Talk, Navigate, and Track! It Does It All -- Almost.
Written: Mar 18, 2012 (Updated Apr 1, 2012)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:A competent navigation aid. Keeps you in touch with others and shows where they are.
Cons:It's bloody expensive. Missing a few key features like a card slot, compass, and beacon.
The Bottom Line: From wildness navigation to keeping in touch with your adventuring mates, tracking your party's locations, tools, and games, it's a wonder this thing can't pitch your tent for you, too.
If the Garmin Rino were sold on late night TV infomercials, the sales pitch would go something like this:
"Lost in the woods? Can't find your friends? No more tricky smoke signals, no more expensive flares! Stop using that soggy paper map and no more hoarse throats from shouting through the trees! We've duct taped a handheld GPS receiver to a two-way radio so the Garmin Rino can tell you where you are, and through the magic of radio communication can tell you where the rest of your adventuring party is, too! Don't get eaten by a sasquatch or wander in circles until you starve... Order one today!"
They'd probably go on to tell you that operators are standing by, and if you act now you'll also get a free combination pocket sized collapsible combination fishing rod, onion dicer, wireless car key locator, and brownie maker.
But I digress. Heavily.
The Garmin Rino (series, as there are a whole slew of them) is a combination handheld GPS receiver and GMRS two-way radio. The two functions aren't just duct-taped together to make a smaller and more expensive gadget, but actually integrated such that you can radio your location to show up on other users' maps and vise versa. You can also do other collaborative things with it as well, and presumably with the right waypoint data you could even use it to locate where the "H" from its own name got off to.
What it isn't is a vehicle navigation device, which a special subset of people automatically assume it is as soon as they hear mention that "it's a GPS." (Note, on the side, that nothing you have is "a GPS" unless you happen to be the proud owner of a rather expensive constellation of satellites loaded with a bunch of atomic clocks. But that's just splitting hairs. And atoms.) So even though you can talk to it (and it can even talk back... sort of) this humble member of the Rino series can't tell you to turn right at the next exit ramp. The Rino is a tool for navigating the bush with your mates, not navigating the highways -- though if you happen to be the pilot of an ATV, boat, Sherman tank, flying DeLorean, or some other vehicle that doesn't need any steenkin' roads to travel on you sure could use the Rino in it.
What it does is figure out you where you are via GPS and put your location on an electronic map. It can also mark or be told the location of an arbitrary number of waypoints, plot a crow's-flight path to any of them or a step-by-step path along a set of them. It can also reckon how fast you're moving, and in what direction. It can tell you your altitude, and calculate a very accurate figure of the local time, or even figure out when sunrise and sunset are. And it can let you talk to other FRS or GMRS radio users in the area, and those users happen to have any member of the Rino series themselves they can see where you are, you can see where they are. And then you can plot courses to each other, share waypoints, and see where everyone has been. In short, it's precisely one of those magic radar things in video games that shows you where all your teammates are, only in real life. One could easily find use for it anytime you're out and about with more than one person, and would like to know where that other person is. And, presumably, just radioing "the corner of 5th and Maple" won't cut it.
Since there are two sides to the Rino's coin, GPS receiver and two-way radio, there are two major facets of it to examine in detail. It's about as complicated a device that's only got six buttons on it could possibly be, and therefore comes with a hefty instruction manual. The manual is both thorough and comprehensive, and tells you exactly how to do absolutely everything the Rino is capable of doing. It's not often these days that any electronic gadget -- even a fancy complicated one -- comes with much of a manual at all, so this is sort of refreshing. Especially if you've just run out of novels to read at the beach. Dry as it may be, giving the manual a thorough once over is a very good idea, especially if you do so before setting out into the bush with no compass and paper map like a numbskull, relying only on the electronic thing to prevent you from getting irretrievably lost and becoming sasquatch lunch.
The Design, and Fooling With It
The Rino 120 is available in a choice of the following colors: Forest Green. Try not to drop it into a thicket.
