I have a true love of gadgetry, especially where it’s some type of mult-function device that allows usage on its own, but also transports your information to a home computer as well or has some extended versatility in some other way. That’s what led me to my acquisition of the Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx. A primary example of what I’m talking about with regard to a multi-function device is my almost three year old Verizon Wireless XV6700 Windows Mobile Phone. First, and foremost, it’s a phone. Then it’s a phone that’s really a computer with cool programs to listen to and watch media, manage your contacts, and host your personal calendar of appointments and events. Beyond that, you can get a data plan and that’s where it really gets interesting. You can not only surf the internet, you can hook the phone up to your laptop and use it as a broadband modem sucking down EVDO packets at a very quick clip. Pretty good so far, right? Add a couple of more programs, and we’re running pro photography software on it including slideshows, calculating job estimates, and uploading files via FTP to my website. No kidding. I was amazed when I found out that I could upload and download files from my website and could instantly make changes on the site without being at home on my computer. Incredible.
Here, lately, both the Windows Mobile Phone and my Dell Axim 51V have been serving yet another purpose for me. I’ve recently moved further out in the country and can’t get a good enough cell signal to make and take phone calls. I really didn’t want to add a land line since I haven’t had one for years, so I found the answer in running Skype 2.2 Mobile on the two portable devices I mentioned. I can take my Verizon Wireless phone, turn off the cell phone signal mode, turn on the Wi-Fi mode, and use my 802.11G Wi-Fi network at home to make phone calls over the internet. I can even do this with my Dell Axim X51V PDA, which was never intended to be used as a phone!
That kind of multi-faceted context is what I’m talking about when it comes to loving specific kinds of gear. One such example of that context and current technology trends is GPS hand-held devices. Several years ago, I picked up a GPS device from Magellan, and it was OK. It had a black and white screen, and it was pretty much up to date technology back then, but it didn’t really grab me. It wasn’t until almost two years ago when I took a trip to Yellowstone that I discovered the real potential and joy of GPS devices. I had done all the requisite research for the trip, and found that I would probably be driving close to six thousand miles during the whole adventure. I wanted a way to be able to document that and record it. That’s when I purchased a GPS receiver and software from Garmin to install on my Dell E1505 laptop.
I was like a kid at Christmas during the whole trip every time I was in the driver’s seat. I had the laptop mounted where I could see it from my seat, and it was just the neatest thing for me to see that little arrow moving across that large screen in pace with my journey across America. It was live and in color, and I was sold!Once I had finished the trip and pulled up all my waypoints and routes during my trip, I was fascinated by the potential uses for GPS technology. It was then that I decided I had to have a portable model to keep with me while I was on foot. One of the most pressing reasons is that I do a lot of outdoor photography, and I wanted to be able to record the coordinates of the different pictures that I took. That way, I could map out those areas for other photographers and I could keep a record for myself should I ever want to return to one of those areas. So, the search began, but after a couple of weeks of intensive study, I found out that I didn’t have to go that far at all to get the model that I thought was the best buy on the market. It, too, was made by Garmin, and it’s the GPSMAP 60CSx.
At the time that I made this purchase it was their flagship model and it’s just barely hanging on to its title. It’s tough to improve on the specs that this little beauty offers, but it looks as though Garmin will be introducing devices later this year that have touch screens and can wirelessly exchange waypoints and other data with other similar devices. Just like anything else, there are a diverse range of specifications you can get for GPS hand-helds, and there are different types of models on the market. You can get a cheaper model that’s a basic receiver with little functionality, or you could get a top-end model that allows for extensive versatility and top-grade build quality, yet retains huge value for the money. That’s just what you get right now with the 60CSx. While the upcoming models look very attractive and do have a couple of extra "technology touches" like the wireless data exchange and touch screen, I don’t know that it’s worth a couple hundred dollars more for just those features. There’s nothing vital there that gives me what I need beyond the 60CSx, but we’ll wait and see when they hit the market. You never know, we might be surprised. There are a huge range of features and specifications for the 60CSx model, and I won’t list every one here in this article. You can visit Garmin’s site for all of that information. What I am going to discuss are all the high points, the benefits, and how I’ve integrated the 60CSx into my "outdoors" and "indoors" worlds.
