A new toy - Garmin eTrex Summit

Garmin eTrex SummitMy latest toy arrived yesterday - a Garmin eTrex Summit GPS. I already have a Garmin 12XL, and although it's an excellent GPS it is a little bulky, and it eats batteries four at a time. As my birthday is coming up, I decided to treat myself to a newer model - Fiona has a eTrex Summit that I'd played with, and I particularly liked the fact that it had an altimeter and a flux-gate electronic compass - very Stargate SG1. The last time I looked for a GPS with a compass built in, the only one that was available was the Silva model, and that cost £ bazillions.

I originally thought about getting one from eBay - what an utter waste of time that was. The Summit retails for about £150, including VAT + P&P, so I thought I might be able to pick one up for about $100-£120 on eBay. Wrong! I bid on two, and on both the price quickly soared above my £112 bid limit. I have no idea why someone would pay £140 + P&P on eBay for something that they could get from a retail outlet for £150. Gary helpfully explained it to me - "They are all stupid", and I think he's probably right. I'm going to put my old 12XL up for sale on eBay - they retail for about £150, so I'm hoping for something in excess of £200.

Mostly I like the eTrex Summit - the smaller size, lightness, half the batteries, a better display, and of course the altimeter and compass. The unit will also hold more waypoints, routes now have a realistic number of points in them, it can can hold multiple track logs - all these things are a definite plus. There are some downsides compared to the 12XL however. Firstly there's no 'Average position' function to increase the accuracy when saving a new waypoint. Secondly it doesn't store waypoint comments - on most of the Garmin consumer units the waypoint names are restricted to just 6 characters, which leads to some very cryptic abbreviations. The 12XL allowed you to store a longer description with the waypoint so that you could check you'd picked the right one - this is missing on the Summit. The third and probably most serious criticism is that once you've stored a waypoint there appears to be no way to update it to your current position. If you've entered a waypoint off a map it may not be 100% accurate or if you marked it in the field you may not have had a particularly good satellite fix, so it's been my practice with the 12XL to update waypoints as I visited them. With the Summit it appears the only way to do this is to delete and re-save the waypoint, which is a pain to say the least. I can't believe Garmin really haven't provided a way to do this, but I can't find anything in either the manual or on the web. Shame.

Another nit is that Garmin changed the connector used for the upload/download cable, so the old one I made for the 12XL no longer fits. The official Garmin cables retail for about £30, and last time round I made my own because of the price, using a connector supplied by someone I found on the web. This time round I bought a ready-made cable for only £12.95 inc VAT + P&P from the most excellent Lynks Cables. I ordered this mid-afternoon and it arrived on my doormat the following morning. They operate on a trust system as far as payment goes - they dispatch the goods and you can either keep them and pay for them or send them back. They offer a wide range of cables for all sorts of applications, and the one I received was a professionally-made cable complete with moulded connectors and a RF choke.

With the aid of the cable it was the work of moments to copy all of my 230+ existing Dark Peak waypoints from the 12XL onto the Summit, using OziExplorer. However - another nit - Garmin have extended the waypoint symbol set in the Summit, and even though some of the symbols are the same on both the 12XL and Summit they have been renumbered so all the symbols end up muddled. Bah. OziExplorer is an excellent software package which allows you to overlay waypoints, routes and track logs on a map (and much, much more besides), so you can manage all the information in your GPS graphically - I consider it to be an indispendable adjunct to my GPS. I've had a copy for 6 years and I've been very happy with it. When I updated it recently I noticed there was a 3-D add-on available. I didn't expect much, but I downloaded it and the free NASA SRTM height data - and I was blown away, it really does make the map match the terrain - I had endless hours of fun plotting places I knew well in 3-D and comparing it to my memory . You can also overlay your GPS data on the rendered map surface. It's still a beta product so it has a few quirks, but I'm very impressed and for less than £18? Amazing. I've subsequently coughed up £20 for some georeferenced and cleaned up SRTM data from Geomantics as some of the features on the raw SRTM data don't align exactly with the map.

Anyway, I will be out on Saturday mapping the next segment of the Bleaklow fence, so I'll get a chance to test out my new toy in earnest.

Categories : Peak District, Tech

Re: A new toy - Garmin eTrex Summit

As the proud owner of a "tried and tested" (i.e. 6 years old) Garmin GPS 12XL, I note that it still has a number of features which are not on the newer models. http://www.garmin.com/products/gps12xl/ These include a "City Point Database" (which shows the locations of numerous major towns and cities throughout the world), and also an audible alarm, which lets you know when you are approaching a given waypoint (i.e. somewhere you are heading for) or a given proximity waypoint (somewhere you are trying to avoid, like the edge of a cliff in misty weather). And there is a three-level backlit display. Erm, that's it. As regards the problem of rechargeable batteries, I've found "Pure Energy" rechargable alkaline batteries (made by a firm in Canada) to be quite good value. Unlike other rechargeables, they don't lose much power if they are left unused, which means they are suitable for equipment such as GPS's that are used only periodically. The also good thing about these batteries is that they will fade gradually instead of cutting out suddenly.