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Observations on my new Garmin GPS eTrex Legend HCx


khaimong
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Two months ago, I bought a Garmin eTrex Legend HCx. The reason behind my purchase was to provide a backup navigation aid when I am out backpacking. I don't use it as a primary tool, I prefer to use paper maps and compass. This is not my first GPS unit. About eight years ago, I got the Garmin GPS12 Map, so I am not a total stranger to GPS. Here are the observations that I made with the acquisition of the new unit.

 

I was amazed how little progress has been made in eight years. The color screen is nice, increased memory capacity is nice, but other than that, for the uses I have, there just hasn't been much progress.

 

Battery life is still not all that great, especially in the wilderness hiking that I do, where I am days away from civilization. I wish these units had a more flexible mode of better battery management operation --- what would be most useful in hiking is to acquire a fix every five or ten minutes, or some user-specified interval, perhaps even with the screen blanked out. The acquired points would be time-tagged. Then at the end of the day, or trip, you can review your track without having to worry one bit about batteries running out while on the trial.

 

When I got my first Garmin eight years back, I paid some good money for “MapSource Roads and Recreation” . Of course, that is all out of date by now in two respects --- First, there have been new streets and roads, and renaming since then. Second, that version had some rather bad mapping data. Roads and streets in some areas were quite a bit off from the true locations, bad enough to make wrong turns on the the wrong streets. What bugs me the most is that there doesn't seem to be any update policy from Garmin.

 

Related to the above point, map availability and convenience is the biggest issue to me --- I don't understand why good road and street maps are so hard to obtain for the Garmin units at reasonable prices. We have the data available as evidenced by the freely available MapQuest, and Google Maps, we seem to have the technology, as seen by public domain map compilers that can make maps for the Garmin. I feel that we should be able to go to Google Maps on a web browser, select a suitable area, and just download all the streets and info directly into my eTrex Hcx. Yet I can't do it conveniently. I don't think that technology is the issue. It must be something to do on the business end of things.

 

The MapSource application that runs on your desktop/laptop leaves a lot to be desired. I am surprised that they haven't done any significant improvement in eight years. The user interface is unfriendly, archaic, and not forgiving. Navigation/Scrolling is old-fashioned. It paints rather ugly maps on the screen. It doesn't even use anti-aliased lines. It doesn't run on Linux. You definitely feel that it is a program from the 1990s.

 

I was able to download some public domain topo maps with contour lines into my Garmin. They were nice and could be useful. However, I do have one issue with the topo maps that I got ---- From the way that the contour lines are displayed, they seem to be displayed as line segments or polylines. I wonder if the Garmin map data supports the use of arbitrary curves or B-splines --- this would make the maps look a lot nicer at any zoom level, cut down on the size of the maps, and potentially make the maps more accurate as well.

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Related to the above point, map availability and convenience is the biggest issue to me --- I don't understand why good road and street maps are so hard to obtain for the Garmin units at reasonable prices. We have the data available as evidenced by the freely available MapQuest, and Google Maps, we seem to have the technology, as seen by public domain map compilers that can make maps for the Garmin. I feel that we should be able to go to Google Maps on a web browser, select a suitable area, and just download all the streets and info directly into my eTrex Hcx. Yet I can't do it conveniently. I don't think that technology is the issue. It must be something to do on the business end of things.

Definitely a business thing. You might check out OpenStreetMap, which was started for the reason of free access to map data. Not as easy as select-n-download, but you can get map data onto your Garmin (even routing works to a limited degree). The nice thing about it is if you find an error in the map, you can fix it yourself. If you want free non-routable maps of the US, check out Ibycus maps on http://www.gpsfiledepot.com/

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