Top positive review
604 people found this helpful
One year after
on August 29, 2010
I have owned the Oregon 550T for a year now and I think I have used every of its most important features, accessories and software. My overall rating is that there is room for improvement, its accessories are very expensive but it is one of the top hiking GPS products compared to others. There is so much stuff that can be reviewed so I'll try to cover purchasing decision factors and how-to tips that I think will be valuable for the ones looking for real and tested decision information.
- ACCURACY: I have used my Oregon mostly in the Shenandoah, VA area and have done hiking in South America as well. One point in behalf of the Oregon is its ability to quickly pick satellite reception and pinpoint your location. I have noticed though that when you drastically change your location, let's say North American vs. South America, the GPS will need more time to discover the satellites in that area, but after that, it reconnects quickly.
One not pleasant detail is that even when you walk back and forth over the same trail and spot, the GPS shows your tracks several feet apart. The accuracy of the GPS from my measurements is around 25 feet and often more. You may want to remember this when hiking and trying to find the trail the GPS tells you is there. You may find it 25 feet "around" you and not exactly in the direction the GPS is telling you it is. I think its accuracy requires improvement.
Initially I thought this is a problem in my GPS so I contacted Garmin's support and I was told basically what I suspected. The accuracy is not 2 or 3 feet but a whole lot more. I think is not too different to a car GPS in this regards. I also found that once you tap on the satellite signal in the GPS it will provide you the GPS accuracy which often displays a number between 30 and 49. To me this is something that requires urgent improvement. The mission of a GPS is ultimately let you know where your trails are, not providing accurate information is failing to its basic mission.
- MAPS AND PRELOADED MAP: The Oregon 550T comes preloaded with the US Topo 100K. This is a very low detail map. My experience tells me that many well-known park trails are missing, camp information is missing and basic routes are missing as well. It is just an awfully basic, high level map. I felt very disappointed to know that my over 500+ bucks didn't give me anything better so I contacted Garmin regarding this. I wanted something with more details so they kindly recommended me to get the Garmin Topo US 24K DVD for my area (Southeast DVD) which is $129.99 or an BirdsEye imagery subscription for one year (more about this last one later in my review) but they require of purchasing an additional microSD Card. Expenditures continue.
- ADDITIONAL CARD: Technical support told me that the maximum microSD card supported by the Oregon 550t is 4GB so I got one. Make sure to review the microSD card speed before you buy it. There are several speeds, make sure to get the fastest possible to make sure uploading and downloading data doesn't becomes mission impossible. Installation of the card is hassle free and it got it in quickly. There is very little you can do with the card and the GPS alone if you don't have the necessary software tools to move maps around with your GPS. I'll talk about that later in my review.
- OTHER MAPS, DVDS OR CARDS OR WHAT: If you have been browsing Garmin's website you may have noticed an interesting assortment of products. They have the same maps in several formats: DVD, microSD and download. I contacted support and ask them what format is more convenient and why. Michael S from their technical team gave me this great answer: "Thank you for contacting Garmin International. I would be happy to assist you with this. For most of our maps there are typically 3 options: Getting a disk, doing the download or getting the preprogrammed data card. When you get the disk you have these on both the computer and the unit. You can load these Topo maps onto as many Garmin mapping handhelds that you own since it is not a locked product. With the preprogrammed data card, the maps are just on the card. They cannot be viewed on the computer unless the Oregon is plugged in and Basecamp is running. They also cannot be backed up. It can be put into any Garmin unit that accepts microSD/SD cards as it is not locked to a particular unit, but it can only be in one unit at one time. With the downloadable content, it is downloaded directly to your microSD card. The map can be backed up on the computer, but it cannot be viewed on the computer unless the Oregon is plugged in and Basecamp is running. The map is also locked to the unit you downloaded it to, and cannot be viewed in any other Garmin unit. As for the DVD version of the 24k Mid-Atlantic, the DVD is still forthcoming and will include both the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions. The part number for the DVD is 010-11319-00 and will be $129.99. If you have any other questions, please let me know. "
Well, as you can see from this answer you better get the DVD. If you have not purchased the GPS, you may want to plan on adding 130 bucks to your budget if you are planning to hike places you are not familiar with because the preloaded US Topo 100K is too high level.