It's largely plastic, but very sturdy, with all of the buttons and ports rubberized and sealed to the point that Garmin proclaims it "water reistant." I threw caution to the wind and tried dunking my expensive Rino in the sink, and it survived a 10 second immersion without complaint. Little rubber plugs fill in the headset and data ports when you aren't using then to keep water and grime out. I imagine if I tried the same trick with one of the plugs removed I wouldn't find the Rino nearly as waterproof. Everything else about it sealed, too, including a gasket around the battery compartment, through the buttons, and behind the speaker and microphone holes.
Unlike most two-way radios, the Rino doesn't have a knife style pocket clip but instead has a mounting stud and a lock-on belt clip reminiscent of a cell phone case. It is compatible with the oldschool Nokia belt clips, as a matter of fact, though the stud on the Rino is rubberized and way sturdier than the one on any phone case. It's screwed on with a bolt that looks like it might have once been the axle for a mountain bike. Since it works with Nokia clips I was able to buy a large quantity of spares from my local cell phone place, who were wondering what they'd ever do with the crusty old things and were happy to be rid of them. A couple of spare clips lets you stick the Rino to your belt, a strap on your pack, or even someplace in your car and without fuss and whenever you like. Since the stud locks positively to the clips, and the clips lock positively to a belt or strap, the Rino is in no risk of going anywhere when it's stowed, even if you (or your pack) go upside down or whack it against something. And since the clip and stud arrangement can swivel and the unit itself is bottom-heavy, no matter where you clip it it'll ride right side up.
One of my spare clips has a permanent home captive on a short section of my backpack strap, and another on my Vest of Many Pockets, so I have a good listening and speaking position if I'm wearing my pack or not.
The lowly 120 model has a monochrome LCD display that's not a touch screen but is instead encased behind about a quarter inch of solid plastic, making damaging it an unlikely prospect. The screen has an optional backlight: retro electroluminescent green, like a wristwatch. Higher ranked models in the Rino line can have color screens, and even touchscreens. One wonders about the durability of those, or how the heck you're supposed to see them in direct sunlight. The basic black and white screen on the 120 is adequate. It's got a resolution of 160 by 160 pixels, which is a lot more than a Gameboy but probably a lot less than your cell phone. The armored screen plus heavy plastic and rubberized body plus epic mounting arrangement leaves the Rino 120 feeling like something you could use to pound your tent stakes in with, if you felt like it. Key for a piece of wilderness gear, it doesn't leave you afraid to carry or use it for fear of breaking it or scuffing it up.
I'm pleased to say it even takes regular old AA batteries instead of being Yet Another Proprietary Rechargeable Gizmo. Being able to feed any piece of outdoor equipment with commodity disposable cells is a huge plus, in my book, because power outlets are tricky to find growing in the wild halfway up a mountainside. Because of its basic monochrome screen and modest processing power you even get a respectable run time out of a set of alkaline batteries, and an excellent one out of a set of decent rechargeable ones: 18 vs. 24-ish hours, with both radios enabled. Garmin curiously claims only 16, even though I frequently get quite a bit more. Maybe because they factor in actually talking on the radio a bit more than I do in real life. At least it's nice to hear an official battery life quote from somebody that isn't a big fat lie for a change. There's even an option in there to tell the Rino if you've got 1.5 volt disposable or 1.2 volt rechargeable cells in it, so you get an accurate battery meter in either case. Truly, they thought of everything.
Since the Rino is, basically, a tiny computer, it has its own little operating system with it's own little user interface, which unfortunately is a bit of a mess. It is a whirling cloud of icons, labels, selectable fields, not selectable fields, stuff you can move around and customize, bits you can enter text into, and pull down menus -- yes, pull down menus and text fields, on a device with no mouse and no keyboard and a screen the size of a Gameboy. It's a good thing it has that manual, because you'll need to memorize a fair amount of stuff before you can do anything beyond the basics with it.
There are only six buttons on the whole thing, not counting the clickable joystick directional thingy but including the power button, because it's got functions other than turning the device on and off. Yes, it's one of those experiences, people -- press a button for one thing, press and hold for another. There's no such thing as a truly dedicated button on it, except for the push-to-talk button, so you get to memorize alternate functions hidden in all sorts of places.
