In the early days of geocaching Magellan was one of the leading brands when it came to GPS receivers on the market. In recent times that popularity has fallen and despite the release of the all-in-one Triton series in 2008, the brand looked like disappearing altogether.
Therefore it’s great to see them launch a new GPS receiver that is not only great in looks and functionality, but is built with geocaching in mind.
The first impression I had of the eXplorist GC is small – in a good way. It fits snuggly in the hand, is light weight and very pleasing on the eye. The rubber grip and rounded edges makes it easy to grasp in your hand. A wide loop at the base allows you to loop through a thick, sturdy lanyard should you want to hand around your neck.
The unit uses 2xAA batteries, which come included in the box. The power button is so cleverly disguised at the top of the unit, it took me 30 seconds to find it.
Boot up time is relatively quick, depending on how many geocaches are stored in the memory.
Once on you notice that the screen is small, 5 cm, but it is bright and clear due to its 240 x 320 pixels. Geocachers who find it difficult to read at the best of times will struggle with this display. Because of its size it is not a touch screen, but this is not an issue as the button and joystick make it easy to navigate.
The unit comes with 1000 of the most ‘popular’ geocaches pre-loaded. In the unit I received, the closest was Hawaii, but I’m told there are plans for future Australian and New Zealand-bound units to include more geocaches from our region. The memory (about 700MB) allows for up to 10,000 geocaches to be stored and a single 5000 points track log.
Once on, the eXplorist GC will immediately begin searching for satellites. The internal antenna means it takes a little more time than a Garmin Map 60 to acquire satellite lock, but it is certainly in line with other ‘similar’ units such as the Garmin Oregon.
Strangely, the time displayed on the unit was not always correct, sometimes out by several hours, despite having the right time zone selected. This may affect how long it takes for the unit to acquire satellite lock, as it depends on knowing the approximate location of the satellites. Magellan are aware of this ‘bug’ and it should be corrected in an upcoming firmware update.
The maps on the unit are classed as worldwide, but the detail for Australia is appalling. Only major roads are shown, coastlines and rivers are very low resolution, but strangely parks of all sizes are displayed. I’m not aware of any plans to improve the mapping resolution for Australia, but at this stage I wouldn’t suggest you use this to help you navigate your way to your destination while driving.
The front page menu on the unit includes five items. There are set in a circle, which is sometimes a bit confusing when you’re using the joystick and you’re not sure which way to push it. Tip: left is clockwise, right is anti-clockwise.
The Tools option provides a long list of options, from backlight options and background screen image, through to statistics, awards and stats summary. It is a nice touch to see your stats build up on the unit. Whether experienced geocachers with previous finds under their belt can adjust these stats I’m not sure.
There is also a number of information pages about geocaching, such as cache types and how to find a geocache, which appear to come from the geocaching.com website.
Waypoints provides a list of … waypoint, and includes child waypoints for geocaches. There appears to be a set of predetermined offsets such as 800 metres north. I didn’t give myself enough time to explore this in detail.
The Map option provides a great overview of geocaches in the region, even if the map detail isn’t as all that good.
One fantastic feature is the compass overlay, which helps you quickly determine your orientation. Icons show the position of the Sun and the Moon, although this isn’t orientated in the correct position, showing both treking across the southern part of the sky. Clearly an oversight by the northern hemisphere developers and will hopefully be corrected in a firmware upgrade.
Data fields at the bottom of the screen can be changed to display various bits of information, such as time, ETA to destination and elevation.
The joystick can be used to move the cursor around the display. Hovering it over a geocache will bring up a small display box that shows some of its details – similar to the Google Maps view on geocaching.com.
The Geocaches option provides a list of the nearest geocaches with summary information. You select a geocache by pressing down on the joystick, which displays a number of fields including description, logs, hint and pictures. The later didn’t display anything, but I suspect I needed to install software on my computer, which I didn’t get around to doing.
Once you have selected the geocache you want to find, you can go back to the map view, or look at the fifth main menu option: Dashboard.
This provides a nice, although crammed, display, which includes compass, geocache summary and a small number of data fields.
As you approach the geocache, the distance decreases in discrete units (i.e. 700 m, 600 m, 500 m). As you get closer, those intervals shrink until you get to the last 50 metres – at that stage in counts down in single metre increments.
The compass updates on a regular basis and is no better or worse that your standard off-the-shelf handheld GPS receiver. Most of the geocaches I searched for with this unit were out of the city. Under typical tree cover it performed well.
Once at the geocache, you can quickly check past logs, hints and select Found, Needs Maintenance, Write Note or DNF. You also the ability to ‘type’ a quick field note. I say quick, as the QWERTY keyboard relies on you navigating with a joystick – better than the old Garmin eTrex, but not as quick as a touchscreen.
Not surprisingly, the unit does not support Where I Go cartridges, which appear to have lost favour with not only geocachers, but Groundspeak also.
Importing GPX is simple if you use Groundspeak’s pocket queries or GPX files from Geocaching Australia. Connect the unit to the computer, using the mini USB cable and drop and drag the files into the Geocaches folder.
The unit comes with a free 30-day premium membership of geocaching.com, so you can add the closest geocaches to your home into the unit, but do it quickly.
Using GSAK requires a little more work. You need to export two files: one without child waypoints and the other just containing child waypoints. This is identical to the way you would receive a pocket query from Groundspeak. If you fail to do this, the unit will only load geocaches up to the first one that contains child waypoints.
There is software for the eXplorist GC (Windows), but I was able to test it in time.
Battery life is outstanding. The unit came with a set of AA disposable lithium batteries, which lasted for three weekends of light geocaching.
I had begun to fall in love with the unit and was contemplating sending a cheque to the distributer instead of returning the unit. Unfortunately I found its Achilles heel, which lead to it no longer working.
The cover for the USB connection does not always seal correctly. I noticed this a number of times and had to close it in a particular way to ensure it sealed. The last geocache I planned to test the unit on involved a walk through knee water to a small island a short distance from the beach. Given that it is rated IPX-7 (immersion up to one metre depth of water), I thought it should be OK.
It was only after I was swamped by two shoulder-height waves that I noticed the screen had gone blank. Close inspection of the USB cover showed it was slightly ajar. Unfortunately, salt water and electronics do not mix.
While it is possible for any GPS receiver with rubber covers to end up in the same situation, it appears owners of the eXplorist GC will have to be particularly careful with their unit.
Having said all that, this is one fantastic geocache hunting device squeezed into a tight, sexy package.
At A$329, it is excellent value for money and should appeal to most newish geocachers, particularly those wanting to jump into the paperless geocaching realm. It would also make a great second/spare GPS receiver for the kids or ‘other half’.
My thanks to Doug Lloyd of Next Destination (www.nextdestination.com.au) in Perth, Western Australia for the loan of the unit.
- Great design in both look and feel
- Bright screen and colourful display
- Packed with paperless geocaching features
- Maps almost next to useless for Australia
- Small screen can at times be difficult to read
- Watch the USB cover
Another review of the unit appears on the GPS Tracklog website. The screenshots in this review come from that website.