- THE CAMERA AND DIGITAL ZOOM: When I read that the Oregon can geotag pictures with the location of the shot I got excited. For a minute I was thinking the camera can imprint this information in the picture itself like many digital cameras can do with the date/time stamp. I was wrong, there isn't such thing as that. When you take pictures, information is recoded and kept in the GPS. You can download the pictures using BaseCamp and then upload the pictures to an album in Picassa, and then when you click the picture, geolocation information will be displayed in a text field but not in the picture. I think there is misleading information here, this is what Garmin claims in their website: "Each photo is geotagged automatically with the location of where it was taken". Instead it should say: "Geolocation information is saved in the GPS every time you take a picture. No photo geolocation stamp is available".
Well, aside this fiasco, I find the GPS camera not to be that incredible, just a little phone-like camera without real zoom or wide angle. It will take pictures but any other digital camera will be able to do a better job.
- SUN LIGHT READABILITY: I have been hiking at sunlight and under the forest. I prefer to create a little shade to better read the Oregon. I believe that still you can read it under sunlight. Yes it is not going to be incredible clear but what can be brighter that direct sunlight? The screen can be read better under shady conditions but can handle sunlight well enough to keep you moving and oriented.
- TOUCH SCREEN: The touch screen is really nice. It feels a little like an iPhone. You can tap on the icons and move the screens from side to side, reorganize the icons and move around. You also have buttons to do exactly the same so you can choose.
- DURABLE AND WATERPROOF: The unit is impressively light and it seems rugged but I don't have any plans of testing its durability any further. I just feel that messing with a very expensive toy like this doesn't meet the requirements of my curiosity. The unit also claims to be waterproof and I have seen some demos in YouTube where the unit is operated under the water. Well, the unit connects to a PC using a USB cable and the connector is at the bottom of the device. A little cap is all what will prevent your unit from getting wet. I'm positive the unit will endure some exposure to rain and hopefully will survive a fall to a river. Make sure to keep the USB connector cap well adjusted.
- DOWNLOADING DATA - MAPSOURCE: So you went for your first hike and you recorded your tracks in your GPS. But how do you download this data to your computer? The answer is MapSource. In order to get MapSource installed you need to have a Garmin product previously installed. So install Training Center and then install MapSource. Just Google these names and the word `download' to find them. They are available at Garmin's website and thanks goodness they are free. With this software you can download data from your GPS and review the details of your tracks, modify titles, waypoints and so on. Then you can export your file as .GPX for future use or upload it to some websites. MapSource can compute the profile of your hike and other interesting data.
If you want to see your track in Google Maps or Earth, try using GPS Visualizer [...]. These cool guys created this program that allows importing GPX files into Google and presenting it all together. I also like [...], you can download your GPX data, it will process it and get your the ascent profile, speed, etc. Your GPX data will become available to anyone and you can download files for your GPS as well. Try this example: [...]
While trying to find a way to create my own maps I found TOPO! a National Geographic Product. You can create the topo maps of your hikes and print them out or get the PDF version of them and send them to your friends or just save them for future reference. TOPO! costs 50 bucks. The quality of the Topo maps is so bad but I couldn't find anything better. I hope one day you can merge your GPX files with Google Earth in terrain mode in one tool. Google Earth is still the best Topo maps I have found.
The last tool I want to mention is EasyGPS, a nice small program that will allow you to download and upload GPX files to your GPS and browse the tracks on the screen. It allows some basic editing. I find MapSource a lot better.
- BIRDSEYE IMAGERY AND BASECAMP: For those places where real maps are not available, Garmin offers you the BirdsEye Imagery subscription. It is 30 bucks a year and it only works with one device. BirdsEye imagery is just satellite images (like Google Earth) that you can download to your GPS. BaseCamp is the software that will allow you to download imagery to your computer and create a library. From your library of images you can right click images and upload them to your device. In your device and while hiking they will look like an additional layer. It is nice if the areas you will be hiking don't have a lot of trees. The quality of the images is good but if you plan on downloading a lot of them make sure to get the 4GB microSD and some patience. You cannot download large sections but tiny sections and one at the time.
- BATTERIES AND CHARGER: I'm glad I got a nice couple of rechargeable batteries and the charger in the box. No complains here, I charge the batteries the night before hiking and they last all day long easily. I haven't noticed them drain out because of lack of use. They go strong for long periods of time.
So as you can see it is a very expensive device and although it has some deficiencies it is probably the best of its class. I have compared my Oregon to other GPS devices of fellow hikers and the Oregon seems to be better in many aspects, not perfect but just better.
Well I hope you found in this review enough information to make an educated decision. Happy hiking!