Every major function is organized into its own "screen:" One for radio functionality, one for your map and your location on it, one for navigational heading and statistics, one for waypoint tracking, and one full of menu icons for other stuff. You can page through all the major "screens" with a semi-dedicated page button on the side, except for the ones you can't, which have to be accessed via the icon menu. There's also a pull-down menu on every screen that can jump you to any of the others that are able to be accessed with the page button. Which is also customizable. Clear as mud? There will be a quiz later.
A large portion of operating the Rino is using the directional stick to highlight a field, and then clicking it to change whatever you just selected. My major complaint with it is that it's very difficult, sometimes, to see which field you have picked. In particular, the pull-down menus present on every screen, where important options are always kept, are represented by small squares with even smaller square icons in them. They're indicated as "selected" by inverting the light parts with the dark parts. It's nearly impossible tell they're selected, and harder still to tell which one (there are always two) without wiggling the joystick about and trying to spot the change. Pretty much every screen has other stuff you can use the directional stick to select, too, and sometimes it's not altogether obvious what's selected and what's going to happen if you click on it.
Fortunately, once you have everything set that needs setting you won't often have to fool with it further, and you can blissfully ignore all the menus and icons and even lock the buttons so nothing gets changed behind your back. The talk and send-page buttons (and backlight, if you have it enabled or set to automatic) will work with the device locked. The volume control will not work with the keys locked, though, and it is a popup menu accessed by a button, which you use the directional stick to change. You can do it by feel, but you have to unlock the keys, do it, and then re-lock them. Which is exactly as annoying as you'd expect. I dig that a big twisty volume knob would seriously hinder the Rino's waterproofing (all of the buttons and the D-stick are sealed and rubberized, low travel clicky things) but a pair of volume up/down buttons would have been nice.
Because of the limited controls, doing anything like naming or selecting waypoints or radio channels in a hurry is tricky. I wouldn't dare try it while trying to pilot any vehicle, for instance. I would also not wait until the sun is almost set, my canteen is empty, and I have no idea where the campsite is as the first time I tried to select and map a waypoint.
The interface isn't a total unusable disaster, mind you, but it has its learning curve.
As A GPS Receiver
Most of the Rino's party tricks revolve around its GPS capabilities. The manual advises that the first time you use it you ought to leave it somewhere where it has a full view of the sky, and let it search for GPS satellites. It goes on to mention that the process of finding a GPS fix will take upwards of 5 minutes the first time. Since the Rino remembers its last GPS location even after it is powered off (and the batteries removed!) mine thought it was in Taiwan until I took it outside for the first time. One of the few things the manual doesn't mention is that you can cut down your first fix delay by setting the time on the Rino somewhat correctly, and telling it what time zone it's currently in. It'll also find a fix much faster if it isn't moving, especially at highway speeds in a vehicle. I opted to learn this the hard way, but now you won't have to.
After the first time it gets a fix, the next time you power it up you'll only have to wait a few seconds. That is unless you travel a considerable distance from the last location it had (the manual notes, as it notes everything, that this distance is 500 or more miles), in which case it will take longer. There's a special "I've moved a long way" reaquisition mode you can put the unit into if you've done this, and if the Rino fails to get a proper fix for a while it'll automatically ask you if you want to try that.
We haven't even navigated ten feet yet, and it's already getting complicated, isn't it?
Once you have a GPS fix, your location is noted on the map with a small triangle, which will move as you do, or at least as the Rino moves with you. It's accurate to a handful of yards, depending on conditions and weather or not the US Military has decided that partial accuracy is enough for everyone and has intentionally degraded the GPS network for a while. The Rino will tell you the locational accuracy it reckons it's giving you on the "Radio" screen, which is also the sort of catch-all place for basic status and configuration. I've gotten it as low as 7 feet. Normally it seems to sit at about 21.
