I needed a small GPS for off road hiking and also for general street use when on the road, this rugged little handheld filled both needs.
Recommend this product?
I have had little prior experience using a GPS, this being my first purchase, so my impressions are from a first time user new to the world of Global Positioning devices. I hope this review offers some insight for those wondering what to expect when using a GPS for the first time.
The Garmin Legend HCx is next to the top of Garmins handheld eTrex line, only surpassed by the Vista HCx. In researching the 2 models I found the difference between them was the addition of an electronic compass and altimeter feature on the Vista. At first glance this seems major, until one realizes that all Garmin handhelds actually have a compass. The difference being the Vista has an electronic compass that works even if you are holding it standing still. The legend has to be in motion. For my use, walking a few steps for the compass to appear was not worth the extra 50 bucks or so. It also turns out the Vista uses a barometric altimeter, which means it has to be calibrated with a barometer reading to be accurate. Not really a big deal, but since the Legend, even without that feature, will also show approximate elevation from a loaded Topo map I saw no need for that either. This was simply a personal choice for my own use with about $50 saved. Both units have a card slot as indicated by the X suffix in the model numbers, a VERY important feature.
My review will focus on the hands on use and impressions of the Legend HCx. Detailed technical specifications for all Garmin models are best read directly from their product descriptions on the Garmin web site where they have a great comparison of the entire etrex series.
BUILD QUALITY is superb, my Legend HCx just feels solid in the hand. The battery compartment is encased in heavy rubber and made of cast aluminum held tightly in place by a stainless half turn clip. 2 AA cells are snugly kept in place by spring steel end connectors. A micro SD card slot is also located in this compartment, all protected by a rubber seal, as does the USB connector which has it's own snug fitting rubber flap. All push buttons are covered in rubber to keep water and dust out. Garmin says the unit will withstand an occasional dunking. I personally think by the way its built it would probably hold up extremely well in the adverse conditions found on any trail. The only vulnerable part being the viewing screen which could get broken or scratched, hence the need to either protect it with a clear cover or keep the entire unit in a case. There is no protruding antenna to catch clothing or get broken.
EASE OF OPERATION is a mixed bag. The Legend is a sturdy handheld that only has 5 side buttons and one 4-way toggle on the face. I couldn't resist putting in a couple AA's and turning it on even before reading the manual. The color display came right to life as the initial satellite search began. It takes a few minutes for any GPS to get a fix so it knows where it is, however once it got a satellite lock the pre-loaded base map came right up, in full color, and there I was in the form of a triangle marker. I was impressed! After reading the quick start brochure I found the upper 2 left buttons were for zoom in and zoom out, pretty simple. With just that I was able to zoom into my position and read street names around my house. I pressed the zoom out and pulled back over the state of California and could see the Pacific in deep blue along with the many lakes on the West coast. Next I walked outside my house and my path was shown in the form of a line following my steps, I was further impressed! What this means is that right out of the box anyone can look at their position with real street names and the device will show the path of movement with nothing else done but to turn it on and adjust the zoom.
NOT SO EASE OF OPERATION Now the bad part. To get beyond the simple demo I tried above one must get into the manual. I must say Garmin really makes a great GPS device, but, their manuals are lacking. While many features are easily identified and many operations can be quickly learned, some are not so straight forward. The index in the manual is all but useless, way too brief, just loosely referring to only major topics. If one is proficient with electronic devices, that is comfortable using digital cameras or other things that require reading menus, selecting icons, etc then you should have little problems. On the other hand if you have a hard time with such things you would be better served with a simpler model from the eTrex series that do less but also require less user skill. Fortunately I am quite capable with electronic devices so the learning curve, albeit steep, was readily achievable.
MAPS are essential when using any GPS so the indicated bearing can relate to surrounding landmarks, roads, lakes, etc. Garmin includes a decent base map of the United States which is certainly usable for basic navigation. The rest of the Americas are also shown but in less detail, so if you wind up in lower Guatemala you could at least get major roads and know about where it is that you are lost. The US portion also includes all Interstates and exits, I would feel comfortable getting around our country using just this map. To go off road, or to have detailed directions to a specific address additional maps are required. Topo maps will indicate elevation contours, small lakes, dirt roads, and give a very good sense of direction even in remote places. Garmin offers a nice selection of street and topo maps, but they are expensive. Fortunately online generic free maps are readily available, and since they are made by others and not pirated from Garmin, they are legal. I have several and they are easily downloaded and work great, and did I mention, free!
MEMORY to store additional maps is in the form of a micro SD card. This feature is an absolute MUST in my opinion. Cheaper units that rely on limited internal memory are measured in megabytes, an SD memory card measures in gigabytes. Big difference! Plus one can swap several cards and have virtually the world at your finger tips. I don't see how anyone would consider having any GPS without a card slot.
MAKING A ROUTE can be done on the small screen or on a home computer using the supplied USB cord. A computer has obviously a larger screen and makes it easy to plot a course to a mountain peak or a small town across several states. Waypoints and the entire route can then be transferred back to the unit, as well as the reverse by uploading favorite routes back to a computer to be saved. Garmin MapSource however is required to do this on a computer, software supplied by Garmin that is very easy to use. Also, data can be written directly to a micro SD card and then the card simply inserted into the unit. That is really the best way.
GETTING BACK to where you started is a primary need for a hiker in the woods or a driver in a strange town. The Legend HCx will do this quite well. Again though, reading the manual will be required so as to start off with a fresh new path, then just walk or drive and your entire route will be shown on the screen. Waypoints can also be set along the way to indicate anything, such as a spring, fishing hole, etc. To get back select re-track from the menu and a reverse course is displayed including the waypoints set on the way out. This feature works as long as the GPS is in motion, any motion, even if driving down a road. Speed is also show, again even if in a car at 70 MPH. Various other useful data can also be selectively displayed such as compass heading, coordinates, elevation, if a topo map is installed, and North orientation or direction of travel.
THE DISPLAY is crisp, in color and very easy to read in bright sunlight. A back light is easily turned on and will remain on for a pre selected time to save batteries. It can be adjusted to various levels and that adjustment will stay active as long as the unit is left on, press any button for backlight. Turn the unit off however and you will have to reset the back light, not an issue as alternately simply pressing the power button twice the backlight will come on at half brightness. Press it again and it comes on full strength. The display also auto switches to a night mode which makes the screen very visible in the dark, by changing the way color is displayed, a VERY nice feature.
IN SUMMARY I simply love this GPS! It reliably does what it was meant to do in a small rugged package. There are so many additional features, like calculating distance, finding local areas of interest, all sorts of trip and route parameters, and so much more that can be accessed from its drop down menus. To explain everything would take many more pages, however I hope this review gives the novice a hands on feel for using this fine instrument. As for myself, the learning curve was a little steep due to the poor manual, but it really was not too bad. In using the unit one quickly gets a feel for navigating through the different pages and menus. I felt comfortable with it after just a few hours of use. One other thing is Garmin built in good reliability in saving and storing trip data, one has to really try to delete a route or track. That's a good thing for obvious reasons. All in all I highly recommend the Legend HCx.