Garmin Oregon 400t Handheld GPS Full Review
The Garmin Oregon family of Touchscreen handlheld GPS devices were announced just a few weeks ago, and I have been fortunate enough to be playing before they were available to the public (The Oregon line is expected to ship in the 3rd quarter of 2008). The unit offers the breakthrough of a touchscreen interface on a rugged handheld that can be taken into the woods, rained on and still give you directions to the cabin, the geocache or just back to the car. The Oregon line sits firmly at the top of the Garmin handheld series with a set of features that are pretty strong, and for some units, wireless capabilities to make it possible to communicate between units and accessories (Heart rate monitor for instance). The base model, the Garmin Oregon 200 offers the same touchscreen interface, a smaller amount of memory, and no preloaded maps. The Garmin Oregon 300 adds the wireless features, and electronic compass, a barometric altimeter as well as some more memory onboard. Finally when you get into the Garmin Oregon 400t, 400i, and 400c, you keep the wireless capabilities, but also add either Topo, Inland water ways, or Coastal waterway maps respectively; hence the t/i/c designator.
The Oregon line uses a high sensitivity GPS chipset, has a 3-inch touchscreen and is HotFix capable, which is to say that it can remember where satellites SHOULD be in the future, so start up time (the time it usually spends looking for those same satellites) is minimized. The interface, while touchscreen enabled, is very much a carry-over from the recently released Colorado series (See my review: Garmin Colorado 400t Full Review). I already have a pretty good idea of the functionality from using my Colorado 400t. The Oregon is also an inch shorter than the Colorado due to the antenna sticking out the top of the Colorado.
The big questions in my mind were going to be around visibility of the touchscreen, and the overall usability of the touchscreen interface.
The overall design of the Garmin Oregon is simple; so simple it almost looks more like a PDA than a GPS (a slightly fat PDA by today's standards, but a PDA nonetheless). It's simple, and because of the touchscreen it can be; one button on the side does it all; power and when the unit is on, a quick punch to the power button also brings up the backlight adjustment and screen lock options. The back has the same cover locking mechanism that is on the Colorado making the clips and mounts interchangeable. The bottom of the unit has a rubber cap that hides the mini-USB outlet.
WIth the cover off, the "AA" battery compartment also reveals the micro-SD card holder, similar to the GPSMAP CSx units (See My Full Review Garmin GPSMap 60 CSx), in a flip up style mount that you can also find on mobile phones. I was happy to see the full SD card slot on the Colorado, but in practice, you aren't going to be switching these things out all the time so there really shouldn't be any concern here. I am still amazed at the small size of micro-SD cards and how much data they can hold. The whole US Topo map on my fingertip.
Overall, the Oregon fits well in my hand and mounts easily to the handlebar mount that I use when biking. Due to the similarity of the design, the mount is the same mount as the Colorado. The mount is a bit like a tray that you slide the Oregon into and it snaps into place with a tab. In my biking, I have not had any issue with it coming unclipped.
Interface & Touchscreen
If you are familiar with the Garmin interface, a lot of functionality will be familiar; obscure but often useful items like the Sun (rise and set times) and Moon (phase) functionality is in there, and on the Oregon 300 and 400 units, the Altimeter and Compass are there. Instead of flipping through a menu by toggling through it, or dialing through like on the Colorado, you just tap. The Menu Screen starts up with six icons arrows to scroll through successive menu screens, a button to flip back out to the Map, and a satellite strength bar chart icon at the bottom. A quick tap of that will bring up a view of which satellites you have in view. As you flip through the pages of the menu you get to see the breadth of functionality the unit can provide. When you tap the "Map" button, you bring up the map, and down the left hand corner of the map, you can touch on the arrow to flip back to the menu. While in the Menu right and left arrows take you to other pages of the menu. Overall, I found that the touch interface works well here.
The touchscreen is great to use, but not as readable for me as the Colorado. The matte surface does cut down a bit on the ease of seeing the maps. It can't be denied, but it doesn't have to impede the usability of the unit. What can you do with the touchscreen now that you have it? A lot of easy to do things:
- Pan and zoom easily - panning is as easy as tapping and dragging; zoom in by tapping the "+" and "-" buttons.
- Data Entry - a snap; no more toggling to a letter and hitting enter, the ABC keyboard makes data entry very easy.
- Dropping a Waypoint - Tap the Map, and there you go; drops a big "Pin" on the map and the unit tells you how far away the point is from your current position, along with Lat/Lon data. Tap the dialog box, and you can elect to go to the waypoint or save it.
- Rapid Fire Activity Switching - It's easy to jump from Map to Altimeter, to Sun and Moon, etc. While toggling through the screens on the old eTrex is fast, nothing can beat the touchscreen's ability to handle jumping all over to grab data and information on the Oregon.
- Quick Data Field Change - Tap and hold the data field to bring up the menu of all possible fields. Tap the one you want and you now have the data at your fingertips that you want.
Better Track Handling
Tracks are those breadcrumb trails that you leave behind you when using a Garmin handheld unit. They are useful when you need to track back to where you came from, and useful as a record of where you have been. Sometimes it is helpful to save just the track that you laid down on today's hike/bike, etc. I have always been frustrated with how Garmin handhelds handle tracks and how they allow you to save them under different names, etc. The Oregon changes that.