It will automatically draw a line on its map everywhere you travel like a pretend trail of breadcrumbs. This can keep you from wandering in circles, or just help you get back to where you were a little while ago. With GPS active you can also get a graph showing the relative locations of all the GPS satellites in the sky. This is utterly useless, of course, but entertaining.
The Rino can also provide the usual extrapolated data about your altitude, heading, how far you've gone and the speed it reckons you're moving. It provides a "Navigation" screen that is dominated by a big old compass dial and will point directly towards any waypoint you may have selected, as well as show some of your statistics. You can shuffle around the types of numbers you want to see and in what order, provided you can stomach fooling with the interface through selection operations and one extremely long popup list. Some of its more esoteric fields include guessing how long it will take you to reach your waypoint, precisely how far away from it you are, when sunrise and sunset will be, and how far off course you've wandered. I get the most giggle out of the one marked "vertical speed." Perhaps it is useful for determining the performance of your lawn chair with the weather balloons tied to it, or a quick calculation of exactly how long after the failure of same before you go "splat."
There's a third page, "Trip Computer," which displays the same sorts of data but displays no compass. Instead it uses the extra screen space to display even more customizable data fields.
It's worth noting that the Rino doesn't have an internal magnetic compass and therefore doesn't truly know its own heading if it is not moving. This can be slightly problematic if you aren't used to it, because your navigation arrow (or North on the "compass" display, or whatever) won't update if you spin around in place. If you don't remember which way the machine "thought" it was pointing when you stopped, you have to sally forth a few yards in some direction -- possibly the wrong one -- before it extrapolates a heading and figures out which way it ought to point you. On the plus side, you'll never have to fool with magnetic delcanation and North on the Rino is always True North.
You can make your own waypoints by either entering in longitude and latitude (and optionally elevation), or just mark the spot you're standing on as a waypoint and name it. Naming anything on the Rino is an exercise for the patient as there's no keyboard, and you get to tap in letters from a video game style grid, one at a time. There's also a limit of 11 characters per waypoint name, though there's also a short notes field (32 characters) you can attach as well. You get to pick what glyph will represent it on the map from a short list, and you can chain multiple waypoints together into a trail of arbitrary shape. There's a hard limit of 500 waypoints that'll go into memory, and 20 trail groupings.
There are oodles of ways to sort through your list of waypoints and single one out, and then the Rino will point you to it the way the crow flies, or point you to each in a chain in turn, automatically jumping to the next link in the chain when you get close to the current waypoint.
Mapping it Out
The Rino has in its permanent memory a basic map that allows it to know about major cities and towns, major highways, state and country borders, oceans, and so forth. The deeper you zoom in the more you can see just how crude this basic data is, as there are no city limits (just dots at city centers), curves in highways are angular and approximate, and there are no county or municipal border lines. For that you have to load map data from a computer into the Rino's internal memory, and maps for the Rino are not free.
Garmin publishes both topographical maps of much of the world and street maps of North America, and anything Garmin publishes the Rino can read. The basic topo map of the USA is about 99 dollars online for the latest version, or a not-too-out-of-date copy can usually be pirated. The topo maps are useful beyond just showing the terrain as they have some points of interest, many mountain peaks, lakes, and rivers named and able to be waypointed. The street maps are considerably less useful since the Rino can't do turn by turn navigation or even look up addresses. You also can't have both a topo map and a street map for the same physical area loaded into the Rino at the same time. You can still do everything with the Rino with no map loaded at all, but if you do you'll pretty much only be able to navigate relative to your own waypoints and breadcrumbs-trail, as most of your map space will be blank.
