Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Magellan eXplorist 310: Review

The Magellan eXplorist 310

Buying a handlheld GPS unit can be overwhelming, which one is the best? Technology is moving along rapidly and the latest models can do so many cool things. For the uniniated, assessing satellite reception, ergonomics, speed, display quality, and mapping software against all the competing units can just about make your head explode.

You've gotta choose between the industry duopoly of Garmin and Magellan and their pricing scales are almost identical to each other. For instance, the eTrex 10 is Garmin's entry-level unit which retails for around $110 AUS, while the Magellan 110 is equally bulky and unattractive and costs about the same. Like Coles and Woolworths, they monitor each other and price their gear accordingly.

After spending a week doing some due diligence and not being able to separate the two, I decided to go with Megellan for purely aesthetic reasons. My selection method was the same I employ when picking a bottle of wine at a restaruant...second cheapest, please (falling for advertising psychology's oldest trick in the process).

That's how I ended up with the Magellan 310 eXplorist.

A picture is supposed to speak a thousand words. How about three?

Piece of shit.

In fairness to Magellan, my unit had a significant default....it stopped turning on.  A month after buying it brand new I was driving to the start of a 7-day hike and the bastard thing wouldn't turn on.  This greatly limited its usefullness to me.

However, before it died, I made the following notes. Hope they help anyone considering the unit.

  • The 'Vantage Point' mapping software isn't Mac compatible.  Seriously? It was 2013 the last time I checked, Mac penetration into the home computer market stands at between 15-20% so why the hell doesn't Magellan do something about this? The types who buy GPS units are  gadget-loving folk, which probably means the percentage of Mac users who own GPS units is even higher. The point is this - Magellan is saying a big 'Eff You' to a good percentage of its customers.

  • The interface is looks awful...truly awful. The screen is small at 2.2" and the resolution of QVGA, 240 x 320 reminded me of playing old DOS games on my PC as a spotty teenager.
  • The buttons are cramped and the choady little joystick is unresponsive making it hard to navigate with from screen to screen or across the map.
  • Speaking of the map, it looks like a dog's breakfast. I was disappointed with the NSW topographic 'Summit Series' map after spending an additional $50 beans on it.  The colour scheme is such that you can barely distinguish contour lines which are brown from the rest of the green. Oh, and map draw is painfully s-l-o-w.

I figured out too late the most important step when purchasing a GPS unit, and that is to realistically assess what you need the device for.  I still enjoy the whole process of navigating by paper map & compass and would only need a GPS to record trip data for later use at home and to provide UTM coordinates if I got lost (likely).

So, did I really need a colour screen? Did I really need the digital NSW topographic map?

Nope. I should have saved myself a couple hundred bucks and bought the bargain-basement Garmin eTrex 10. It's basic monochrome display would mean quick map draw and better battery life than my 310, and I would still be able to check UTM coordinates while in the bush and upload the trip data onto my (mac) computer when I got home.

Magellan replaced my busted unit with a brand new one, no probs. I suppose now I can sell it on eBay and trade down to the eTrex 10!

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