After a year or two of dominance in the geocaching field, Garmin is finding some ‘old’ players are re-entering the handheld GPS receiver market. I was fortunate enough to test out Lowrance’s latest offering, the Endura Sierra.
When you take the Endura Sierra out of the box it is a good fit in the hand. The size is about right and there is adequate rubber grip on the sides and back. With batteries (2 x AA) the unit is a little heavier than other units of similar ilk, but it is well balanced. The space for the batteries is tight and it a few attempts to get the correct angle for closing the back panel.
Power up is slow – between 20 and 30 seconds – so you don’t want to be leaving it to the last minute for that FTF chase. The unit than spends some time loading the GPX files into the unit.
Once the unit has finished switching on, the screen is bright and easy to read in the daylight. You can easily adjust the backlight and sleep settings to conserve battery life. When the back light is off, pressing a button or touching the screen will switch it back on. If the unit goes into sleep mode, you will need to press the power button,
The touchscreen is pressure sensitive and can at times be tempermental. The test unit I used sometimes springs back when scrolling through a list or when dragging the map. To avoid this frustration I resorted to using the arrow keys instead. Even with the arrow keys, moving the map was not fluid and there were occassional frustrating delays.
The maps are from NAVTEC and contain a lot of detailed roads and POIs. They are clear, easy to read and is one of the highlights of this unit. Unfortunately the contours are at 50-metre intervals, which is not great if you plan to use the unit while hiking. Turn-by-turn directions are an add-on feature, which costs approximately $129. Accuterra mapping, which includes 3D shaded terrian, is not available in Australia.
On the front of the unit are six buttons. Plus and minus are used to zoom in and out while the map is displayed. The central D-pad allows you to navigate left-right and up-down, while the central MARK button can be used to select items or mark a waypoint.
The PAGE button allows you to rotate through the standard set of GPS receiver screens, such as map, satellites, compass, navigation and altimeter. The MENU button shows a list of options – map, find, tools and setting. The find option then displays a list of options that is rich in detail and includes geocaches. The tools option is quite strange as this includes MP3, photo and video players, as well as Marine maps – maybe extras is a better title?
The unit connects to a computer via a standard mini-USB cable and appears as a mountable drive on the desktop. Files, including MP3, photo, video and GPX can be easily copied to and from the unit. It has 4GB of internal memory, so there’s plenty of room for your GPX files and photos, but I wouldn’t transfer your MP3 library onto it.
How the unit handles GPX files took a bit of learning. At first, the unit failed to recognise the files coming from GSAK (Geocache Swiss Army Knife). A colleague later pointed out that the unit would not read any files larger than 3MB – I hope this is changed in a firmware update or better highlighted in the instructions. Once this hurdle was overcome, the unit easily gobbled up what was loaded into it. Strangely, it created a folder for each GPX files and placed inside it a 200kB files.
One other strange behaviour occurrs when two GPX files with similar waypoints are loaded into the unit. Where a waypoint appeared twice in the GPX files, it shows up multiple times on the map and find lists.
Searching for a geocache was relatively quick and simple – press the MENU button, followed by FIND and GEOCACHE. A list of the nearest geocaches appeared, displaying the type, GC code and distance. The distances update as you are moving, although this is somewhat sparadic and does not re-sort.
All the data contained in the GPX file is displayed for each geocache, including description, logs and hint. While easy to read, a simple bit of formatting would help in differentiating between each log. I also noticed that some of the small fonts failed to render neatly on the display.
The compass is accurate and easily leads you to the display. It consistently agreed with the Garmin MAP60CSX I took along and I didn’t have any problems locating the 30-odd geocaches found over the weekend.
The field note option is easy to use, although the keypad had some issues as mentioned earlier. The notes are saved as a simple text file on the unit, which can be imported into the geocaching.com website, making it easy to log finds – and DNFs – when I returned home.
Adding a geocache on the fly is simple – great for those FTF opportunities that pop up while you’re out. Press the MARK button while the map is displayed, edit the coordinates and you’re off. Unfortunately, the geocache will be recognised as a POI and will stop guiding you once you arrive within 20 metres of the geocache.
To power down the unit you must hold in the power button for approximately five seconds. This is to ensure the unit isn’t accidently shutdown, which is a good feature. However, I did notice at least once on the weekend that I failed to hold it long enough and it was left on for a few hours. Despite this, it didn’t appear to impact greatly on the batteries.
Battery life is good – one set of NiMH rechargable batteries lasted one and half days. This is a little less than the Garmin, which is probably due to the screen’s backlight switching on whenever it is used. There is a section in the menus that allows you to adjust the power settings on the unit should you find you’re not getting enough from your batteries.
Overall, the Endura Sierra is a very good unit. The size is right, it has all the bells and whistles you need for geocaching and makes logging finds easy. The lack of turn-by-turn as a standard feature is disappointing, particularly when there is such a great map already in the unit.
The unit will retail in Australia for $599, plus and extra $129 for the turn-by-turn feature. A similar unit without the multimedia options (MP3 player, photo viewer, etc.), electronic compass and barometric altimeter, called the Endura Out&Back, will retail for $399. This seems like a much better option, particularly for geocachers wanting to upgrade from an entry-level unit – such as the Garmin eTrex or eXplorist 100, or plan to start immediately down the paperless geocaching route.
- good size and grip
- bright display and detail rich maps
- excellent geocaching features
- problems with touch screen display
- issues with import and handling of GPX files
- a little on the pricey side