Are you ready for a blast from the past? To load anything on the Rino, you use a serial cable. Don't have a serial port on your PC? Then you go buy an adapter. There's no USB option except a USB to serial adapter box (which does work; I tried a cheap clone one that cost me about five bucks and had success). You get the cable in the box, but you need Garmin's PC mapping software, MapSource, to talk to the Rino, too. You get it if you buy maps, but there is no other way to interface with the Rino (that I know of, anyway). There's no way to make it act like a removable drive in Windows or anything else, either. Luckily, the PC implementation of MapSource is fairly straightforward and doesn't suffer from any real interface quirks like the Rino itself. It's easy to select a chunk of map, have the software reckon if it will fit in the Rino's memory, and send it on over. Since this is the poor man's 120 model there is no memory card slot. You can't move maps via card, then, and there is also no way to expand the Rino's memory. The 120 has a whopping eight megabytes of memory, which translates to enough to cover approximately 25% of the state of Wyoming in topographical map form. Which was exactly the last thing I did with mine.
You can also use MapSource to mark waypoints and plot trails using your mouse and big computer monitor, then send them over to the device. If you have the opportunity to plan ahead this is the superior way to do it.
Paid for maps in memory will supersede the built in dummy map, and provide additional features and detail. You can "break out" of the usual map mode that strictly follows your position to make a little arrow cursor appear on the screen. You can scoot the arrow around and pan the map, or point it at topo lines to get elevation, point it at waypoints and points of interest to inspect or navigate to them, and so forth. What you can't do is edit the map from the Rino in any way (in case you find an error) or annotate it at all beyond adding waypoints (to mark blocked paths, perhaps, or note that fallen tree that's the perfect place to cross the river). You can make a new waypoint anywhere by poking the empty ground with the cursor arrow, though, even if you've never been close to it nor know its coordinates offhand.
If you step off the boundaries of your loaded map you'll be back to the base map. The transistion is seamless -- well, except for the visible division where the detailed map stops and gives way back to the base map -- but no error messages or other surprises awat for you if you do it. The detailed portion of the map doesn't just instantly disappear if you wander off of it, either. You can walk or scroll back to it and it'll be there with all of its contents as normal, just an island of greater detail in the digital landscape inside your Rino unit.
As A Radio
The Rino 120 functions as a combination FRS and GMRS two-way radio. The 120 broadcasts over the FRS bands (Family Radio Service, short range) at half a watt, and the GMRS bands (General Mobile Radio Service, long range) at one watt. One watt is a fairly weedy power spec for GMRS, by the way. More expensive Rinos and some dedicated GMRS units sport bigger transmitters (up to 5 watts, for the high end Rinos) that can chuck a signal farther. Half a watt is the standard and the legal maximum for FRS, so that's all you'll ever get.
This brings us to transmission range, which is usually where the Big Fat Lies from the marketing department tend to crop up. It's easy to walk into any department store and find a couple of models of cheap GMRS radio all trying to one-up each other in specified range: "Talk up to 21 miles!" "32 miles!" "56 miles!" Each one has a little asterisk next to that big number, which is a reminder that as always, "up to" perfectly well includes "zero." This is the cop-out that ensures that all of those big numbers are, in essence, baloney.
Because FRS and GMRS signals are quite high frequency radio they are easily blocked by a significant number of common things, up to and including water. (Also things largely made of water, such as fleshy humans, trees, clouds, dirt, and fog.) In absolutely ideal conditions such as a perfectly flat parking lot the size of Nebraska, on a clear day with direct line-of-sight, there is a tiny chance you could throw a signal from one of those cheap radios the full 21 miles or whatever. But you won't, because that's not where you are. Garmin quotes the Rino 120's range at a much more reasonable 2 miles over FRS channels and 5 miles over GMRS.
Using FRS I can maintain quite intelligible radio communication between my house, in the suburbs, and my restaurant. This is a distance of almost exactly a mile and a quarter, through lots of buildings and trees, and one large hill. If I move much beyond that the conversation becomes much harder to understand on either end. The farthest I have ever tried to talk over GMRS was on my last backpacking trip in Wyoming, where I stood on top of a mountain on a nice clear day and radioed back to our base camp -- to an identical Rino 120 unit -- 6.3 miles away. I know this because that's how far away the other Rino told me it was, and I believe it.
Channels 1 through 14 are short range FRS channels, and 15 and up are GMRS. You can't get long range out of a short range channel even if you try, and there's no on screen indication of which channel numbers are on which band. The Rino automatically changes transmitting modes depending on which channel you put it on, though you can tell it to use only FRS power levels over a GMRS channel if you are a special individual who would like all of the drawbacks but none of the advantages.
