Yet another eTrex Summit

As I documented at length earlier, I bought a Garmin eTrex Summit in October of last year, and had no end of problems with it powering itself off for no apparent reason. Garmin replaced it (twice) and the third unit was OK-ish but still tended to turn itself off occasionally. After an email exchange with Garmin I said I'd try to track down exactly what the problem was. I persevered, and the clincher was when I turned on the inbuilt magnetic compass and the unit immediately turned off - a fresh set of batteries, no low battery warning, it just turned off. Once this had happened a couple of times I felt I had enough information to send a detailed report to Garmin. I'd expected to be told it was a fimware issue and that I'd have to wait for a fix, but I was pleasantly surprised to be told that they were just releasing a new version of the Summit and that they would send me one. I was even more surprised when it turned up a day later! It appears that I've been sent a pre-release unit, as it has features that aren't mentioned yet on the Garmin product page for the Summit. It turns out that Garmin have made a whole bunch of improvements:

  • The biggest change is the addition of support for WAAS (USA) / EGNOS (Europe). This is a satellite-based differential GPS system - basically a network of accurately surveyed ground stations watch the GPS signals, calculate the difference from where the signals says they are and where they really are, send the correction back up to some other satellites which then rebroadcast it so that WAAS/EGNOS-enabled GPS units can use the correction to improve their accuracy. At the moment the European system isn't fully deployed, but when it is it should give a 10x improvement in accuracy - indications are that the accuracy will be around 1 metre.
  • New 'Trip Computer' page which allows you to select 5 fields from a list of 31 to display. The list is very comprehensive - just about every parameter I can think of is covered.
  • When navigating to a waypoint the map page can display a line from where you are now to the destination (as per the older model) or a line from your starting point to the destination. This is the way the GPS12XL works, and it's much more useful as it allows you to easily see if you are wandering left or right from your course.
  • The compass can be turned off as well as on by holding down the PAGE button - on the older model you could only turn it on.
  • The track log can be turned off, and the point collection mode can be set to one of three modes:
    • 'Auto' which has 5 different resolution settings.
    • 'Distance' which allows you to specify the distance between sucessive points.
    • 'Time' which allows you to specify the time between sucessive points.
  • More internal memory, which means the following changes:
    • Waypoints per route up from 50 to 125.
    • Track log points up from 3,000 to 10,000.
    • Points on saved tracks up from 500 per track to 750.
  • The fairly useless Hunt/Fish page found on some of the other eTrex models is now available.
There are a few other minor changes - you can view pressure in hPascals, and they've modified the 'Units' setup screen so that if you select 'British Grid' as the position format you can only have 'Ord Survy GB' as the datum - a common mistake that people make is to set the position format but not select the correct datum, which causes all grid references to be several hundred metres out. The one thing they haven't fixed is that you still can't move an existing waypoint to your current position - this was a very useful feature on the GPS12XL - when EGNOS is deployed I expect to find that many of my waypoints will be inaccurate, and there is no easy way to correct them other than reentering them.

Overall Garmin have made an already impressive and useful GPS even better, and despite my best efforts I haven't managed to get the new one to power itself off, so it looks like they've fixed that problem too. Yay Garmin!

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Categories : Tech