A geocaching friend asked me how the Garmin Oregon compares to the venerable 60Csx. After about three paragraphs on Google Plus, I thought it would be worth just writing up my highly-opinionated treatise as a blog entry. Lucky you.
A quick glance at the units’ specifications directly from the manufacturer…
60Csx Oregon 450 Display (w x h, pixels) 160×240 240×400 Battery life (theoretical, hours) 18 16 Geocaches + child waypoints 1000 2000 Compass 2D 3D Expansion miniSD miniSD Geocache types supported One1 All
1As “geocaches.” However, by using software-fu, one can load these as waypoints (which we all do), and use Find -> Waypoint instead of Find -> Geocache. The latter is not a particularly useful function.
… and my unofficial addendum:
60Csx Oregon 450 Geocaches + child waypoints 1000 ~40001 Battery life (system defaults, fresh Costco alkaline AA)2 14+ 5 Battery life (power saving tricks, Enerloop NiMH AA)3 did not test 9 Compass Useless Useful Geocache Name Length 14 characters 200+ characters Geocache Description length 30 characters. No logs. 2000 characters. Rudimentary formatting (bold, italic) in content. Lots o’ logs.
Adding pictures is as easy as capturing a unicorn, which is to say I can’t fucking figure it out.
Screen brightness Excellent. The unit is visible in full sunlight. For most use, you do not need backlight. The map stays on all the time. In full sunlight, adequate without backlighting. Since I rarely have full sunlight, I use 50% backlighting when I’m actively doing something. At its highest setting, it’ll burn your retinas. Okay, not really, that’s just the batteries screaming. The 450 is a huge improvement over the earlier Oregon models’ brightness, which I considered “Awful.”
1Engineering forgot to tell marketing that the number is much higher! In practice, most of us use a third-party program (GSAK) to manage our caches, especially puzzles and updated coordinates. The Oregon 450 will theoretically hold up to 5,000 geocaches. In practice, if there is ample memory, you can load ~3500 (including child waypoints, attributes, and 5 logs). Beyond that, or if there is insufficient space, Weird Shit (TM) may occur. Sometimes. Firmware changes trade one symptom for another.
2Completely unscientific field testing during a day of geocaching with FrodoB and PhilNi. The first few times I went out with the Oregon, I’d run out of batteries just after lunch.
3Backlight at 50% intensity with a timeout of 15 seconds, Battery Save enabled (which shuts off the screen after a period of non-use), map orientation “North Up.” Sanyo Eneloop batteries work very well for this application. If they’re claiming 16 hours of battery life, maybe these should be the default settings?
The biggest benefit is being able to store several thousand caches with descriptions, hints and previous logs. (Wife sends me to Ikea for more üm̈läǖẗ furniture? No problem, I’ve got caches I can pick up after my Swedish Meatball Bender.) The 3D compass is also functional. Given how much I’ve geocached, and the price I found it on sale, I feel it’s worth the upgrade.
This is a listing of nearby geocaches. On the right, the view I see in my 60Csx, using the waypoint hack to display more than one cache type. A side effect of doing this is I see a lot of parking spots and intermediate waypoints.
From my scant time into geocaching, it’s obvoius the manufacturers push units out the door before the units are ready. When I looked at a Delorme PN-40, their geocaching functions weren’t even there. The initial release of the Oregon 450 lacked support multi-caches. For this reason, I would avoid buying a unit that has been released in the last six months.
With touch screen navigation, you’re a slave to the programmer’s idea of the user interface. If the developers operate in a vacuum, insulated from actual end users, the result is a frustrating interface with extra clicks that a simple, physical button on the 60CSx accomplished.
Consider the example where you’re going after a multicache that’s spread out a bit. Here’s how the multi cache works from clicking:
Geocaches -> Find Geocache -> Duthie Hill MTB -> Go
[x] -> (scroll down 1 screen) -> Enter Next Stage -> (enter the coordinates)
With the 60Csx, we would have just modified the coordinates of the cache we’re navigating to. On the Oregon, we’ve added a new waypoint called… “Next Stage.” Well, that’s not ideal, but I suppose it’ll work. Hey, wait, right across the trail, there’s another multi cache. Let’s pick it up!
[x] -> Geocaches -> (scroll down 1 screen) -> Find Another -> Under the Big M -> Go
When we find it, claim success than get back to where we were:
[x] -> Geocaches -> log attempt -> Found (being optimistic here) -> Find another
WTF, where did WP2 for Duthie Hill MTB go? After being bitten by this a few times, we devised a workaround: after entering the waypoint coordinates, we’d drop a map point then edit the map point. What’s a dozen more clicks among friends?
[x] -> Geocaches -> Description -> Click on the pin icon to save a waypoint -> OK -> click on the pencil icon to edit -> Change Name (to something other than “next stage”) -> [edit this] -> [checkbox] -> Change Symbol -> … throw unit on ground?
When the unit is powered up, it looks in a specific directory for new geocache (*.gpx) files to load. Typically, there will be one large file containing a ~4000 of caches in my stomping grounds. I had mentioned “weird things” happening when one loads a lot of geocaches onto the unit – these include it hanging (seems to have been fixed in the most recent hardware) or caches randomly being ignored. Through trial and error, we estimate that 3500 is about the largest bunch you can add.
One aspect I really hate is Garmin has chosen to lock maps to a specific unit, meaning any time you buy a new one, you have to repurchase the same stuff. Furthermore, the upgrade path for handhelds is retarded: have the 2011 POIs and want to get the new ones? Buy the new set at retail price. Want topos? Buy the new set at retail price. In other words, there’s no subscription like there is for the Nuvis. This is annoying enough that I have sought out alternatives. Since most of my geocaching is in the Washington/Oregon area, I have an excellent trail map set available. And better topos.
An interesting business question is at what point will phone units surpass dedicated GPS units in functionality? Using my iPhone and Geosphere, I can easily load my entire database (~10,000 geocaches, including about 500+ solved-but-unfound puzzles), their logs, attributes) and pictures embedded in the cache page. Supplementing that with Geocaching.com’s app, I also get instant access to new caches and any other photos I couldn’t immediately download.
What prevents me from using this all the time are limitations of the phone. First, the GPS takes a while to settle down, as I alluded to in my puzzle cache. It’s not a huge problem if the person placing it chose a reasonable area and measured well… but there remains ample evidence they don’t always do so. Second, battery life of the phone is terrible with the GPS on all the time. Finally, dropping the phone into a river/the mud/snow/down a ravine — all places my handheld has been — is going to cause more heartaches because it is in no way immune to these elements. An Otter Box and carabiner clip would help.