The principal drawback is that if you intend to transmit over any GMRS band in the United States the FCC would first like for you to apply for a license. The manual, as ever, makes note of this. It does not tell you how to get that license, other than to ask the FCC about it. I have a license, purely because another set of radios I bought previously came with the correct form and even a pre-addressed envelope in the box, along with a stern warning that I could expect black helicopters to be arriving any day if I didn't do the paperwork. It was easy, so I did it. Nobody has ever asked to see my license, even when using my radios in highly populated areas with other people on the airwaves. I'd doubt they ever will.
On that point, it's worth a mention that both FRS and GMRS are open, public systems that anyone can join in on or silently listen into without restriction. (You don't need a license just to listen, or even to transmit on low power at half a watt or less.) Therefore it's perfectly possible to stumble in on someone else's conversions on the same channel or vise versa. GMRS' transmission range is relatively short -- easily outclassed by a factor of 10 by any boob with an off-the-shelf HAM radio -- so even if you're not out in the wilderness there is a limited potential number of other people you could possibly interfere with. And to prevent the airwaves from becoming a total party line there are 38 "privacy codes" or subchannels for each of the 22 radio channels supported by the Rino 120, for a possibility of 836 different party lines you and your mates could potentially use. Even still, scanning through and finding active channels is trivial (the Rino supports at least two ways to do it) and silent, so using FRS or GMRS airwaves to discuss where you stashed the loot from the bank job or where you're growing the pot is a famously bad idea.
It also means that you can, either intentionally or unintentionally, be enormously rude or irritating to total strangers at long range. And that others can do so to you, with little to no recourse. So don't do that. There's no way to filter out users you don't like, nor is there any way to boot them out of your conversation besides changing channels (and hoping they don't follow).
Just as a radio, the Rino works as you would expect. It supports external microphones and headsets via the pretty much standard 3/32" jack on the side. You can do push-to-talk or automatic voice pickup (commonly referred to, for some reason, as "VOX") either with an external mike or the one built into the Rino. The built in microphone isn't very long ranged or omnidirectional, so holding the unit in front of your face when you talk just like you see in the movies seems to work best. It has all the usual features like playing a customizable "over" noise when someone else lets go of their talk button (so you know when you can reply) and the ability to send your own irritating noise to others, or page them without saying anything to get their attention. Interestingly, the Rino also has a vibrator in it like a cell phone, which can be told to go off if the radio reckons it's heard something and you haven't pressed any of its buttons for a while. This helps it to get your attention while stowed where you can't hear it.
It can also, as most radios, turn off its internal static filter and play you an unceasing wall of white noise, if you think you can do a better job of picking out faint transmissions than it can. I don't recommend it. It's annoying.
One curiously absent feature is the lack of ability to tune in to NOAA weather broadcasts. This is an extremely useful feature when you're roughing it for prolonged periods away from your car stereo... And it's also a feature that every cheap Wal Mart radio suddenly seems to have these days. Given everything else the Rino can do I'm a bit disappointed this feature isn't on the list.
If you don't want radio at all and just want to use the Rino as a navigator you can disable the comms features. This will save a tiny bit of battery life and also prevent the thing from squawking at you randomly as it picks up passers-by. You can also disable the GPS receiver to save battery power if you just want to do radio at the moment. The two shutoffs aren't mutually exclusive, either, so you can turn off both and convert the Rino into a device that is fundamentally useless. You know, just in case you wanted to.
Most of this is standard stuff for pretty much any cheapo FRS/GMRS radio, though. It's not what we're here for.
Mapping With Friends
If you weren't going to use the Rino's main feature you wouldn't shell out for one. You'd pay about the same for a separate radio -- possibly a pack of several -- and probably a fancier standalone GPS unit.
But your Rino can see where other Rinos are.
We knew that already... Certainly by this point in the review. But that's what it does.
