March 30, 2008

Review: Garmin Colorado 400t Full Review


The Colorado 400t recently launched into an ever expanding category of handheld GPS units, where Garmin has had a long track record of offering solid handheld capabilities in a package that suits customers well. I have been using a Garmin handheld for close to 10 years, and in that time, I have used them to navigate up mountains on hikes, navigate to geocaches around the country and navigate across New England on week-long bike rides. Over that time, I've assembled a wish list that pretty much got erased with the release of the Colorado series. The Colorado 400T comes with a lot of key features that make using it a pleasure.

There are a few big features that make the Colorado 400t a hot handheld: Big color screen, shaded Topo maps, easy access to features with the Rock n Roller wheel, wireless sharing of information with other Colorado users, advanced geocaching features, and the ability to set up profiles allowing you to set up preferences for different uses.

There were a couple of key questions in my mind going into this review: Is the Rock n Roller wheel really something that is easy to use, are the interface changes usable and intuitive for a longtime user, will the interface give me any new advantages over what I already have, and is the screen size and overall size of the unit an issue versus my trusted eTrex Vista unit.


You can't talk about the design of the new Colorado series without first considering a couple of things; the first is the Rock n Roller wheel that stands out so prominently on the top face of the unit. The wheel, referred to as a Click Wheel by iPod fans, is a way to navigate all menus and options in the new interface. I originally thought that from the press photos that the wheel itself and the unit was massive, but overall the the wheel is only about the size of a quarter. Using the click wheel is pretty easy, and when holding the unit in the palm of your hand your thumb falls naturally onto the click wheel. Its texture and size allows for easy use when you have gloves on too.

The other thing that you can't help but notice is the antenna sticking out the top. While this may seem obtrusive, in practice it's not. The unit is still pocketable - albeit a large pocket, and while its screen is actually BIGGER than a GPSMAP 60CSx, the overall size of the unit is smaller. My eTrex is compact enough to be ultra portable, but if it makes any sense the Colorado feels small while offering a whole lot of screen real estate.

GarminColoradoBack.jpg Back of Colorado with carabineer clip attached.
The entire back is covered with a rubberized material which makes the unit easy to handle and easy to hold. I really like the new clip that slides onto the metal holder on the back of the Colorado - a carabiner clip comes with the unit and easily clips to a belt loop, or backpack strap. The clip also has the belt clip functionality, but it doesn't sit low enough on your belt, which makes me feel like the unit it going to tip off the belt. By hooking the carabiner clip over a backpack loop or similar it allows you to quickly grab the Colorado, check your position and not worry about unclipping the unit.
GarminColoradoSlideBackCove.jpg Slide off back cover for access to batteries and SD card slot.

The rubberized back is actually a slide-off cover that allows you to access the battery and SD card compartments. I love the fact that the SD card is accessible without taking the batteries out. The metal clip flips up to gain access to the compartment, but I found sliding the cover off to be a bit of a challenge. I guess that's the sacrifice for having the unit water proof to IPX7 standards.

GarminColoradoSDSlot.jpg The SD Card slot is easy to get to with the cover removed - no need to remove the batteries.

On the top of the unit, flip up the dust cover to reveal the mini-USB port and an external antenna jack. Next to the Rock n Roller wheel on the top of the unit is the power button - hold it down to power on/off. Hold it briefly while the unit is on and you get the brightness control, battery level and satellite status.

GarminColoradoScreenBrightn.jpg Battery level with Brightness control and a basic GPS Satellite reception meter

Rock n Roller + New Operating System = Big Change for the Better

The big advantage is on using the new operating system in tandem with the Rock n Roller wheel. The Rock n Roller wheel does take some time to get used to but makes changes easy through the shortcut menu. The one thing that still isn't easy is picking letters out to search and title waypoints. This requires that you click through the alphabet one letter or punctuation point at a time. Not easy but better than the click stick on my eTrex. In the end nothing short of a touch screen or voice recognition would be easier so I will leave it by saying that given the circumstances of designing a rugged outdoor handheld the Rock n Roller wheel is as good as it gets for text input and is a big step up from the eTrex.

What is great about the Rock n Roller wheel is that you can configure the shortcut menu to that you only get the topics you need or want. This makes very short order of getting through the screens when you can pop out of the Map screen and click on over to the elevation plot screen. No cycling through the entire set of screens like in the eTrex.

