Hands on with the Magellan eXplorist GC
The Magellan eXplorist GC is a new introduction designed to do one thing well – geocache! It has a 2.2” color (non-touch) screen, 18 hour (rated) battery life and a highly detailed worldwide basemap. And while it isn’t designed for backcountry navigation, it can accommodate 500 waypoints and a 5,000 point tracklog. Really though, the eXplorist GC is a one-trick pony aimed at geocachers, with a low and sure to be discounted MSRP of $199.99.
I’ve got several updates to add:
- “Send to (Magellan) GPS” functionality is live.
- As noted in the comments, it’s a lot easier to get to geocache descriptions, hints, etc., than I said
- I’ve also been told that Magellan is working on a lighter colored background that should improve legibility in bright sunlight
The eXplorist GC is set up for paperless caching, allowing you to have all the relevant information (difficulty, terrain, description, hint, recent logs, etc.) in your hand without needing to print out reams of information from geocaching.com. That’s a common feature in the Garmin Colorado, Dakota and Oregon series, but this unit goes even further. The eXplorist GC lets you filter caches, similar to the way the Lowrance Endura series does, as shown below:
Perhaps the best way to show the extensive geocaching features of this unit is with screenshots, so I’m including quite a few. A filtered list of caches is shown at left. Below, you’ll see the detail screen for an individual cache.
A 30 day premium geocaching.com membership is offered with purchase of the eXplorist GC. It appears that geocaching.com will soon have a Magellan option for sending individual caches directly to the GC, though that is not currently available. I was able to drag pocket queries to the eXplorist GC using Windows Explorer without any problem.
Promotional literature says that the eXplorist GC is “pre-loaded with the most popular geocaches in the world.” The unit I tested had 1,000 worldwide caches on it. And they really do seem to be the most popular — there were no caches for the 500,000 population metro area I currently work out of, but there were several caches for a theme park 70 miles away! The pre-loaded caches here are a minor attraction. This is not a Geomate.jr type unit.
Navigating with the eXplorist GC
The map can be viewed with or without a compass superimposed on it. The former is shown at right. To access this feature go to Map > Menu. The third choice toggles between Map and Map + Compass.
The compass can be set for smart or standard mode (Tools > Settings > Map Options > Current Location Icon > Smart Arrow). In Smart mode, the compass arrow will change colors – green means on course, yellow means off course and red means that you are moving away from the destination.
One downside here is the use of a standard rather than electronic compass, meaning that you need to start walking before the compass can accurately register the direction to the waypoint.
Accuracy was comparable to other high-sensitivity units. I tested the eXplorist GC side-by-side several times with the Garmin Oregon 450. Generally, at the cache, the units reported within one foot of each other.
Other navigation capabilities
The Magellan eXplorist GC supports waypoints and navigation to them. A record of your track can be displayed and downloaded. There is no provision for routes (multi-destination routing) or track navigation. Waypoint projection is supported (manual bearing entry required; no sight n’ go). I’ll also note that when I dropped a GPX file into the waypoints folder, the waypoints showed up on the GC but their names did not!
I asked Magellan about other capabilities and was told that the GC “does not support topo maps or turn-by-turn at this time.” It wouldn’t surprise me for those capabilities to be added in the future, to the GC or perhaps a forthcoming eXplorist model. There is no slot in the GC for an expansion card, although according to the specs, approximately 500 MB of onboard memory is available for user data (the unit I tested showed 720 MB).
Magellan eXplorist GC interface
The interface seems relatively intuitive and shouldn’t take too long to get used to. The face of the unit has a click stick surrounded by four buttons – menu, back, zoom in and zoom out. There are five icons on the start screen – geocaches, map, tools, dashboard (shown at right) and waypoints. The number of data fields and their content can be modified for the map and dashboard screens. Input response time was fast in most cases. I noticed a delay occasionally, but not that often.
In some of the geocaching screenshots above and below, you’ll notice icons in the lower left and lower right corners of the screen. The one on the left displays the map, showing your current location, the selected geocache, and a route line connecting them. The one to the right begins navigation.
Magellan eXplorist GC basemap
While there are no topo maps on the eXplorist GC, it appears to have an incredibly detailed basemap. A spot check of locations around the globe indicates that it probably has the entire NAVTEQ road network pre-loaded. Very nice!
Magellan eXplorist GC hardware and build quality
The unit is nice and compact, weighing in at 5.2 ounces with batteries. It’s rated IPX-7 in terms of waterproofness. The battery compartment and USB port seem well sealed. It uses a standard (non-proprietary) mini-USB cable. There is no memory card slot. The eXplorist GC feels solid and is easy to operate with one hand; the buttons all seem quite responsive. Perhaps the biggest surprise on the hardware front is the inclusion of the time-tested SiRFstar III chipset, which manufacturers have recently been avoiding like the plague, due to patent issues.
The image below compares the size of the Garmin Oregon 450, Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx and the eXplorist GC. It is not intended to compare brightness, which is very hard to do on film. A discussion of that subject follows.
Magellan eXplorist GC display
I was expecting a very bright display since this isn’t a touchscreen model. But touchscreen units like the Garmin Oregon series suffer more due to their high-resolution display than from the touch screen layer.
The GC’s specs state that it has a 240 x 320 pixel resolution display. They don’t give screen dimensions other than diagonal, but my measurements (34 mm x 45 mm) gave me a count of 50 pixels/square millimeter. I checked this because the more I used it, the more questions I had about the display. This is quite high BTW; the Garmin Oregon comes in at 40 pixels/sq. mm.
While brightness isn’t the only issue at play in legibility, I will say that it is comparable to my Garmin Oregon 400t and 60CSx in the shade. The GC is at its weakest in full sun, likely due to the high-resolution screen resulting in less reflected light. Like the Oregon, it’s fine if you get it at the proper angle, which shouldn’t be too hard for geocachers since they hold it in hand. Users will soon find that they intuitively tilt the unit for optimum display.
What’s worse is legibility. Magellan has simply used too small of a font (to compensate for the small screen size) for my aging eyes. While the display is fine in shade or indoors, text is too difficult to read in bright sun. To give you some idea of this, the image below shows a cache description from the eXplorist GC on the left and Garmin Oregon 450 on the right.
Pricing and availability
The Magellan eXplorist GC carries an MRSP of $199.99 and is expected to be available in April 2010.
Magellan eXplorist GC pros
- Paperless geocaching
- Geocache filters
- Intuitive interface
- Focuses on doing one thing (geocaching) well
- Awesome preloaded worldwide basemap (roads)
- USB (non-proprietary) interface
- Innovative compass features
Magellan eXplorist GC cons
- Difficult to read in bright sun, especially so for text
- Occasional lags in menu response
- Not very suitable for backcountry, non-geocaching use
- Lacks advanced features (electronic compass, Wherigo, touchscreen, topo maps, ability to load aerial imagery)
Recommendation and conclusion
At $199.99 MSRP, the Magellan eXplorist is the lowest cost paperless geocaching GPS receiver on the market. I have no problem recommending it as an entry level unit in that arena, though folks over 40 may want to think twice and check it out under bright sun before taking the plunge. This is the best handheld introduction Magellan has offered in years. My biggest issues with this device, font size and work flow, can both be fixed with firmware updates and I’m hoping Magellan will do so. They could have a real winner on their hands if they do. And if my suspicions are correct, we may soon see new eXplorist models with expandable memory, topo maps and turn-by-turn routing.
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