The latest crop of handheld GPS units combines real-world utility for the hunter or angler with cutting-edge technology, all in the palm of your hand. Here are the latest, greatest GPS gizmos.
When the Global Positioning Satellite system opened to civilian use 25 years ago, the concept of devices that could lead average citizens to and from any point on the globe seemed as fantastic as the gizmos alien invaders brandished in 1950s sci-fi films. However, hunters and anglers quickly overcame their awe and embraced the new technology, wandering farther afield than ever as they digitally bookmarked remote game trails and fishing hotspots.
The first handheld devices delivered users within 100 yards of their destinations, but as the system's constellation of orbiting satellites grew more sophisticated, so did the earthbound machines that swap data with them. Accuracy is now measured within a meter or two rather than hundreds of feet.
Handheld GPS units continue to evolve, and this year's offerings from four top manufacturers, described in the following sections, emphasize two important trends: customizable map content and functionality blended from other devices, such as portable music players.
Magellan's Triton 2000 is the Swiss Army knife of this year's crop of handheld GPS units. Its designers loaded a camera, LED flashlight, audio recorder, MP3 player and digital photo viewer into a package that weighs a half-pound (without batteries) while also programming it with easy-to-use software for basic GPS functions.
"You can document your experiences with this device," explained Triton product manager Eric Waters. "A deer hunter can make a waypoint on a map, take a picture of the deer he killed there and record his feelings at that moment, then play it all back later on his PC."
The Triton 2000 comes with maps of all 50 states, but most owners will head to www.magellangps.comto buy and download maps for areas they hunt and fish. It also displays National Geographic's line of TOPO! maps (www.natgeomaps.com) and accepts SD cards pre-loaded with maps or navigational charts from Magellan and other vendors. Free software transfers data to and from the device to a PC, where users can edit, store and share it.
Storage for still and moving images from the 2-megapixel camera and audio files depends on the SD card you use (up to 4MB). Users touch the 2.7-inch color screen (320 x 240 pixels) or use an optional stylus to negotiate simple menus. Other features include a USB cable, electronic compass, barometer and audio jack for headphones. The Triton 2000 runs for 10 hours on two AA batteries and meets the IXP-7 waterproofing standard. For more information, see www.magellangps.com.
Lowrance's new XOG Cross-Navigation GPS unit fulfills the needs of many users by blending GPS functionality with features found in other devices. The rectangular shape of the pocket-sized XOG (pronounced "zog") stands out among its telephone handset-shaped competitors: "It's a crossover device, designed for use on the road, off road or on the water, something you can mount in your car, throw in your backpack or shove in your pocket," spokesman Andrew Golden said.
The XOG arrives with street-level maps of the U.S. and Canada and a database with 3 million points of interest, but most of its memory capacity awaits user-selected content. Lowrance mimics the music industry's latest distribution model at www.mapselect.com, where owners buy and download aerial and satellite photos, U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps and Bureau of Land Management maps for Western states through XOG's USB connection. Additional maps of public land for hunters, lakes with depth contours for fishermen and lists of available fish and wildlife species, are available in pre-loaded SD cards from various vendors.
Following the trend to blend multiple functions into a single device, the XOG plays MP3 audio files and audible driving directions through a built-in speaker and displays digital photos on a 3 1/2-inch (320 x 240 pixel) LCD touch-screen. It has a built-in, rechargeable Lithium-ion battery and comes with a vehicle mounting bracket, power adapter, mini-USB cable and one-year warranty. XOG meets the IXP-4 standard, meaning it continues to operate when splashed with water. For more information, see www.lowrance.com.
Because the weather often determines the outcome of its customers' outdoors adventures, Bushnell added a satellite radio receiver to its new ONIX 400 GPS unit. With a subscription to XM Satellite Radio's NavWeather package, it displays animated Doppler radar -- the same data your local TV weatherman uses -- over maps or satellite photos.
"Fishing and hunting are better before a storm, but getting caught outside unprepared can be life-threatening," Bushnell spokesman Dennis Phillips said.
As an XM Satellite Radio receiver, the ONIX 400 can supply subscribers with a wide array of programming, including special sports and entertainment channels for Bushnell owners. "If the huntin
g is slow, you can put on your earphones and get any of the 178 XM entertainment channels," Phillips added.
Buyers receive four free downloads of satellite images or aerial photographs to supplement built-in maps of the U.S. and Canada. Following the music industry's model for selling tunes over the Web, Bushnell offers images that represent 3/4-square-mile blocks at www.bushnellgps.com for about $1 each, or a $30 annual subscription buys unlimited downloads. Settings for maps include statute miles for topographic maps or nautical miles for saltwater charts.
The 12-ounce device includes a 3 1/2-inch full-color LCD screen (320 x 240 pixels), USB connection and the Safetrack system, which can eke up to 32 hours out of its rechargeable Lithium-ion battery. The outer shell can keep water out for a half-hour if the ONIX 400 is dunked in 3 feet of water -- which meets international standards. For more information, see www.bushnell.com/gps.
Garmin's Colorado handheld GPS device is a good fit for folks who operate portable music players with a thumbwheel. With its new wheel control, most functions can be performed one-handed.
The Colorado's three models are based on extensive, pre-loaded cartography. The 400t's topographic maps of the U.S. suit hunters and hikers, while anglers appreciate the 400i's navigable rivers and inland lakes, including depth contours and ramps. For saltwater anglers, the 400c displays charts for the coastal U.S. and Bahamas. An SD card slot receives cards with pre-loaded maps from www.garmin.com or other sources.
A special feature is the wireless transfer of GPS data to a matching unit. "Let's say you're fishing with Dad and you've marked a hotspot and decide to let your uncle in on it," said spokesman Jake Jacobson. "You just make a couple of selections on the menu to send that hotspot to another boat wirelessly. Or if you and a hunting buddy get separated on the way to a blind, you can send him a trail to it instead of trying to meet by a tree."
The 7.3-ounce device includes an altimeter, temperature sensor, electronic compass, MP3 music player, JPEG picture viewer and waterproofing. Colorados sport a 3-inch (240 x 400 pixel) LCD screen, USB cable and carabineer clip. Two AA batteries keep it perking for 15 hours. For geocachers -- those who participate in outdoor, GPS-based scavenger hunts -- the Colorado doubles as an adventure game player and downloads cache details from the Internet for paperless adventuring. For more information, see www.garmin.com.
THE CHOICE IS UP TO YOU!
This year's dazzling GPS units have evolved from one-trick ponies of the past into dynamic, multi-tasking tools with content that you can customize to your precise needs. With such powerful, flexible devices available, there's no reason to settle for anything less.