Most Underrated Feature - Profiles

It's not obvious but potentially the best and most underrated feature of the Colorado has to be the Profile feature. By allowing you to set up Profiles, you can save settings and screen order for each type of use of your Garmin Colorado. My eTrex Vista C has the ability to change which screens come up in the rotation allowing you to scroll through only the screens that you want to see. The issue is that when I hike, bike or Geocache I don't want to hunt for the needed info by wading through unneeded screens. I care about maps elevation and a trip calculator page when biking but don't care about elevation when Geocaching which is when I also want an arrow pointer on the main map screen. These types of changes are now configurable and can be saved. Skip the two minute change process before going out on the ride hike or Geocache; instead turn on select a profile and go. Very streamlined and saves the painful eye rolling impatience of the others in the party when you used to take time out to configure things.

GarminColoradoProfileList.jpg Pick your Profile and then customize it, then leave it like that for next time - Easy way to customize the Colorado for each activity.

If you like the current profiles the way they are, great. You get: Recreational (hiking, etc), Geocaching, Automotive, Marine and Fitness. If you go to Shortcuts > Other > Profile Change > Options you can also add your own custom profiles. Off-road driving? Biking? Whatever you want.

Colorado Screen

There are two things that stand out about the screen on the new Garmin Colorado; the first being the size. It is incredibly large for the overall size of the device. The Colorado screen size is about 75% larger than the the area of the Vista HCx, and about 20% larger than the Garmin GPSMap 60 CSx which is pretty amazing. All of that screen real estate does take its toll on battery life, as Garmin estimates battery life for the current Vista HCx at 25 hours, while the Colorado 400t comes in at 15 hours. That's not a bad amount of time, it's just a trade-off that you'll be making. I think that the 15 hour benchmark is a good one, because in real terms, it represents about two full days on the trail, or on the road biking.

GarminColoradoeTrex.jpg The Colorado has a MUCH bigger screen than the eTrex Vista C and HCx units, while the overall body size of the unit is not all that much larger. However, I would not say that the Colorado is easily pocketable.


The Garmin Colorado has an electronic compass, that you may not need when moving, as the GPS can essentially show you which way you are moving, but if you are going to be doing any hiking or navigation in the wilderness, a compass is essential. I would even recommend having a plain old analog compass with you as back up to your fancy battery powered one on the Colorado. Anyway, the compass on the Colorado is great for navigating to landmarks and helping get a dead reckoning on where you currently are, and where you need to go.

GarminColoradoCompass.jpg The Electronic Compass on the Garmin Colorado

Geocaching with the Garmin Colorado

First off; make sure your unit is upgraded to the unit software version 2.40, released Feb 18, 2008. This update allows you to see your geocaches on the map as little treasure boxes, similar to how you can see them with other eTrex handhelds. Yea, Garmin should have put the Colorado out with this capability, but good for them to recognize the miss and update the unit quickly.

Geocaching with the Colorado is a big change, and I would imagine would be a nice unit to have for frequent Geocachers. There are several reasons, besides the Profiles capability mentioned above, which gives you access to a Geocache profile that you can tweak to your heart's content and leave it for the next time you Geocache. To some extent, Garmin's handhelds help create Geocaching, and now Geocaching clearly helped create the Colorado. One nice change is the ability to "Send to GPS" the Geocaches that you are ready to look for. By installing a small plug-in called Garmin Communicator (available for Win and Mac), you can go to, and send your Geocache information including the Cache Name, the Difficulty, Terrain, the current trackables (i.e. Travel bugs)and if you are a Geocache Premium Member ($30/year) a cache description and hints directly to the Colorado. Below you will see that you can hit an icon on the search results page to easily send several Geocaches to your Colorado, or once on a single Geocache page, you can send just one geocache to your Colorado by hitting the "Send to GPS" button. This can be done with other Garmin handhelds too, so not a unique feature, but the results that are shown once on the Colorado are much more integrated than you can on an eTrex currently.

multicachedownloads.jpg Quickly send multiple geocaches to your Colorado from the search results page.

SendtoGPSSingle.jpg Send individual results to the Colorado directly from an individual Geocache page.

The Colorado and Geocaching are tightly integrated to make the experience a pretty good one. When in the Geocaching profile, a transparent overlay shows up with some quick info on the Geocache, an arrow pointing to the Geocache, as well as the distance to cache and time to the cache right on the screen (see below). I think it's pretty good; it's exactly what I want when I am looking for the cache, and can easily switch out of the profile to get back to other pursuits without a lengthy changeover of the data fields and layout - see how those profiles are great?!!