As long as your Rino has a GPS fix, it will broadcast where it is every time you press the push-to-talk button up to once every 30 seconds. It will receive the locations of other Rino users the same way, and provided you don't disable the feature (and you can) it will automatically update others on where it is regularly if it's asked to by other unit, without your intervention. This means that even if you have been incapacitated somehow people can still get an accurate fix on where you are. (Or, more prosaically, if you do drop it into a thicket you can use another Rino unit to figure out approximately where you did so.)
The Rino does this by sending digitally encoded data over the normally audio-only GMRS/FRS channels in beeps and blips, like a fax machine. The reason for the once-per-30-second limit is presumably so the public airwaves don't start sounding like a fax modem festival to everyone else who hasn't got a fancy Rino unit. It also makes it apparent why all the text fields and so on are so short: Anything your Rino might have to send to another as a burst of indecipherable noise has to be short and sweet.
The status of all these operations is shown on the radio screen by way of a little cartoon of a dopey looking guy with huge eyeballs holding a radio. The manual states as dryly as it states everything that his name is Mr. Mark Waypoint. I should hope that whichever member of the design team thought that up went around with a “kick me” sign on the back of them for a month as a result of that little brain wave.
Satellites hover over his head to show GPS connectivity, and he raises a flag when he has transmitted your position, and lowers it to his side when enough time has passed to allow it again. When the Rino has someone else in view another little flag appears on a hillside in the distance.
It is effective, but utterly, utterly absurd.
So folks know who you are you can select a callsign (11 characters) and pick from a list of smileyface icons to represent yourself. My callsign is "Zero," of course, and I picked a little pirate guy with an eyepatch and a ponytail. The other Rino in the household is named “Striker” and has an icon of a dude with a buzzcut and shades. We're usually on channel 16/16, if you ever happen to stumble into the area and would like to chat.
Presumably the Rino doesn't tie itself in a knot if two people with the same callsign wander within range of each other, since there's no such thing as a central registry to enforce uniqueness of callsigns. Or, for that matter, a central anything. Everything the Rino can do with itself or others is totally decentralized and peer-to-peer. How hip. You can even set your Rino to be a channel repeater, and pass along everything it hears at its own transmitting power, theoretically extending the range of a radio network in a leapfrog fashion.
Others will show up on your map with their callsign and icon. The location of any other users on your map acts as a waypoint that can move, so you can navigate to them or inspect their location, elevation, and what have you. The presence of the elevation data makes the task of bragging about the mountain you just climbed – and proving it this time – absolutely trivial.
Being able to spot someone on your map is wholly dependent on radio range just as talking to them would be. Folks not on your channel won't turn up on your map, and if you get too far away for the radios to hear each other you'll stop getting reliable position updates. Anyone who isn't within working radio range will have their icon change to a question mark, and their last known position will be saved. The Rino seems to be a bit better at picking out far-flung digital position updates than people are at deciphering speech. I can often get position updates about people who are so far away we can't meaningfully talk to each other over the radio anymore.
You can pick any waypoint, including the icon of another person, and broadcast it for others to pick up. In this way you can slowly but surely share your waypoints with anyone who cares to listen. Using a waypoint as a virtual flag planted on a mountain peak to brag is possible. Faking the elevation figure by editing it before sending is also possible, but silly.
The Rino will keep a list of people it's met along the side of the map screen, so you can snap to their location and/or click on them even if they're not currently within the bounds of your map. You can use this have your unit poll their unit for its position (as mentioned ealier) or just have a look at what they're up to.
You can also send another user your breadcrumb trail (called a "track" in the menus, not to be confused with a "route") and set up proximity triggers to alert you if you get within a certain estimated distance of anything, including another person or their last known location.
Last, and probably most amusing but least useful, you can broadcast very short text messages to everyone who happens to be on the same channel is you, which might be slightly useful for getting the word out to people who are on the fringes of communication range or not listening to their radios. Failing that, the Rino supposedly has a small feature which I believe has something to do with speaking to other people with your voice, over a distance. It bears further investigation.
