JEFF KNAPP: GPS unit approaches must-have status
September 10, 2013 10:40 AM
by JEFF KNAPP

Over the past 20 years I’ve had the opportunity to use several handheld GPS units. During that time I’ve seen them evolve into versatile tools that approach the “must-have” status for serious sportsmen.

My first handheld was a basic model. It was OK for laying down a waypoint and providing the directional information to return to it. I used it mostly for fishing offshore humps on Lake Erie for smallmouth bass. It was a huge step up from taking rifle sightings from shore, which previously was the best way we had for relocating areas that had produced on prior trips.

Fast-forward to the present. For the past couple of months I’ve been field-testing Garmin’s Oregon 650T. Upgrading to this thing from the basic models of old — with their limited functions — is like handing matches to a caveman. The list of tasks it performs is impressive; the ease at which is does so is equally remarkable.

Understand first that I’m not an exceptionally tech-savvy person. I’m a guy that loves to hunt and fish, who also writes about it, and is willing to learn what’s necessary to incorporate modern technology into these pursuits. So whether it’s computers, smartphones, digital cameras or GPS units, my motivation is to function better in the outdoors, as well as to communicate about such experiences; i.e., when a new gadget is laid out to where you can quickly get up and running, that’s a great thing. The 650T meets this level of service.

The 650T will do many things that I’ll probably not need, but it does many that I do. Here is a look at some of them.

 

RECEPTION: A GPS unit is worthless unless it can quickly acquire satellites. The 650T does so with ease, and not just when it has a clear, unobstructed view of the sky. Signal strength is illustrated by a five-bar icon, similar to many cellphones. During the many hours I’ve used it in the field I’ve never once noticed a loss in satellite reception. And much of that work has been during fishing trips for wild trout, along narrow mountain brooks completely enshrouded by thick conifers and leafy hardwoods.

 

PRELOADED TOPO MAPS: Of the many views available, the one I use the most is the map, which shows your current position. Most hunting/fishing users likely do the same. Typically, most GPS units come with a basic background map that shows the major roads, but not much else. No backcountry roads; no topographic features. So while you can view your position, and the electronic trail that you’ve laid down during the outing, you don’t have much to compare it to in relation to your surroundings.

The 650T comes preloaded with 100K topographic maps. As such, you see features like contours, streams and trails as well as secondary roads missing from the basic background map. Some of the streams I’ve fished flow through state forest and state game lands. Many of the gated access roads have shown up on the map. The background map covers the entire U.S. So it you’re heading to a different state for a hunting trip, you’re already covered.

This unit also accepts SD cards, in case you wish to expand the unit’s memory, or plug in chips with other maps. I’ve used Hunting GPS maps (reported on in an earlier column), as well as Garmin’s 24K Topo maps. The 24K maps offer greater contour features than the preloaded basemap; but I’ve yet to encounter a situation where the 100K wasn’t adequate.

If you own another Garmin unit and wish to add a high-quality background map, the 24K version is a good choice. These maps, however, are state or region-specific.

TOUCH SCREEN/ROTATING SCREEN: All menu choices and information entry is via a touch screen. So when you’re editing waypoints — be it text or symbols — it’s not necessary to navigate a digital keypad with a mechanical direction button, a task that’s a bit cumbersome. And the 4-inch screen rotates, just like those on the latest generation of smartphones.

 

EASY MANUAL WAYPOINT ENTRY: I often enter waypoints manually, via coordinates I locate off of Internet sources like Google Maps.

It’s extremely easy to do this on the 650T. Simply touch a button on the side that is dedicated to marking waypoints. Then rather than choosing your current location as the waypoint, you simply touch the portion of the screen that shows the current coordinates. Doing so highlights this box while bringing up a numerical keyboard. Then just enter in the numbers you want and save.

 

BUILT-IN CAMERA: The 650T features a 5 mp camera. It takes fine images and eliminates the need for toting along a camera. When you record pictures, you not only get the image, an icon is also placed on the map at the location where pictures were taken. Clicking on that icon will bring up additional information on that event. Photos can be downloaded to a computer by connecting with a USB cable.

 

RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES: The unit comes with a rechargeable battery pack, as well as a charger. I’ve never run out of battery power during a trip (I enable certain battery-saving options before heading afield). It accepts standard AA batteries if you need backup.

While I’m continually learning more regarding the 650T’s usage, I’ve found it to be an exceptional tool, one that I look forward to using in the woods this fall and winter.

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