Saturday, June 11, 2016


Equipment review

When you've owned as many GPSs as I have, and if they're as critical to your work as mine is, and if you use them as much as I do, then you will love or hate yours, or both, as I do mine.

I have a Garmin Oregon 500. When I bought mine 7 years ago, it was more than twice as expensive as any GPS I had ever owned, and I was really excited by the color touch screen and base map, features I'd never had before.

When it arrived, the touchscreen was poorly calibrated, so the instrument systematically miscalculated the position of my finger. I fixed that, but the screen has always been clunky and insensitive. You have to tap it hard to get it to respond. Maybe that's intentional--a feature designed to make the instrument more durable in the field, perhaps--but I've broken a lot of nails using it. Good thing I don't care too much about my manicure.

But the most annoying feature about the model is the organization of the menus. It's very hard to find the command you want. I've always found the intuitiveness of the command interface the most attractive feature of Garmins, which is why I've bought about 15 of them over the years, but with this model they really lost their way.

Actually, the single worst problem with it is that it's nearly impossible to get it to just display the data from a waypoint after you've recorded it. There are  couple of ways to get to the data, but they are really work-arounds and you have to go through a large number of screens to get to right ones.

Another weakness is that it sucks the juice out of batteries like a chimp eating a mango. I could have driven a Tesla to Moscow with all the batteries I've run through.

Also, the chip can come loose if you put it on the dashboard and drive like hell down a dirt road. Fortunately, if you open the back and take out the batteries, you can slide the chip back into its slot.

On the positive side, the damn thing has taken a heck of a beating and still works as well as it ever did. It's been through a hell of a lot of bangs, dings, swamps and scorching heat.

In 2013, it fell of my belt (apparently)--the damn carabiner never wants to hook onto my belt loop and I'm too fat to see whether it's hooked on properly--in a freshly plowed field along the north bank of the Rio Negro here in Chinandega. We were exploring the ancient site of the town of Somotillo, which moved to its current location in the early 1700s. I was getting dizzy from the heat when I realized it was missing--no shade in a plowed field--but I remembered where I had taken the last waypoint, and we went back and, amazingly, found it. Then we waded back across the river to the car, which was parked in the shade. I turned the key and looked at the display on the dash and it said 44 degrees. That's over 110 degree F, in the shade.

Nicaraguans are not joking when they say that Chinandega is the hottest part of the country. I've looked at the NOAA satellite data, and it really is.

So, the Garmin has been whacked, soaked, and fried--everything but breaded and baked--and it's still working.

I should probably name it, but I can't think of anything appropriate, like the name of a drunken sailor.

So, it's time to get a new GPS. I will probably get another Garmin, but my enthusiasm for brand has dipped a little.

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