Garmin eTrex 30 vs. Vista HCx - the biggest difference!

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dgjessee:
I work at [insert giant outdoor retailer with awesome satisfaction guarantee] and teach GPS classes, among other courses. It took me a long time to really decipher the differences between the venerable Vista HCx and the new eTrex series. Since Garmin is probably phasing out the older models, it's probably not that important but just so you know what I found:

Overall, they are almost identical in features. the 30 and Vista both have the altimeter, electronic compass, LONG battery life and even weigh about the same. The 30 is a tad more compact and has a new operating system, which some people love and others hate. A lot of my students say the new one is not as intuitive, but oh well. The 30 has wireless transfer (for sharing data with other ANT devices) and can also use wireless components like HR belts, cadence, and speed/distance pods, so that's a nice feature if you want or need some more input than you'd get with a traditional GPS. So far, nothing that would make me give up my personal Vista HCx - but here's the REAL improvement: OFFICIAL USGS QUADS!

As a salesperson, the biggest knock on Garmin GPSs has always been their proprietary maps. The new Garmin 24K topo maps are pretty awesome and they are the only mapping software that will auto-route you on trails (i.e., you pick the start and end and it finds the quickest trail route between the two; it doesn't only route on roads). The reason you could always only use Garmin's software is because the units could only handle vector images. But the new eTrex (as well as Oregon, Dakota, Montana, and 62 series) models are built to handle both vector (Garmin mapping) AND raster images (USGS quads). So now, if you have a new eTrex, you can purchase the "so-worth-it" $30 Bird's Eye Topo subscription from Garmin.com and then overlay traditional USGS quads on your GPS screen.

So as far as I can tell, Garmin has finally addressed the biggest shortcoming of its devices. It's important to note that your device will not navigate using the Bird's Eye Topo map images - it will simply display your position/pre-downloaded route on top of the image in the correct location. If you have Garmin's Topo software, you can layer that underneath and then you get the ability to navigate AND see what you're doing on USGS quads. For me, the best bargain would be to buy an eTrex 30 and the Bird's Eye Topo, upload routes and waypoints (just like I would do without any mapping) and utilize the on-screen topo as my quick/easy reference guide to avoid pulling out the paper map too much. It would be so helpful when following routes where a turn is a little ambiguous because there are two options going one direction and only the cue sheet or a map would tell you more accurately which way to go.

Hope this is helpful to someone! Post any other questions you have and I'll try to answer.

sub-xero:
Quote from: dgjessee on January 30, 2012, 04:10:37 AM

As a salesperson, the biggest knock on Garmin GPSs has always been their proprietary maps. The new Garmin 24K topo maps are pretty awesome and they are the only mapping software that will auto-route you on trails (i.e., you pick the start and end and it finds the quickest trail route between the two; it doesn't only route on roads). The reason you could always only use Garmin's software is because the units could only handle vector images. But the new eTrex (as well as Oregon, Dakota, Montana, and 62 series) models are built to handle both vector (Garmin mapping) AND raster images (USGS quads). So now, if you have a new eTrex, you can purchase the "so-worth-it" $30 Bird's Eye Topo subscription from Garmin.com and then overlay traditional USGS quads on your GPS screen.


I've been using free OpenStreetMap based vector maps on my Garmin eTrex Legend for several years now. Thus I have to disagree with the original poster, there has been an alternative to the original Garmin maps for a long time. The OpenStreetMap maps today even are more detailed than the original Garmin maps in many regions, since they are enhanced by the community constantly. And I actually don't consider using raster images an advantage, so there's no need to use those unless you travel through areas where raster maps are the only detailed maps you can get. They just look a little nicer but this is not at all relevant. OpenStreetMap vector maps even support routing, which I tried once and it worked quite well.

P.S.: The only noteworthy difference between the new and the old version of the eTrex is (afaik) that the new eTrex supports tracks with more than 500 waypoints, which also isn't really necessary because you can split longer tracks into multiple single tracks. And 500 waypoints are more than enough for a whole day, if the track has good quality.


dgjessee:
As far as I can tell in order to make an older Garmin use raster images you have to be a bit more technologically adept than the common folk. I might be wrong but I think there is still some conversion and other open source map software necessary. If that's the case then maybe the new ones provide a slightly more seamless integration of vector Garmin maps and raster USGS images.

sub-xero:
Well, in order to install the OpenStreetMaps, you just have to run a setup which installs the maps onto your computer and integrates them into Garmin BaseCamp or MapSource. Then you can use those Garmin Standard Programs to upload the maps to your GPS. Very easy.

bmike-vt:
i don't know about the open street maps stuff. i loaded up one of those and wasn't impressed. didn't seem like there was much change from my way old mapsource stuff, from about 8 years ago. and, the openmtb map link you gave above has a request to join the website prior to downloading the maps. all good, but i'm not sure what the benefit would be...

i also used some stuff from gpsfiledepot and was similarily unimpressed. there were 2 counties in my state with the roads dropped out completely. i contacted the site owner and tried to contact the mapmaker. site owner should put up a note on those particular maps that they are missing data. likewise the topo overlays were ok, but a bit laggy. (vector, not raster)

i'm likely to sign up for the garmin subscription when spring nears, download the northeast, and then cancel at the end of the year to test it out. for $30 i think it is a pretty good deal. i don't think i'd need the birdseye images.


can you route on the road on the garmin stuff on an etrex 20?
i mix gravel and dirt roads and pavement, and plan on using the gps for brevets this year. would love to be able to set up a route and have it tell me upcoming turns while on roads...

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