Garmin eTrex H Handheld GPS Receiver
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Garmin eTrex H Handheld GPS Receiver

Out of stock  |  Similar in GPS Devices
  • User Interface: Keypad
  • System Type: Handheld
  • : Handheld/Outdoors
  • WAAS Features: WAAS enabled
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12

Great value for the money!

Pros Low price, small size, high-quality
Cons A little awkward to use
Recommended it? Yes
The Bottom Line:  Still one of the cheapest units available. Very good quality, and excellent usability if you don't need a ton of features.
I bought my eTrex from Amazon.com a couple of months ago. I paid $113, and it's dropped a little lower since then. I looked at a number of higher-priced units, and although they?re nice, I determined that the eTrex would do everything I needed it to do. Specifically, I was looking for a 12-channel parallel receiver (many of the lower-priced GPS receivers have only a 2-channel receiver that sometimes makes satellite acquisition and tracking difficult.) The eTrex has a 12-channel parallel receiver. Another thing I was looking for was a data interface connector that would allow me to connect my GPS receiver to my computer for use with navigation and mapping programs. The eTrex has that as well. The third important feature was upgradeable firmware. I wanted to be able to download software upgrades from the manufacturer and upload them to my GPS receiver as updated versions became available. The etrex has this as well. It's got plenty of other useful features, but these three were the most important to me.

When I received my eTrex, the first thing I noticed was the small size: 4.4"H x 2" W x 1.2" D. It's small enough to fit in a shirt pocket, although it's maybe a little too thick to store there comfortably. Small size and low weight usually go together, and the eTrex is no exception: 5.3 oz. with batteries. This is about half of what my Magellan GPS 2000 weighs. It stashes comfortably in the side pocket of my jacket without protruding or pulling the pocket down on that side.

The display is adequately large. The electroluminescent backlight is bright and evenly lit for nighttime use.

Satellite acquisition times are fast. Maybe not as fast as the 15 seconds warm and 45 seconds cold listed in the manual, but its pretty close if you have a clear view of a large enough area of the sky.

The user interface is designed for you to hold the unit in your left hand. All of the buttons are positioned on the sides of the unit and are laid out for single-handed operation. This layout takes a little getting used to, and is a bit awkward if you have the receiver mounted in a holder for vehicle use. Nevertheless, it's adequate, and not too much of a hassle. Garmin designed this unit primarily for hiking, not vehicle use.

I bought a PC interface cable from someone on eBay for about $25. It's simple to connect, but comes loose too easily and doesn't have a way to lock it in place with absolute security. The cable appears to be a "homebrew" make, so maybe the commercial version from Garmin is better. I don't know. As long as I'm careful it stays put and is a simple matter to re-secure if it slips. (Update 10/2002: Spend the extra money to get a decent quality PC interface cable. The cheap one I bought from eBay ended up breaking after awhile. I bought a 3rd party cable from someone else on eBay that uses high-quality molded connectors, and it's much, much better. It was still cheaper than Garmin's cable.)

Upgrading the firmware is a simple matter. I found the latest version at www.garmin.com in their support section and downloaded it. It comes as an executable file with its own installer. My eTrex had firmware version 2.07 when I received it, and I had been disappointed that the satellite status screen didn't show a graphical representation of the positions of the satellites in view. Upgrading to the latest version, 2.10, fixed this with a much more sophisticated and informative satellite status screen. (Update 10/2002: Current firmware version is 2.14, but no real functionality has been added since 2.10.)

The navigation screens are pretty decent. There's the Map page that shows you a track of where you've been, and any landmarks you've entered. You can change the map orientation direction, and the scale shown from 800 miles down to 200 feet. (The manual says you can only go down to 500 feet, but I guess that's something they changed in the firmware revisions.) The pointer page shows you a little compass arrow to point you in the direction of your selected waypoint. This page also gives you the option of displaying either bearing, heading, altitude, speed, or a host of other trip vitals. I really like the average speed display.

Another notable feature is the backtrack capability that allows you to save a route you've traveled and follow it in reverse. To keep you from getting lost on the way back from the latrine in the middle of the night, I guess. I've never used it, so I can't comment on its use. (Update 10/2002: The backtrack function is really cool. I use this when locating my car when I'm out geocaching. It tells me where all the turns in the trail are! Make sure you familiarize yourself with using this feature before you actually need it, and always also save a waypoint for your starting point.)

Waypoints (a.k.a. Landmarks) are limited to 6 characters, which is annoying. I'd like to see the capability to add a brief description since some of my waypoints are necessarily a bit cryptically named. Entering the waypoint names is awkward select-and-scroll, without any simple heuristics like increasing-rate advance when you're holding down the key to scroll through the alphabet. It just plods along at the same speed until you release it at the appropriate letter. I'm sure they could fix this with a firmware update. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

There are many other features that are pretty standard to all GPS models: different map datums, time zone selection, selectable north reference (true, magnetic or grid), backlight timeout, IPX7 water resistance (1 meter for 30 minutes), powersave, and a demo mode 'recommended for dealer-use only'. Battery life is published as up to 22 hours in powersave mode. I use NiMH rechargeables, never with powersave, and they seem to last about 10 hours with heavy backlight use. I get about 15 hours with alkalines under the same use conditions.

In summary, I'd say that this is a well-designed-and-built GPS receiver. It has a few shortcomings that cause it to be awkward to use in some circumstances, but I find that I'm able to work around them without too much difficulty. Overall, it's a pleasure to use, and a great value for the money. If you want a great GPS receiver and don't want to spend a lot of money, this is a great candidate for you.

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