Right off the bat, one of the best selling points of the 60CSx is the WAAS Enabled functionality. In the old days of GPS, you got a fairly decent plot of your position, within about 10-15 meters. But, with WAAS enabled devices, you can get to within three meters accurate over 95% of the time. And, that’s for civilian devices! In layman’s terms, WAAS is a land-based error-correction system that has stations all the United States. It monitors Global Positioning Systems and makes corrections that occur due to orbital drift of satellites, timing, and interference from the ionosphere. Essentially, two master ground stations collect information from other reference ground stations and formulates correction messages for satellites orbiting overhead. This precise position information used to not be available to citizens, but was recently authorized for civilian use by the federal government. WAAS enabling provides a significant advantage by plotting a more precise position point to be used by photographers, drivers, hikers, boaters, and geo-cachers.
The 60CSx runs on two AA batteries. You can use Alkaline, Lithium, and rechargeable batteries to power the unit. You can go into the menus and set what type of battery you are using to allow for an accurate battery life meter while using the hadheld. The handheld runs for approximately 18 hours on two fresh AA batteries, a little longer with the lithium type. The advantage for the lithium batteries is the true shelf-life of approximately ten years in case you keep the GPS in storage for emergency use. However, for a long-term situation where you might need the 60CSx, use of rechargeable AA batteries would be of great benefit since one can acquire portable solar recharging panels like those provided by Brunton to carry along with it.
The 60CSx has a 256 color TFT screen. It is waterproof, and also comes with a USB interface to transport information to and from a personal computer (more on this later). Its dimensions are 2.4" x 6.1" x 1.3" (6.1 x 15.5 x 3.3 cm). One of the very nice features of the hand-held is that you can expand its memory through the use of microSD cards which are installed underneath the AA batteries in the back of the unit. Right now, I am using five different 2GB micro SD cards that contain different maps to utilize depending on where I’m at and what I’m doing. These maps can be purchased directly from Garmin and loaded onto the microSD cards. For instance, I have two cards that split the United States up east and West of the Mississippi River using the Mapsource Topo U.S. 2008 software. I use that software while I’m driving or hiking. So, if I’m driving out west, once I cross the Mississippi river, I can just pop in the second microSD card for the western half of the United States. The other three microSD cards are for U.S. National Parks–East, Central, and West, and provides much greater detail with their 1:24,000 scale comparable (according to Garmin’s website) to paper maps provided by the USGS. These particular maps mark points of interest specific to the parks you are in and the amenities provided by the park as well. The 60CSx is very intuitive to use and I actually had it out and figuring out its functions before I even thoroughly read the manual. Without the manual, you could get by with this device with its basic function buttons and interface. It’s quite simple to figure out the main functions of the device just by looking at the buttons on the front of the unit.
The function buttons are arranged in a horseshoe configuration around a center directional scroll button. From the top left around the horseshoe, the buttons include In, Find, Mark, Quit, Enter, Menu, Page, and Out. In and Out are the left and right ends of the horsehoe and are easy to figure–they are the zoom features of the display. Find gives you a few options to locate Waypoints, a Geocache, Cities, Exits, Marine Reference points, and so forth. Mark is easy just from the name. Hit that button and you can mark your current position by either allowing the unit to automatically name that position or you can scroll through a keypad to create your own name. Quit takes you out of the current function you are using. Enter lets you drill down into options and make selections. The Menu button lets you quickly customize settings for the current page that you’re on, and if you hit the Menu button again while in that mode, it will take you to the main menu where you can do more extensive work in the back end of the device. The Page button does exactly what it sounds like, it lets you page through different functions of the device. I was able to quickly make my way through the device by using these buttons on the face of the unit, and when I was done, I felt like I already had a good feel for how the device worked even without reviewing the manual. It’s that simple.
- Satellite Page which shows the horizon and plots up to 12 different satellites’ orbits relative to your position.
- Trip Computer which includes an odometer, speedometer, moving time, moving time average, stopped time, and elevation.
