO 530HCx as a main automobile navigator, no, but I am saying that if you have the need to get out to the field, you can use it to get there; a nice dividend. So, navigate on the roads with your City Navigator maps, get to the back country location and you can switch the RINO 530HCx over to Topo maps with a few easy steps to utilize the Topo maps and not the road maps. Of course you have to own both sets of maps and once both sets of maps are loaded, you can alternate between the two sets.

  • Get to the Main Menu
  • Select “Set up” and hit ENTER.
  • Select Map then ENTER.
  • Select the second icon from the right, the blue circle with a lowercase "i" inside and press ENTER.
  • To see the City Navigator information, Go back to the “Menu” icon at the top of the screen (next to the “X” button and hit ENTER.
  • Select Hide Topo, or Hide City Navigator to see only what you want.

    Review Summary
    The Garmin RINO 530HCx is a great tool for the outdoors that can not only get you there but also get you there, along with the rest of your party while being fully informed and in constant contact. The navigation features on the RINO 530HCx are solid and continue to be a straightforward way to navigating simply with the back-up capability to perform a lot of higher order activities. You may just need to get from here to there with confidence and you may not need to project a waypoint and then send it to your buddy on their RINO; but you can.

    The ability to keep in constant contact and have your buddy’s location and GPS information available makes for a very informed approach to being in the outdoors. Whether you’re on a hunt a hike or on a long trip on a bike, the coordination capabilities add an extra dimension to what you are able to accomplish outdoors. It’s not hard to imagine that having your party equipped with a RINO may just save your life. I would have loved to have had a RINO on all of my week-long bike trips to coordinate with the rest of the party. The issue with all of these plans and hopes simply comes down to cost; the RINO 530HCx is not cheap, and you may not be able to afford to equip a large group with RINOs very easily. The RINO 530 HCx features are great and if you are considering the RINO line, I would recommend the RINO 520HCx or RINO 530 HCX, as the high sensitivity receivers and the ability to add more memory to store more maps is well worth the few extra dollars.

    The Garmin RINO 530 HCx is available at Amazon.

    Read More in: GPS Reviews | Garmin GPS News | Garmin GPS Reviews | Handheld GPS Reviews

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    Posted by Scott Martin at August 26, 2007 10:38 PM
  • Recent Comments

    How does it perform in a bright bright bright sunny day ? Can you see the screen fine ?

    Posted by: Charles at May 26, 2010 1:47 AM
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