The Outdoor Retailer show was a great show to attend if, for nothing else, the variety of the products that are available for outdoors folks. It was a very hectic experience, because this show is where the companies conduct a lot of their sales business for the coming six months to a year. A lot of the products that we looked at and got information about won’t even be on the shelves until next spring. Even so, it’s great to get a look that far ahead so you know what’s coming, and you can start saving money for all the new fun toys that are coming your way. However, there are some of those great toys already available, and on of those is the Oregon line of GPS units from Garmin. While this isn’t a brand new system just hitting the shelves, having the chance to play with it and have it demonstrated gave us a good understanding of all of its features, and that gave us a general idea of the system that served as the platform for their newest entries into the GPS market–the Dakota 10 and Dakota 20.
The Oregon unit that we played with was the 550T, with the “T” standing for Topo. All Oregon units have the new touch screen technology, but the T models have the addition of the 100K topo maps preinstalled on the unit. We had a chance to use the interface, and it was very snappy and responsive. Personally, I have a Garmin 60CSx, and I believe the touch interface was actually a bit quicker than what I experience with my unit, and I love the 60CSx! Aside from some of the newer common features such as being WAAS enabled, setting routes, waypoints, and getting other environmental data, the Oregon 550T also has the capability of sending some of that information to other compatible GPS units via a wireless connection between the two. It’s a great way to share routes and positions with friends, family members, and even for use with groups of rescue personnel. It’s a great piece of innovation that moves GPS technology forward another step.
It seems that almost every new piece of technology includes a digital camera, and the Oregon 550t is no different. Normally, I don’t use the digital camera feautre on phones or PDA’s that I use. If it’s worth taking a picture of, I want to use dedicated photography equipment. However, the benefit of using the digital camera with the 550T is that once you take the picture, you can then geo-tag it and save that information to be displayed later when the photos is viewed. That’s handy if you want to keep a lake or a particular area of a park or forest in mind to visit later. The picture can serve as a visual cue to help your memory and then you can refer to the location date to find that spot again.
The Dakota 10 and Dakota 20 models are entry level units based on the new touch screen platform. The main difference between the two models the the Oregon line is the Dakotas are more compact and don’t have man of the bells and whistles of the 550T, but they share most of the new technology. Differences between the Dakota 10 and 20 are bascially small features like the electronic compass, audible alerts, etc. But, as entry level units the Dakota line really packs a lot of features into a great price range. You’ve still got (depending on model) the high-sensitivity receiver, touch screen interface, 3 axis electronic compass, barometric altimeter, micro SD compatability and the wireless sharing capability as well. Given the quality I’ve experienced personally with two previous Garmin units of my own, I have no doubt that these new units will perform just as well, and provide a lot more features than were available on similary priced systems in the past. Just the few minutes I spent with the touch screen units impressed me very much, and we’ve already requested a demo unit to do a complete and thorough review. But from first impressions, I think we’ll be very pleased with how the Oregon and Dakota lines perform. These are certainly units that should be at the top of your list if you’re considering a new GPS handheld product.
Not stopping there, Garmin has also developed an even more compact GPS system that incorporates a lot of tracking tools for people that engage in active sports such as running, biking, and so forth. Their new Forerunner 310XT is a GPS enabled system that is worn like a watch, albeit a slightly large watch. But, given the number of features included in the 310XT, the slight bit of extra size over a regular watch is well worth it. Besides being able to track distance, pace, and heart rate, it is also waterproof to 50 meters, so it can also be used by swimmers as well! Using a high sensitivity GPS receiver like their larger units, the 310XT also has the new Hot Fix satellite prediction software that allows it to connect quickly to satellites which results in a greater degree of accuracy with the information that is tracked and logged and faster start-up times. If you’re really into getting detailed information while you’re on the move, there is also an optional wireless heart monitor that can record that information and also provides advanced computations related to calorie burn. It may look a bit Inspector Gadget, but the future is here, and you can have all the tools you need to get the best workout possible outdoors and sync all the information with your computer to track your progress each day. Great stuff!