- You have the actual color map page which draws out your position (indicated by a carat) and the surrounding man-made and geographical features depending on how far you have zoomed in or out.
- Compass page which includes a speedometer, distance to next point in your route, ETA to next point, and time to next point based on your average travel time. More importantly, it also has the electronic compass that the 60CSx boasts.
- The Altimeter page keeps track of your current elevation, max elevation, and total ascent distance as well. It also plots out a vertical graph that scroll across the screen as you move and plots your elevation on that graph during each particular moment.
- The Main menu page has several graphical icons that let you drill deeper into the software. The incons include Tracks, Routes, Highway, Setup, Proximity, Calendar, Calculator, Stopwatch, Sun and Moon, Hunt and Fish, and Games.
The last page, Main Menu, is the most complicated and it will take some time for you to familiarize yourself with all the functions that this unit can perform. For instance, you can plot a coordinate and once we’re within a certain distance of that coordinate, you can be notified audibly by the proximity alarm. The Sun and Moon page lists the current time, sunset and sunrise time, and moonrise and moonset time for each day at your current position. It also has a little video (for lack of a better word) that shows the movement of the sun throughout the day across the horizon graphic on the screen. The Routes screen allows you to save create your own routes to locations by stringing together waypoints that you have entered along the way.
Once you go into the Setup Menu on the Main menu page, you’ll find even more functions that allow you to customize the system, your display, the interface made for the unit (i.e mass storage device for PC to store data, or straight interface), audible tones, routing and mapping preferences, and it has a geocaching page for those of you into that outdoors activity. The 60CSx is also Blue Chart compatible, and has a Marine page within the Setup area that allows you to set an Anchor Drag Alarm, Off Course Alarm, Deep Water Alarm, and a Shallow Water Alarm. Still not enough for you? The next time you take off with your Spec-Ops group to run a mission and your point of ingress is via a parachute jump, you can use the Jumpmaster function on the 60CSx that allows you to set the Jump Type (i.e. HAHO, HALO, or Static), and it lets you set other necessary data such as Desired Impact Point, Forward Throw and Course To HARP. Of course, if you ask me what all that means I won’t be able to tell you because I have never jumped out of a perfectly good airplane and I am not a ninja Jumpmaster. However, I can tell you that this unit is loaded with features that will keep you busy for days on end. If you don’t to use any of these functions, that’s fine. The 60CSx is still simple to use without all the back-end functionality, but it’s there if you want it or need it. My most heart-felt fondness for this unit has to do with its ability to interface with a home computer. Simply plug the included USB cord into the unit and then hook it up to your home computer. Once done, open the included computer mapping software and you can then transfer all your information in the hand-held straight to your computer to get a larger view and for future storage. It doesn’t get any better than that. Well, it almost doesn’t. I’ll clarify later.
The mapping software Garmin provides is called "Mapsource" and will integrate the data from your device and plot it on whatever type of compatible map you choose (i.e. topo, street, etc.) from Garmin on your home computer. This gives you the ability to sit back, drink a cup of coffee, and see a nice shot of the territory you covered on a large monitor. You can remove any waypoints that you like with simple editing, and you can add labels and icons to each of your specific waypoints to create a more customized and "readable" map for you and others. If you’ll click on the sample map provided, you can see some of the various icons you can plot on the map. Caution!! Only a few of these coordinates are real sites. A lot of the icons are oriented around driving and include symbols for things like gas stations, churches, schools, zoos, and so forth. But, there are also a number of icons available for your adventures on foot. There are icons for hunting, swimming, geocaching, and more. Once you’re finished with viewing and customizing your map, you can then save it as a file for later reference. One thing I’ve enjoyed doing while using this unit and software is sharing that information with friends and on web pages. There’s a piece of software that I use to do this. It’s called SnagIt by TechSmith. It will allow you to capture whatever is currently up on your monitor by a simple drag and select method. Once you’ve selected what you want to capture, SnagIt will snip that portion out and create an image file of it in the format of your choice (i.e. JPG, TIF, etc.). You can then email the picture file to your friends or post it on a website to share with others. SnagIt is the software I used for this article to create the screen shots from Mapsource on my computer.
