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Customer Review

115 of 131 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You can try BaseCamp on your PC before buying, December 3, 2012
This review is from: Garmin eTrex 20 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator (Electronics)
Etrex 20

Have had this unit less than a week and wrote a review that turned out to be 3x this long. Even to provide only some short and sweet of it, it's still long! But potential buyers need to know a few things before pulling the trigger! This review might seem to bleed over to other areas not specific to the unit itself, but are essential to getting the most out of it. I have not addressed many issues that can be resolved with the owner's manual or a search engine.

I suggest that before saying yea or nay on the Etrex 20, download the BaseCamp software (includes MapInstaller) plus at least 3 topo maps (free) from GPSFileDepot to your PC (or Mac) and experiment with the setup. I used the maps on a netbook in the woods, Grand Canyon, Zion and other places while cross referencing to Microsoft Streets & Trips with its hockey puck GPS for months before warming to the notion of the Etrex 20. Even lacking another GPS, you can still use the maps much the same way as you would a paper map. You can print them, too.

If you like what you see after using BaseCamp on your computer, then learn how to install maps directly to a microSD card (or a plain SD for now) inserted into a computer by renaming the gmapsupp.img on the card to a name that reflects the one installed there. The new map you download will be named the Garmin default map name "gmapsupp.img". If you don't rename it, the map you download will overwrite the map you should have renamed! This has to be done each time a new map is downloaded. You don't have to rename the same map in BaseCamp. The BaseCamp filename will remain as it was downloaded. You can do all this before buying the GPS.

I created a README.TXT file on the microSD card to keep track of the last map installed (have installed 12), so I'd know what to rename gmapsupp.img to when adding maps months later (sounds confusing, I know, but ANY (GPSFileDepot only?) map written to the card directly via PC with MapInstaller is written with the filename gmapsupp.img! You can find out more about it online. I don't want to go too much further into the issue here.)

Once you get the PC-to-microSD loading technique down, the Etrex 20 recognizes ALL maps installed with no issue at all and you'll likely be OK with it. You may even come to prefer it. Kind of like learning to drive a stick shift car. I don't know that it's easier with other GPSs. Somebody out there might know.

You can install maps much easier with the Etrex 20 connected to USB (NOT described in my owner's manual, but a nice tutorial available at GPSFileDepot). It will just be VERY slow as mentioned later. MapInstaller (with BaseCamp) provides a very friendly user interface to select/deselect maps you have downloaded to BaseCamp. Also know that if you DESELECT a map it will be UNINSTALLED and if you leave an already installed map selected, it will be REINSTALLED along with any new maps, racking up progressively longer installation times as you add maps. Using this interface with a direct PC-to-microSD card permits only 1 map to be installed at a time and overwrites any previously installed map each time with the gmapsupp.img filename. Hence, the necessity to become familiar with that renaming thing for direct PC-to-microSD transfer. It just sounds a lot more cumbersome than it really is.

When downloading and installing GPSFileDepot maps to BaseCamp, note that there is an issue with the 64-bit installer used in the PC version of some of the mapsets. For the first mapset you are installing on a Windows 7 64 bit PC, you will need to FIRST install a mapset which used a 32-bit installer. You will find this out when you go to download the map and a 32 bit mapset of "My Trails" will be recommended. After that, installation for future GPSFileDepot maps should go smoothly. I took the same precaution with Vista 64 bit. Because high quality topo maps are available at no cost for this device, I see no reason to mark it down for having only a basic map. You should only have to buy maps if you are headed someplace not covered by GPSFileDepot.

I read somewhere that Garmin still uses the old USB 1.1 standard. It took 1 hour 45 minutes to load 2GB of maps with the BaseCamp/MapInstaller software with the microSD card installed in the GPS. Put that card in a PC however, and I loaded 2.3GB of data to the card in less than 5 minutes! If you don't want to buy a microSD card right away, you can load maps up to the 1.7GB Garmin internal storage limit (also at the slower speed). The Garmin internal storage is good for quite a few states. I keep 2 of my most used states in the Garmin internal memory and 10 other states on the microSD card. With the microSD card installed in the GPS, all installations default to the card. With the microSD removed, installations can go only to the internal Garmin storage.

When updating the Etrex 20 software, you'll want to be reasonably sure the computer, the GPS and the network can run for the duration of downloading and installing the update. If power fails, you could brick the GPS. There is a point in the process where you will be instructed to disconnect. Be sure to do it with "Safely Remove Hardware" (or the Mac equivalent). When you restart the GPS, the installation progress of the update will be shown on the GPS screen. Let it finish the installation and boot to the menu, then reconnect as instructed in the online popup. (Garmin doesn't mention anything about the installation continuing on the GPS. You have to INFER that.)

On the toggle-- I tried to duplicate issues described where bumping it could cause screens/modes to change drastically and unexpectedly. I bumped it, stuffed it in my pocket and couldn't get the toggle to cause any problem that pressing the "Back" button only once didn't fix. For me, the toggle issue is really no issue at all.

On the small display-- It's the about the same area as the Camo but squared a bit more. It uses less power and the range of backlighting makes the display easily adjusted for high visibility even in bright sunlight. I carry a Senior Pass for our National Parks and need glasses indoors for reading, but I can use this GPS outdoors without glasses.

My old Etrex Camo lasted 10 years with heavy use. One day this past summer, the batteries depleted while it was running. Replacing the batteries always brought it back up, except this last time. It was hard to bid the Camo farewell, but the Etrex 20 is a worthy successor. Noteworthy is that both are able to run for HOURS on (alkaline) batteries that have been depleted to the point where they won't run anything else we own. Those batteries live out the rest of their days in my Etrex 20.