GarminColoradoBristolPond.jpg Out Geocaching - Overlays give you easy access to key information and direction setting for getting to the geocache.

I did not get a chance to use the WhereiGo feature/ game. This is a souped up version of geocaching, that I would imagine will start to catch on as more people develop the games and get a GPS that is compatible. The general idea is that while in Geocaching, there is a treasure at the end of the game, in WhereiGo, there is a virtual treasure once the Garmin Colorado decides that you have competed the tasks that are programmed into the unit through the WhereiGo downloadable "cache". Pretty fun sounding concept, maybe I will try it out this summer.

Wireless Communication

The Garmin Colorado allows for some great sharing and communication with other accessories. The Colorado series closes the issue of what happens when you show up to a hike or other outing and what to share the routes, waypoints and general information about the trek. I have been in this situation a bunch of times, and it takes a lot more time to share waypoints and destinations manually before the trek, while the non-GPSers are rolling their eyes at you again. The Colorado allows you to swap routes, tracks, geocaches and waypoints wirelessly between other Colorados. The Colorado series uses ANT technology which is a short distance wireless technology that also allows the Garmin Colorado to communicate with Heart Rate, and Cadence monitors. Have these and you just turned your Colorado into a bike computer too.

GarminColoradoShareWaypoint.jpg Easy sharing - send waypoints wirelessly.

Garmin Colorado 300 vs. 400t vs. 400c vs 400i

A quick check on the differences of these units allows you to compare your needs versus their abilities. The bottom line is that they differ by what maps are loaded:

  • Garmin Colorado 300 - Base map loaded, no Topo.
  • Garmin Colorado 400t - Topo Maps of the US which include basic roads.
  • Garmin Colorado 400c - Bluchart maps of the coastline ("with limited capability" according to Garmin), but includes shoreline, depth contours and navaids.
  • Garmin Colorado 400i - Inland Lakes maps with detailed maps of lakes with boat ramps and depth contours.

    Review Summary

    Overall I think the Garmin Colorado 400t is a big jump in quality of experience over the eTrex C series and even the GPSMap 60CSx units. I say that for numerous reasons, and acknowledging that the Colorado series costs a lot more, I still think it's a pretty darn good device for the money. Actually, I can say that I liked it so much that bought a new Colorado 400t for myself. The ease of use, and wireless features combined with the ability to get heart rate monitor information makes it a great choice for me as an all around device. Rugged enough for the trails, and not a bad choice for my bike touring and riding either, where I want some basic navigation too. No it's not as small as a Garmin Edge, but I can't quite afford to have that many GPS units around the house.

    Personally, I like the versatility and the ability for it to switch profiles quickly. The screen is big enough to see and the click wheel plus the new interface gives is enough functionality that is configurable so that you aren't overwhelmed with the capability and not able to use it because there is too much "stuff" to get through.

    At Amazon - The Garmin Colorado 400t

    Garmin Colorado 400T Specifications

  • Size: 5.5" H x 2.4" W x 1.4" D (14 x 6.1 x 3.6 centimeters)
  • Weight: 5.9 ounces (167 grams) without batteries installed
  • Display: 1.53" x 2.55" backlit color TFT display (240 x 400 pixels)
  • Case: Rugged, metal-plated, waterproof to IPX7 (submersible)
  • Temperature Range: From -4 to 158 Fahrenheit (-20 to 70 Celsius)
  • Receiver: 12 channel WAAS enabled/High Sensitivity
  • Acquisition Time: <1 second (warm), <33 seconds (cold), <36 seconds (autolocate)
  • Antenna: Built-in Quad Helix
  • Compass: Accuracy: +/- 2 degrees, resolution: 1 degree
  • Altimeter: Accuracy: +/- 10 feet, resolution: 1 foot, Range: -2,000 to 30,000 feet
  • Power: Two AA batteries (alkaline, NiMH, or lithium)
  • Battery Life: Up to 15 hours
  • Map Storage: Internal or SD Card
  • Interface - USB
  • Waypoints: 1000
  • Routes: 50

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    Posted by Scott Martin at March 30, 2008 10:15 PM
  • Recent Comments

    I found the 400t to be a great GPS, as long as you never take it outside. Even with the brightness set to full, I have to tilt the unit all over the place in order to read the screen. The backlight just is not powerful enough.

    Posted by: James Lewis at October 17, 2009 8:17 PM

    Which unit would you buy, vis a vis, the garming 60 cxs or the colorado 300, taking into consideratión that tou will use it in backpacking or hunting activities, deep in the wilderness. By the way, could you download maps from Google earth?