Either on the 60CSx or in the MapSource software, you can use the individual Waypoints that you mark to create your own routes for future reference. Aside from your own custom routes, the 60CSx also automatically records what it calls "tracks". If you’ll reference the attached image with this paragraph you can see that the "tracks" between the two blue flags look a little like footprints on a trail. Its’ a great way while driving or hiking to keep record of where you’ve been, and it’s a function that will help you find your way back if you get lost or turned around. Recently, I did an editorial about the two girls that got lost while out backpacking in Alaska. My thoughts in that article centered around the fact that with today’s technology, there’s very little reason for people to get into such situations. This map is an example of how technology could help someone find their way back–not to mention other technology like Personal Locator Beacons or even just a compass and map and the skill to use them. However, the number of people that get lost continues to surprise me every day when I see the next news article expressing a family’s distress over the "vanishing" of one their family members. I just don’t understand it.
It’s hard for me to detail all the ways I have integrated this device into my life. It goes with me when I’m out taking pictures so I can mark good scenic views or areas where I’ve found interesting wildlife. I use it while I’m out driving around to register landmarks or other interesting places to remember in the future. I keep it with me on the trail to mark things like waterfalls, water sources, or good camping spots. It’s a nice device to have along in all the mentioned areas for other interesting information like sunrise and sunset times, elevation, and so forth. I’ve used the calculator on the device, but it’s actually quicker to use the one on my Windows Mobile phone or Dell Axim PDA. But, the stopwatch has come in very handy on numerous occasions as I am often remiss in wearing a watch. It’s a great recreation device and very accurate when out geocaching for the day, and along those lines, if you decide to stash some of your own treasure, it’s the perfect device to take with you. Now, when I’m on a cross-country drive, I’ll admit that I still use my laptop with the Garmin GPS receiver (also WAAS enabled) hooked up via USB. That’s because there’s a lot of screen real estate on the laptop and it’s easier for me to quickly glance at the laptop screen to see what I need rather than focus on the smaller display on the 60CSx while driving–not recommended.
Remember when I said it doesn’t get any better than that back near the beginning of the article? Well, as far as straight GPS devices goes, I pretty much meant it. But, Garmin has another device that we are interested in taking a look at because it promises some other features that would come in handy during family outings and emergencies. It’s the Garmin Rino® 530HCx. This device combines the accurate WAAS enabled GPS device with a GMRS radio that has a range of up to 14 miles. In addition, it also houses a NOAA weather radio. Not only will the 530HCx plot your position on the display with the GPS functionality, it will also show you the position of other people in your party who are using another such device. What a great product to have when you’ve got a group out hiking or camping! Not only can you talk to them over a distance, you can also see their position on your own display. And, if the weather gets hairy, you can tune in to the weather station and see what’s coming your way. To me, this concept is truly a must-have in emergency situations if it functions as promised. As mentioned, it is WAAS enabled and it is Blue Chart compatible as well. One difference that the 503HCx has from the 60CSx is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. I am always a little leery of proprietary batteries in devices because if something goes wrong, it’s nice to stop by the local grocery store and pick up a couple of AA batteries which are available everywhere. Fortunately, Garmin sells an accessory alkaline battery pack you can use instead of the lithium-ion battery pack. Nice touch. We will be in touch with Garmin to see if we can get a closer look at this model and determine whether it delivers on the specs that it promises. If it does, you’ll be the first to know!
I cannot recommend a device more highly than the Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx. It sports a vast number of features and functions that will keep you busy and entertained for days on end. The build quality is fantastic and includes a waterproof housing for those times you’re outside in inclement weather. The batttery life is very strong with at least 18 hours of run time on just two AA batteries. Its functionality and memory is expandable to as many microSD cards as you care to acquire to keep all the maps you want to have of places ’round the world. If you’re itching for an adventure, just get up and go. It’s out there for awaiting your discovery. Just remember to take the 60CSx with you to mark the spot when you actually find it and want to return again.