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I can't tell you how many times out on the trail we've seen, as the crow flies, a location we wanted to reach but couldn't figure out how to get around the mountain, across the canyon, or through the trees.  Many times, it's not the lack of trails that throws us for a loop, but which one to take.  We've usually got three different maps with us, and sometimes even a satellite image of the area we are headed out to, and switching between them all, especially while being jostled around isn't the easiest task for the navigator, which is usually me.  So that, paired with the fact that everyone else around me gets their own toys, got me to break down and buy a nice GPS system.  We already had a Garmin Etrex in our gear, but there's only so much you can do with a tiny dot matrix like display.

There are plenty of GPS's out there that met most of my requirements, but most of those weren't designed for portability.  I really wanted a good sized color screen that would display maps well.  Instead of just utilizing number coordinates, I wanted to see which canyon I was in and what was around the next corner?

We enjoy exploring caves and old mines when we are out, whether that means just walking in a few feet, or rappelling down into them off someone's bumper.  Before we go out, I'll print out a nice topographic map for us.  Usually you can only get detailed ones in small quadrants off the net, so I'd find the area, download like 20 squares, and then put them together in Corel.  Then, I'd go as far as laminating the completed map for durability, rain, and so we could fold it up.  The maps I get from Maptech.com seem to be the most detailed and even have all the mines listed already on them, so if we are in the area and there's one nearby we can drop in.

I went about looking on Ebay for a good GPS and narrowed it down to a Garmin iQue 3600 and a Mitac Mio 168.  I went through many reviews on the products and they both seemed great units.  While these units matched either almost point for point, I went with the Garmin for the name and the slightly larger screen.  I later found out how well Garmin backs their products and am extremely pleased with my choice.

The iQue retails for over $500, but I found a "newly overhauled" unit on Ebay for $300.  It came like a brand new unit with a full-year factory warranty from Garmin.  It included:

 

  • USB HotSyncŪ cradle

  • A/C power/charging adapter

  • Quick start guide

  • Installation/Application CD with manual and basemaps

  • Automotive friction mount with integrated charger and speaker

  • Basemaps included on CD: Americas AutoRoute

  • MapSource City Select Version 7 with FULL Unlock DVD's

  • Store receipt for full one year Garmin Warranty

The warranty came in handy, since when the unit arrived, it wouldn't hold a charge and would keep crashing, requiring a hard restart to come back online.  I called Garmin, they made me feel warm and cozy about it and then told me where to send it in to.  Three business days after they received it, I had it back!  Not only that, but they sent me a brand spanking new one at no cost!  I was blown away with their customer service and am very thankful for their dedication to their products.

The 3600 runs on a Palm OS platform and has a 200MHz processor.  It only has 32MB of internal memory, but with an expansion flash card you can download tons of maps or songs, since it plays MP3's too.  I went ahead and got a 1G card so I wouldn't fill it too fast.  I really liked the large color screen on this unit, a backlit, high res 320 x 480 pixel color transflective display with 16 bit, 65,000 colors.  It makes map reading a lot easier and more visable.

This thing is packed with features.  To access the GPS, all you have to do is to flip up the antenna on the back and your all set to go.  It tracks up to 12 satellites and is accurate to an average of 15 feet, 3 feet when using WAAS (which eats up your battery like crazy).  It also updates once a second so it works really well while tracking your movements.

I really got it so I could download and use the topographic maps on it, but I've found that the included maps are extremely helpful.  I never thought I'd use it for it, but the driving maps are pretty cool.  The iQue comes with its own internal speaker and there is one on the car cigarette adapter.  You'd think a woman's voice telling you where to go would be very annoying, but I can see where'd it come in handy.  I've used it in a few blind tests to get to certain locations and it has been right on the money.  It zooms down to 120 feet which helps to identify all the places you're passing that pop up on the screen.  Lots of places show up and information like phone numbers pop up in the info box if you'd like.  One function I've used is finding where the nearest fast food place is to my location, or where the next Safeway is on the way to fishing (Fry's doesn't sell chicken livers- oh and it also tells you when the best time to fish is at depending on what lake/river you're at).  If you know an address, you can also type it in and get instant driving instructions to your destination.  And the route recalculation feature comes in handy too.

The Garmin comes with all the regular Palm apps too- address book, date book, calc, memo programs, alarm clock, etc.  I've also downloaded a couple games for it.  Nothing like multitasking listening to MP3's and playing 15 types on solitaire all while sitting on the throne.  Installing things on your Palm or the card is easy, kind of like a drag and drop setup if you prefer that approach.  For the maps, you first pre-select the area first on your computer and then shoot them over to your handheld.  As a bonus, the maps and location finder are also on your computer so you can use them there as well.

 

So let's move on to the meaty outdoor functions I really bought it for shall we?