    Posted by: Jose at March 5, 2009 11:36 AM

    I am wondering what I did wrong here. I did everything I was supposed to do per instructions, and I couldn't for the life of me get the Garmin website to "recognize" my 400T. I am wanting to download geocaches, etc. and I need to get this linked up or I will be returning it. I get to the point where it gets stuck on "Trying to fing unit #4123455" (whatever my ## is)

    Posted by: Glenn Sveum at May 25, 2008 10:49 PM

    Any updates available? I'm interested in trying this model out, but would like to see auto and biking feedback.


    Posted by: C.D. at May 16, 2008 3:46 PM

    Very good review. Reading this review and some other,made me buy the Garmin Colorado 400T. I have the Etrex Vista HCx, very nice little thing, batteries last long time! Not the same with the Colorado, and I don't like that. I keep changing batteries very often, some time twice a day. Of course, it has more features than the Etrex. I hope Garmin will improve this issue with the batteries.

    Posted by: Raxxal at April 20, 2008 7:04 PM

    Great review.
    Bottom line before I order:
    1) Is it usable as a car navigator
    2) Is it usable in Canada, e.g. can one load maps, topo etc.
    3) What's this battery nuisance about

    Any input on these is appreciated.

    Posted by: Daniel at April 10, 2008 1:30 PM

    I will get pictures posted in about a week or so on this when I get my Colorado and handlebar mount. I hope it's solid, I plan on riding a lot with mine.


    Posted by: Scott Martin at April 9, 2008 9:39 PM

    Thank you for the great review. I've been using a GPSMAP 60CS for about three years now. I love it for it's versatility in that I can use it for hiking, skiing, biking, and even driving. However there is one terrible flaw in the design, and that being the clip that attaches the GPS to the bike handlebar mount. I have ridden with it numerous times and suddenly had the GPS fall off from hitting a vibration on the road (forget about mountain biking with it). One time I even broke the GPS, luckily it was still under warranty at the time. So in your opinion does the Colorado have a substantial clip for attaching to a handlebar? I'm debating upgrading to this but part of me thinks I should just go for an Edge. Thanks for any help and again great review!

    Posted by: glancingaft at April 8, 2008 11:45 AM

    After three weeks with a Colorado 400t I both love and hate it. I love the ease of use, features and new scroll wheel. I hate the battery life and unit crashing. I took my first unit back because it was burning through 8 NiMh batteries in 3 hours and just dying at random times with fully charged batteries (after a warning that batteries were low). Now I have a brand new unit with the latest software updates (supposed to fix some issues wtih NiMh battery life) and it has died within 30 minutes of putting in fresh NiMh batteries. I was able to get 2 hours out of lithium's but I don't plan on spending my children's college fund on lithium batteries...

    Posted by: Judd at April 6, 2008 10:42 AM

    Thanks. That helps. I've been trying to decide between the Colorado and the Magellan Triton lines. I like to Geocache and kayak, but wouldn't mind having decent car navigator too. I look forward to what you have to say once you get your personal unit.

    Thanks for all the great info.
    ~ Phil

    Posted by: Phil at April 4, 2008 12:10 PM

    Great Questions - 1) I put the Colorado 400T and my eTrex Vista C side by side in the full sun about a week ago at around 2PM, and didn't have trouble reading either one. Both were at full brightness on the backlight. Now, if it makes any sense, the eTrex was brighter, but the Colorado was more readable. I say this because the eTrex has overly bright whites (on the compass screen) so it was definitely brighter, but it was more like an over exposed picture; brighter, but not necessarily better. Nothing against the eTrex, it's got good readability. The Colorado seemed to have adequate brightness (not over the top, but adequate) and good readability.

    Without the backlight in full sun they were readable, but not easily readable at a glance, you have to look at them for a few seconds to see things.

    2) I don't know, but when I get my Colorado 400T that I ordered, I will try it out (the one I reviewed was a loaner and like I said in the review, I decided it was time for an upgrade, so I bought the 400T after using one for a while).

    Hope this helps.


    Posted by: Scott Martin at April 3, 2008 10:02 PM

    Thanks for the great review. Couple of questions though.
    1) How was the color screen in the sun light? Did it wash out as so many screens are prone to do?

    2) How is the unit as an auto navigator? You mentioned that it had an Automotive profile. I'm sure it isn't as good as a full fledged Nuvi or TomTom but, in your opinion, is it passible?


    Posted by: Phil at April 3, 2008 1:36 PM
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