Saturday 8 August 2009

Garmin GPSmap 60CSx - first impressions

Just got one of these handheld GPS units for hiking and cycling. First impressions excellent...

Whereas my old Garmin eTrex Vista unit was slow to acquire satellites, and really struggled anywhere but a flat open field, the new 60CSx acquires in a second or two even indoors. The receiver in the 60CSx certainly seems very sensitive, helped nodoubt by having a proper antenna on the top of the unit.

Right now it's showing 7 metre accuracy sitting on my desk in the house with no direct line of sight to the window. Possibly helped slightly by the receiving off-air WAAS/EGNOS correction data - you have to turn this on in the System menu, then you get 'D' in the satellite strength bars when correction data is being received. This feature was also offered on the eTrex but it never worked for me.

The eTrex unit was too inaccurate for surveying MTBO checkpoints in woodland, but hopefully the 60CSx will be more capable. The bicycle mount kit looks reasonable.

The 60CSx has proper buttons for menu navigation, instead of the appallingly slow cursor-based GUI system used on the eTrex. So the 60CSx looks better all round so far.

The software support looks better than average. The icing on the cake is that most of the software is Mac compatible, so (particularly if you've bought the Topo maps, which include the Garmin BaseCamp software) there's no need to use Windows. You can upload and download waypoints etc, and you can export your GPS logs as GPX or KMZ (Google Earth). The most flexible format is probably GPX. From a GPX file, you can use to convert to various formats including Google Maps. You can also feed GPX files into GpsBabel+ if you want to do your conversions on your own machine. Google Earth can read GPX directly too.

The 60CSx unit has a coarse base map, but you can also buy a detailed Topographical map on DVD - either for UK regions or for the whole UK. You then have to load it onto the GPS using the software provided. The GPS comes with a 256 MByte MicroSD flash card, but it looks as though it will take a 4 GB card for less than ten quid, which should be able to accommodate all the UK map tiles at once (as well as still having enough memory for a long continuous tracklog).

I remain undecided as to whether a map is really much use on a handheld, as the screen is quite small, and you don't use handhelds in the same way as in-car satnav devices. But I guess it would be useful if you'd gone to the trouble of setting up lots of waypoints before your trip, and moreover the Topo map can also be used on the PC or Mac for route planning.

Having installed the UK Topo DVD onto the Mac, the supplied software (Garmin BaseCamp) lets you view the map tiles in 2D and 3D modes. Sadly 2D mode has almost no detail (A roads only) while 3D mode doesn't occupy much of a 24" iMac screen - probably due to usage restrictions on the OS map data. This would be quite a crippling feature if you wanted to use the software for route planning: quite annoying to have to export to Google Maps or Google Earth just to see the whole route with adequate detail. I really wish the OS map data came with fewer restrictions: I feel like I've paid for it many times over now - in taxes, map purchases, Tracklogs and now the Garmin TOPO disc.

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