About 18 months ago I was fortunate enough to be one of the first to test out the Magellan eXplorist GC. Overall I was thoroughly impressed with the unit and suggested that Magellan was back in the game. During the southern hemisphere summer I was given the opportunity to test out it’s bigger brother – the eXplorist 610.
The 610 is the ‘almost top of the line’ model in the eXplorist series – bettered only by the 710. It’s form is very similar to the GC and the rest of the series, albeit bigger and green.
It has a touch screen interface and three discrete buttons built into the outer edge of the casing. The top one for the power button, while the two on the left hand side are for the still camera and marking waypoints.
First impressions suggest it’s a good sized until, fitting comfortably in the hand. With the addition of two AA batteries, the weight isn’t a strain. The curved attachment at the bottom of the unit is elegant, but it’s thin and plastic. For an outdoor unit, I was constantly concerned that the carabiner I used to attach this to my backdrop may cause it to break. A sturdy anchor point may have been better.
Start up is typically quick, as is satellite acquisition. This is process is significantly slowed down if you have a large .gpx file of geocaches loaded into the unit. I often copied across a 100 MB files of geocaches (all of NSW and ACT, which is around 10,000 geocaches and trigs without images). This resulted in a start-up of in excess of four to five minutes.
The battery life is reasonable, lasting most of a full day in the field, but it’s one of the more energy hungry units I used – with the exception of a smartphone with GPS switched on. I would strongly recommend taking a spare set of fully charged batteries with you.
One up and running the screen showed my location on a well drawn map of Australia and New Zealand, which comes with the unit if you purchase it from here. It also comes with a 10 metre topographic map, handy for when you hiking in the bush. On the downside, there is no routing available with this map and you’ll need to spend another $120 for this functionality.
An alternative is to purchase a one-year subscription to www.maps4me.net for about US$14, which is based on the Open Street Map dataset. I have not tested it on this unit, however a geocaching friend of mine has and is impressed.
The brightness of the screen is quite good, but like most, it doesn’t cope well in bright sunny conditions.
To access the units various menus, a simple tap on the screen will bring up four icons in each corner.
The bottom left is the main menu. From here you can search for Waypoints, POIs and geocaches. Another icon is for addresses, but this only works if you have a routable map installed. There are also shortcuts to tracks and routes, maps and media, which I’ll come back to in a moment.
The bottom right corner brings up the options menu – add waypoint, search nearby, track summary, etc.
The top left corner is shows the compass, which includes the position of the Sun and Moon, as well four customisable data fields. There two icons at the bottom of the screen – one for setting, and another to change the appearance of the compass. For example, you can change it to road, strip, barometer, altimeter, dashboard and data only.
Finally the top right corner is your customisable page. Here you can add shortcuts to various functions, search and locations.
The number of settings, functions and options is mind boggling. To be honest – overwhelming. What is most confusing is that you can get to them from many different paths. My limited experience with the Garmin Oregon (the GPS receiver most similar to this unit), is that you need to dig down through menus to find what your after, which is sometimes tiring to the user. This unit takes it to the opposite extreme, presenting a complex web of paths to get to what you need. I suppose the upshot is that each user will become accustomed to where their most used settings/functions/etc are and will stick to it.
The main purpose of this review is to look at the unit’s geocaching capability. It’s a quick two-tap process to bring up a list of nearest of the five nearest geocaches. The list shows the cache name, Diff/Terr rating, size and distance direction of all the geocaches you have upload to the unit – in my case the massive 100 MB .gpx file. Both geocaching.com and Geocaching Australia geocaches listed without any problems, although trig points and moveables appear as traditionals and unknowns.
You can filter the list, via the options menu, to limit the list to cache type, size, difficulty, etc. Everything work quiet fast, a contrast to the slow load up time at the start.
A tap of the cache ‘button’ brings up a summary list of the geocache’s description, recent logs, hint, location, attributes, etc. There is an area for included media, such as photos, and another called Stats/History. I was hoping the later might include some juicy information about how many people failed to admit they couldn’t find or had an encounter with the law at GZ. Instead it contains information specific to your search.
The text displayed in each of the field is clear and easy to read and the scroll function works quite well. Unfortunately, it loses any HTML formatting that may have appeared on the listing, which can make life difficult for mystery caches that contain bold or preformatted text.
Once you have decided to head after that particular geocache, you simply tap on the orange arrow icon and you’re on your way. The default view is the map, but by tapping on the screen you can head to the compass or dashboard view.
Like its smaller cousin (the GC), the 610′s compass works extremely well. Occasionally it can be slow in adjusting direction when you are within 50 metres of the geocache, but this isn’t a big issue.
You can also look up geocache information in the map view but tapping on a geocache icon to bring up a pop-up box containing basic information. a tap of the box takes you to the geocache summary page.
Once you have found (or not found) the geocache, a quick set of taps allows you to mark it as found or not found. You are then presented with the option of writing a log. Unfortunately the ‘keyboard’ is spread over two screens making this a slightly cumbersome job. Each log is saved as part of a text file, which you can download from the unit and upload into geocaching.com. I attempted to upload it into geocaching.com.au for their geocaches, but wasn’t successful.
There is a great setting for creating a geocache (hiding), which prompts you to leave the GPS receiver in the one spot so that it can calculate a decent averaged set of coordinates. It even tells you off if it senses you moving it.
The unit comes with a 3.2 MB camera which is extremely good at taking great looking photos. Like most digital cameras there is a slight lag between when you press the button (or tap the screen) and when it takes the photo.Unfortuately the same cannot be said of the unit’s audio and video capabilities. The quality is poor to unacceptable as evidenced in these two videos (Geocaching with sax appeal and Geotalk Video Edition Ep. 18). I believe the unit would have been better off without this functionality as it’s an embarrassing blight on an otherwise great product.
Vantage PointI hadn’t realised until I started that there was this handy piece of software for the Magellan eXplorist series, which runs on your PC (sorry Mac). Therefore my review of this will only by basic at this stage.
After installing the software, I plugged in the unit. After minute or so the software asked whether I wanted to transfer the field notes from the unit to geocaching.com. Soon after, it alerted me to the fact that the unit’s firmware was out of date. This was ‘fixed’ a few minutes later.
The best feature of this software is that it allows you to easily synchronise your unit with your PC and with geocaching.com. I was able to quickly download my pocket quieries from geocaching.com (I suspect it uses the Geocaching Live API) and then upload into the unit. It even uploaded images from the geocache descriptions.
I’ve since realised that this is by far the best way to get data in and out of the unit, albeit on a PC only. I suppose the big question I have is ‘Why isn’t this software included in the packaging?’ or at least a brightly coloured slip of paper saying ‘Download this software from here NOW’.
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed using this unit and feel that after three months I’ve still only scratched the surface. It’s helped me find a healthy number of geocaches over the summer, and confirmed my suspicions when this unit was first announced that Magellan is back in the game.
For the price (from AU$495), I would have liked to have seen routeable maps included
The downsides of the unit are more than outweighed by the pluses and I would recommend this to anyone looking for a top of the line geocaching capable GPS receiver.
A big thank you to Mitac Australia and Michael Bently from Razor for the loan of the unit (and your patience with this review).
- Packed full of features
- Simple to use geocaching functionality
- Excellent still camera for GPS receiver
- Anchor point doesn’t appear sturdy enough for outdoors
- Start up time can be long
- Video and audio capability embarrassingly bad