It is the season to be jolly... well almost and in true Christmas spirit I am really excited to kick of our alternative reviews section with something very special. If you have a loved one (and that includes yourself), that loves getting out and about, this will be of interest to you. Maybe hiking or walking is your thing, or a bit of geocaching, or maybe you like to get out on your mountain bike for a good cross country hack. The Garmin Oregon 400t that I have in my grubby mitts can handle all this and a lot more, so please read on...
In the run up to Christmas, Geekanoids will be bringing you a series of reviews on products that get you out and about. Our very next review is on the Trek 6700 mountain bike, which is where the Oregon 400t got its second outing, the first outing found it on our Specialized steed. This tiny handheld satellite navigation system is beautifully made. Its compact size allows it to fit your hand like a glove, measuring just 5.8 x 11.4 x 3.5 cm. Even with batteries installed, it only just goes over the 200g mark (192.7g without). Whilst out biking I would recommend you have both hands planted firmly on your handlebars. So, Garmin kindly made a really simple, yet effective, bike mount for the device. Once attached to your bike, it is a simple matter of turning on, waiting about 15-20 seconds for it to lock onto a signal and a couple of touches on the screen has it recording your route. The touch screen is wonderfully easy to use and a good resolution too at 240x400 pixels. The screen is a little difficult to read in bright sunlight, so could do with a bit better backlight or maybe a different coating to the screen, but it was certainly not a deal breaker. Finding your way around the device is really easy and if you have ever used a Garmin in-car satnav you will feel instantly at ease. So, whilst concentrating on the riding, the 400t was left to do its thing, constantly updating our speed and elevation. I had a TOPO Great Britain map memory card installed into the device. This is an extra cost (£100) and adds a lot more detail onto the device. I think without it, the 400t is fine for on-road use where the basemap detail is fine, but if you are going for long hikes or off-road biking, then the TOPO is great value and recommended.
Back home and the route was plotted. We have done just over 17 miles and it gave us an insight into our maximum speed, moving time, average, stopped time and overall average speed. We also had access to loads more information such as an Elevation Plot and even a 3D view. If we had a chum with another Oregon we could even wirelessly share the route. At the base of the device you have a rubber flap that reveals a USB connection. So, onto my trusty Mac and I downloaded the relevant drivers. It was a little confusing as to what I needed, but 30 minutes saw me a happy camper. I started with Route Buddy, which showed my route on-screen, albeit on a rather basic map. To get a more detailed map into Route Buddy I would have to buy a TOPO map DVD, so I looked for another solution. Garmin suggested MapMyRide, which is a cool website and free to register and use. I transferred my route to the website and overlayed the Google Hybrid Satellite view and voila, this is what I needed (see screenshot). What I could do from here is save my route and/or edit it, or even create a new route and then push it back onto the 400t. I could also use the web-based workout calculator, which sort of turns my mapping oriented 400t into a fitness device too.
With a route planned and back on the 400t, it was out on the road again. Touching the GO button, I was guided around my route. There are no turn-by-turn voice prompts, but then this is not a car based device, it is really for walking with. It got rained upon with a few showers and a bit muddy, but worked flawlessly. A quick wipe down with a damp cloth brought the Oregon 400t back to its former glory. Having been used for about eight hours constantly, the battery level had not even moved, so I imagine 20/25 hours of use will be easily achievable. The fact that this unit runs on two standard AA batteries makes it very easy to pick up new ones if you are on holiday. I will update this review once the device runs out of juice. The screenshot to the left shows the main screen that appears when you first turn the unit on. Lovely large icons mean that it is easy to use, even with gloves on. You can clearly see the battery meter, along with the satellite signal strength just below.
The Garmin Oregon 400t is not a cheap device, though there are other models further down the range. What it does offer though is a wealth of very useful features. Other than those already mentioned, you get a compass, image viewer, dedicated geocaches function, route planner (actually on the 400t), area calculation, calculator, alarm clock, stopwatch and some other features that would make this list just too extensive. It really is the ultimate handheld satellite navigation system. It is waterproof, rugged and so well made and thought out, that it is worth every penny.
In a couple of weeks we will be bringing you a review of the Garmin Edge 705, which is bike specific, so keep an eye on Geekanoids for this exciting review.
Thanks to Rob for his invaluable input in this review, it was very helpful and important to have the views of an experienced rider.