If you are looking for a mapping GPS that has everything you need and little you don't, in my opinion, the Etrex 20 works. I recommend it for someone new to GPS or even somebody experienced who doesn't want cameras, compasses, larger displays and altimeters hogging power. There ARE some issues with documentation and loading maps directly to the microSD card from a PC. While the answers may not always be in the owner's manual, resources are available to assist. You'll be much happier if you take advantage of those downloads I mentioned earlier before buying.

While Garmin user documentation can be very weak, you should at least be able to hit the trail out of the box and know where you are and find your way back. Just know that you are going to have to do some digging to use ALL of the functionality of the Etrex 20. The Etrex 20 can be powered from an external source, but didn't find out how to do that in the owner's manual. Maybe you don't need to know unless you buy an external power cable? While updating, I left the Etrex 20 in the "Garmin" USB Mode (I thought that was how either the microSD or Garmin storage was selected). It asked if I wanted to go to "Mass Storage" (thinking microSD). I answered "No". When I disconnected, it asked if I wanted to continue on battery power. In the Garmin Mode, it had been powered by the PC USB port. Sometimes "Owner's Manuals" don't supply the same level of instruction as a "User Guide". Maybe that's what I need to be looking for.

Scrolling the map past a screen's width can be slow, almost like a slow internet connection loading a web page. But in use, there is no issue keeping track of my position even when in a car. Slow scrolling (e.g., to another state) can be alleviated somewhat by zooming out and moving the arrow cursor to where you want to scroll. The map will recenter to where the arrow cursor is when you zoom back in. Manageable.

I also have to say that working with Garmin Product Support has been a pleasure, which appears to be diametrically opposed to the experience many others have had. In Garmin's reply informing me that my 10 year old Camo couldn't be fixed, they offered a courtesy exchange refurbished Etrex H at a reduced cost. An RMA was initiated for the exchange and I provided billing information. Before sending the Camo back, I emailed asking about the Etrex 20 instead. I received an email a few days later consenting to a refurbished Etrex 20 without having to return the Camo. They even supplied a USB cable, but I had to download a PDF owner's manual. In the course of working through this with several email exchanges, I worked with a different rep each time. Continuity and response time for my issue was excellent. A courteous approach begets a courteous response? Maybe so.

The Etrex 20 is powerful and relatively easy to learn, but am stuck at 4 stars for the weak documentation and the PC-to-microSD idiosyncrasy. If this device used at least the USB 2.0 standard, there would likely be little reason to fiddle with renaming that gmapsupp.img file for direct PC to microSD map loading. Even with the renaming snag, loading a lot of maps at once can be much faster directly to the microSD than trying to push it all through the slow USB connection, but the slower way virtually eliminates the chances for making a mistake renaming a map.

To keep it shorter, I tried to focus this review where the biggest headaches are likely to occur. Will try to monitor this review for a while and answer any questions that might pop up as time permits. Now I have to go edit that README.TXT file before I forget the filename of the last map loaded to gmapsupp.img!

***UPDATE 2/3/2015***

I returned in October from a 2 month hiking trip to Austria. It seemed that the only source of topo maps was going to be an expensive fee based service. Using a begged internet connection, was able to find & download a truly exquisite FREE OpenStreetMap (24k topo version) from a guy in Spain that contained practically all the trails known to the Austrian Touristenklub (ÖTK) that we used to hike 260 miles of incredibly challenging and just as stunningly beautiful terrain.

I also found for the OpenStreetMap I downloaded, that in addition to ON road routing (like a regular street GPS), it provided for OFF road routing (on the Etrex 20!) for all the trails we cared to try! He has several maps of countries in Europe and Africa with just only a few maps for the US the last time I checked. The Austrian map became the 13th FREE one installed on the Etrex20/microSD card.

On one of our hikes, the trail was obliterated by several storms over the years and the markers couldn't be followed anymore. We were at elevation, the weather unsettled and the trail meandered in and out of Slovenia to get out. It was getting late and going back the way we came wasn't an option. We used the FREE 24k OpenStreetMap for Austria to scramble over the downed trees on a 45 degree rocky slope to pick up the trail again several hundred meters away.

The map also covered about 10 miles into Slovenia, which provided for 2 memorable hikes in that country, too. We used its on road routing features to find many other POIs in Austria, as well. The OpenStreetMap also provided for address searches!

For me the complaint about a lack of maps is simply a non starter. The only costs for these FREE maps are what's in your heart to contribute to the effort these guys go through to provide very good free topo maps to anybody who wants to download and learn how to install them.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 12, 2014 3:48:42 AM PST
PCMentor says:
I ran across the tidbit: You can rename gmapsupp.img to gmapsup1.img, gmapsup2.img, gmapsup3.img etc up to a max of about 8 gb or 3000 tiles. This saved me from thinking I had to change the sd card for each map. Now there is space for a few maps on the sd card.

Posted on Feb 3, 2015 9:47:46 AM PST
chuck says:
Remote camper, Thank you for the review. I am purchasing this unit based upon the information in your review, which just made my life a lot easier and "fast-laned" using this device. Reviews of this caliber are priceless to people such as myself. I've copied and pasted it, to my desktop.

Posted on Apr 7, 2015 3:11:01 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 7, 2015 5:06:19 PM PDT
S. Wade says:
This review was one of the longest I've read and one of the most useful. The idea of trying BEFORE you buy is fantastic. Thank you for all the time you invested in helping me, and others, get started.

I have now spent hours following your directions - PERFECT! I had no idea how complicated this process was and you have made it so much easier. I'm searching and learning BaseCamp and free maps - let's hope I graduate to the Garmin eTrex20 in the wilderness eventually.
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