|Name||Outdoor GPS: Garmin Oregon 550|
|At a glance:||Highly rugged and waterproof up ,to one metre,Ships without detailed topo or ,road maps,Camera allows quick bookmarking of locations|
|Summary:||An ideal GPS for the outdoor enthusiast, though pricey once you've factored in the maps.|
|RRP:||$868 (GPS), $235 (AU/NZ Topographical Maps), $251 (AU/NZ City Navigator Maps)|
The Oregon 550 from Garmin is an outdoor GPS unit with an integrated 3.2 megapixel camera.
Rated IPX7, the Oregon 550 can withstand immersion in water at a depth of one metre, for 30 minutes. Drop it in a steam, and it'll be fine. Take it out in the kayak and get it soaked? Equally okay. Keep it clipped to your belt while swimming or diving? Probably not the best of ideas, and you're unlikely to get GPS reception underwater in any event.
The Oregon 550 comes loaded with a worldwide map, which includes very basic topographical and roading details. Not enough to navigate by, either in the bush or on the road. For either, you're going to need an additional map, which you can purchase for download or pre-loaded on a microSD card that slots right into the GPS.
If you decide to take the download route, note that the combined topographical maps for Australia and New Zealand ($235) are around 2.7GB in size, while the Oregon 550 only has 850MB of internal memory. You're going to need a blank microSD card to load your new maps on to, anyway.
Garmin's 'City Navigator' series of street maps ($251) are far smaller, and will fit on the device without requiring a card. However, this isn't a GPS ideal for road navigations – it lacks spoken directions, doesn't ship with a windshield mount or power cable, and is really ideal for off-road and marine applications.
Camera quality is not, by any stretch of the imagination, great. However, this is not a device intended to capture your most precious memories. The 550's camera is, in fact, a clever bookmarking feature for landmarks you'd like to return to.
Instead of spending time creating a waypoint, just snap a photo of your campsite, that perfect spot to catch the sunrise, or wherever you parked your car. The photo is automatically geo-tagged, and the 550 will let you navigate back to that spot just by calling up the photo. Easy? Definitely. Quick? Far more so than entering “parking lot” or even “car” via the on-screen interface.
Battery life is up to 16 hours, depending on the type of battery in use. The 550 takes two standard AA batteries, and comes with a pair of NiMH batteries and a charger. For longer life or battery changes in the field, alkaline or lithium disposable batteries will also work just fine.
If you're going to hit the trails this coming summer (or traipse through the snow in what's left of winter), the Oregon 550 is a great device to have clipped to the back of your pack. Just remember to carry a regular map and compass as backups: the 550 isn't entirely indestructible, and batteries can run flat.
Outdoor vs. Smartphone & On-Road GPS
With a few exceptions (Nokia’s Maps and TomTom’s iPhone GPS package come to mind), the GPS in your smartphone relies on a constant connection to the internet to provide maps. If you’re out in the bush or on a boat beyond cell reception, that’s not going to be much help (and could quickly get rather expensive).
In-car GPS devices store their maps internally, but generally have a short battery life as they’re designed to run from your car’s power supply.
Dedicated outdoor GPS units may not use maps at all, and simply provide your location in longitude and latitude or another common coordinate system for use with a printed map. Higher-end units can be loaded with whatever topographical (height-relief), marine (depth-relief) and road maps you need, for whatever outdoor activities you’re planning.
Outdoor devices are also designed with toughness in mind, and some extremely rugged GPS units are available for land and marine use.