Magellan eXplorist 610 GPSRRP £399
GPS devices appear to be the Marmite of outdoor equipment – their use scorned by some walkers who fear the loss of traditional map and compass skills, but adopted by many others as a great aid to navigation and safety (see our article on the dos and don’ts of gps navigation). The earliest units had only very basic maps (some simply showed route lines) and were mostly used to get a current grid reference or to record tracks – but gradually GPS units have become much more sophisticated. Satmap made the first unit able to display proper Ordnance Survey maps back in 2007, whilst Garmin followed suit with its first OS-capable GPS, the Oregon, in 2008. I’ve been using GPS software on my smartphone for the last couple of years, so it is interesting to take a look at one of the current crop of dedicated GPS units.
The Magellan eXplorist 610 is towards the upper end of the range, above the 510 (which lacks the barometric altimeter and electronic compass) but below the 710 (which adds turn-by-turn navigation for use in your car). The unit also has a 3.2MP camera, together with a microphone and speaker for recording field notes – or audio blogs – whilst out on your trips. The eXplorist comes with very basic pre-loaded maps, but full OS 1:50 000 mapping for the whole of the UK is available on a miniSD card. We tested the unit with full OS mapping on board; if you shop around online you should be able to find the eXplorist both complete with the OS mapping, or without it (our pack also contained a voucher to buy the UK mapping for £50 – a big discount on the full quoted additional price of £149.99).
In the hand, the eXplorist immediately impresses with its very robust look and feel. With rounded corners and a deeply recessed 4″ screen, it certainly can take alot more knocks than a smartphone, and is waterproof too. Most of us have become used to the user-friendliness of touch screens on our phones, so it was great to see one on the eXplorist. Although not as high-resolution or responsive to touch as many phones, the screen here benefits from being usable when wearing thin gloves, and even works when its surface is running with water – a real advantage. The electronic compass enables the 610 to automatically orient the map, even when standing still. The lower resolution does mean that the map display appears a little pixellated, though clear enough. The days when GPS’s needed a wide open sky to work are gone, and an accurate GPS fix is gained pretty quickly – even indoors. I didn’t find the controls very intuitive at first – there are alot of icons to work out and not much explanatory text – but once you become familiar with it, the eXplorist works well.
There are four menus accessed from the four corners of the map, one of which is used as a programmable shortcut to whatever functions or places you need, and it is easy to follow a route, or to plot a point on the map and then navigate to it. I was less convinced by the camera – although it produced acceptable results in good light, it struggled with less ideal conditions – the results were disappointing even compared to many phones.
The unit takes two AA batteries, and battery life is again an area where a dedicated device like this will beat a smartphone. You’ll obviously want to use rechargeables, but I recorded a GPS track for two winter-length hill days, and took several photos, without having to change the batteries. You could extend battery life a little further by putting the unit into standby – whilst in this mode it continues to record a track, but I found that if doing this then the eXplorist took too long to turn back on, processing the track for a couple of minutes, so I preferred just to leave it running.
Another advantage of this unit is its PC software, VantagePoint. Although this isn’t as sophisticated as some dedicated PC mapping software, it does get the job done just fine. What may not be clear at first is that when you connect the eXplorist to your PC, you can transfer the Ordnance Survey maps from the GPS onto your hard drive, enabling full OS route planning – and basic map printing – on your PC without any need for an internet connection or additional software. As well as allowing the plotting of new routes and reviewing of tracks recorded from your trips, VantagePoint places your sound recordings and photos (which are tagged by the GPS) automatically onto the map.
Weight: 238g inc. batteries