Now, tracks are laid down like breadcrumb trails for you to see where you have gone and can include all kinds of data along with that track, like speed, altitude, etc. In the past, and even on my Colorado, if you want to save a track from what you did today, you need to do a little panning magic on the screen - not easy and not fun. To save today's track, you go into the "Tracks" section, and save part of the current track, which then requires you to pan to the beginning of the trek today and touch there to tell the GPS where to snip the track off from previous day's pursuits and save just the breadcrumb trail that it laid down today. What I usually do is let the unit accumulate tracks for a long time (weeks to months depending on my activity level), import them into MapSource and snip them apart there. I then store important tracks as separate files, "10 mile hike", "Bike through Concord", "Sail Around Boston Harbor". Not great if you want to do track management out in the field and send them wirelessly to other friends with a cool new Garmin Handheld like you.
The Oregon is smart and the interface easy to use when dealing with tracks. Tap on "Track Manager" and it brings up a list of tracks - Tap "Current Track". This brings up 4 choices: Save Track, Save Portion, View Map [of track], and "Elevation Plot [of track]. By tapping on Save Portion, you can then bring up buttons that represent the daily segments that are part of the current track. By tapping on a button that represents the beginning of the track "July 15th - 9AM - 6 miles", and then the end of what you want to save (maybe the end of the same day, or maybe the next day which would save the whole weekend's worth of tracks), you then define what the unit will save as a new Track. The next screen allows you to label it, and save it. Simple and beautiful (when can I get something like this on my Colorado?).
The Garmin Oregon 300 and 400 units allow for some great sharing and communication with other accessories. Like the Colorado series, the Oregon helps to close 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 Oregon allows you to swap routes, tracks, geocaches and waypoints wirelessly between other Oregons (300 & 400 model units) and Colorados. The Oregon 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.
One of the best aspects of the new interface is the fact that you can store preferences in different set-ups called "Profiles". These allow you to create a set-up for let's say Geocaching, with the data fields you want, and the maps that you want and the screens that you need, and leave it alone when you want to flip over to a hiking pursuit or biking route. Those settings can be different and separate, allowing you to "Set it and forget it". I like this because I typically use my handhelds for biking and hiking, with a little geocaching thrown in. I use a heart rate monitor when biking, so I throw that data field down the bottom of the map screen, but don't really care to see that when I hike or geocache; that's when I typically use a "Pointer" to show me which direction the next waypoint is. That's just one example of data field changes. I also keep the Road map for biking and Topo for hiking. The quick profile switch keeps my fields and maps that are relevant for what I am doing. The Oregon keeps this excellent feature.
The Oregon interface allows you to move the buttons around on the Menu screen and save those positions by Profile. So, keeping the Altimeter up front on the first Menu screen may be important when hiking, but definitely not when boating; no problem.
The Oregon continues to add capabilities in the Geocaching area. With the Garmin Connect module loaded onto your computer, you can have the Geocache website find your GPS and download Geocaches directly to the unit. Easy and Quick.
The Geocache Profile also has a great Trip Computer screen with a customized background that has the Geocache Frog mascot, and at the top a pointer with a distance to the geocache displayed. Very smart design choices here. The image to the right here illustrates that you can have your Trip Computer, maybe optimized a bit better with fields that help on a Geocache, and the pointer up top. I found that in practice, if you don;t have a difficult terrain to navigate, this works great. When the terrain gets tough, I found the map provided a better sense of where I was going and how I needed to get there.
Garmin Oregon 200 vs 300 vs 400t vs 400i vs 400c
The Garmin Oregon line has several models with various capabilities, all based on the same touchscreen handheld unit with HotFix technology for rapid satellite fixes, and the ability to add maps through micro-SD cards. I would recommend at least the Garmin Oregon 300 so that you have the Altimeter and Electronic Compass functionality that are a big plus when doing any navigation on land.
Garmin Oregon 200 - Full touchscreen unit with great new interface. Has a basemap
Garmin Oregon 300 - Adds wireless sharing capability along with electronic compass and altimeter
Garmin Oregon 400t - Adds the Topo map to the 300 model features.
Garmin Oregon 400i - Adds inland lakes maps to the 300 model features.
Garmin Oregon 400c - Adds Coastal maps to the 300 model features.
Garmin Oregon 450T - Adds a 3-axis compass that reads direction without holding it flat.
Oregon 550T - Adds a 3.2 MP camera so you can capture the images on the trail and using them on the map to navigate to it.
Garmin Oregon 400t Review Summary
The Garmin Oregon 400t is a great handheld GPS, that delivers breakthrough ease of use with its touchscreen and interface design. The touchscreen makes the user experience better in the obvious ways (tap what you need and point to where you want to go), but in ways that are less obvious; it's just intuitive. In their quest for simplicity, Garmin nails it and makes the user interface easy to use with smart design features. While the touchscreen can take a bit of getting used to, it is absolutely viewable in direct sunlight with the backlight off, and is best viewed with the backlight on when in lower light. The readability is not an issue for me. The Oregon with its touchscreen interface has a tremendous number of assets that make the Oregon the best designed, easiest to use Garmin handheld yet.
Garmin Oregon 200 - Full touchscreen unit with great new interface. Has a basemap
The Garmin Oregon Series is shipping at Amazon:
Garmin Oregon 300- Adds wireless sharing capability along with electronic compass and altimeter
Garmin Oregon 400T- Adds the Topo map to the 300 model features.
Garmin Oregon 400i- Adds inland lakes maps to the 300 model features.
Garmin Oregon 400c- Adds Coastal maps to the 300 model features.
Garmin Oregon 450t- Adds a 3-axis compass that reads direction without holding it flat.
Garmin Oregon 550T- Adds a 3.2 MP camera so you can capture the images on the trail and using them on the map to navigate to it.
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Posted by Scott Martin at August 18, 2008 8:00 AM