It is with all of these methods that you can -- at length, with a lot of fidgeting with clicky buttons and menus -- make a small collection of Rino units considerably more useful than the sum of their parts. Mounting rescue operations, for instance, even if a user has gone dark on the radio channel. Or providing markers for others, like sticking a waypoint with a warning icon on a rattlesnake nest or a blocked trail. Or even letting the world know “I'm out,” and exactly where, when the paintball sniper has just caught you in the face.
The Rino 120 has a couple of other party tricks, many of which totally mystify me. For instance, it has a calculator program. It only supports out to 10 digits and has no graphing and few scientific features. It's also exactly as annoying to use as you would expect for a thing that has no number keys.
It's got a calendar. It's got an alarm clock feature, which might be useful if you didn't bring a watch. Its time is always super-accurate, because it gets it from several orbiting atomic clocks.
It can show you the current phase of the moon, very nicely graphically represented with craters and all, and figure out sunrise and sunset times based on your location with unerring accuracy. It can show you the exact relative position of the sun right now, which works as a rudimentary compass. And a built in compass is one of the things it doesn't have, so there you go.
It can calculate an area of arbitrary shape on its map, using real units. Or measure distance between two or more points.
It has a "hunting and fishing" calculator, which somehow -- presumably based on data the unit does not actually have access to -- attempts to predict if today will be a better or worse than average day for hunting and/or fishing, and attempts to persuade you of the "good" and "best" times to try to hunt or fish. This mystifies me entirely, and not just because line fishing and most forms of hunting also mystify me entirely. The only way you'll ever catch me fishing is with a spear or a some dynamite, or I'll eat my hat. And that's a safe bet, because my hat won't be a floppy canvas thing that's full of fish hooks. Honestly, I think you'd be just as well off asking the I Ching, as there is no way this thing has some kind of magical fish or deer radar. It can't even get NOAA weather radio for an accurate forecast for the day, for crying out loud.
It also has five games. The only single player one, I kid you not, is a miniature version of Hunt the Wumpus. The other four games are social/navigation based affairs that require other Rino users to be the other players and involve actually running around in the real world while letting your GPS location fulfill certain roles. It's a sort of super-primitive augmented reality, really. Games are things like infiltrating other people's waypoints, using yourself and another player to "clothesline" a third on the map, and playing a game of Concentration (aka flip-the-cards) by running around in a grid the size of your choosing, for real, human chessboard style. The mind boggles.
Caveats and Missing Features
I've avoided the big issue up until now, which is this: In order for a Rino unit to be good for anything, you can't have a Rino unit. You need more than one of them. They aren't sold in two- and four-packs like cheap walkie talkies, and even the basic Rino 120 has an MSRP of about $260. Each.
What you get for that money is an extremely ruggedized, weatherproof, well built, and featureful multipurpose communication/navigation/safety gadget. What you don't get is two of them. You, or your friends, get to pony up the expense for each member of the party who wants to have their own dot on the map. This isn't a total disaster if you have a lot of people in your group, because you only logically need one Rino per split-up of the party. A bunch of Wal Mart special GMRS radios can communicate via voice with a couple of Rinos just fine, for everyone else; the group leaders or whoever can get the lesser number of expensive Rinos.
It's also a bit of a disappointment that the basic old 120 model hasn't quite got a full sensor package. It has no internal compass, nor thermometer, barometer, or altimeter. I have a ten dollar digital compass that I bought at a department store that includes all of these, so you would think that for the money those features could be stuck in the Rino 120 someplace. It couldn't be difficult. I'll bet the actual set of sensors for that spread is all on a single chip anyway. You can get these features in a Rino, but not the 120. You have to pay a lot more to get one of the fancier models instead.
The lack of weather radio capability is also a drawback. If you want that you get to carry a separate radio, or again buy a more expensive version.
There's also no distress beacon mode, in a time when radio distress beacons are becoming very popular pieces of adventuring kit. Radio distress beacons do what they say the tin: Send out a powerful signal indicating where you are and kindly requesting that somebody send around a medivac helicopter, because you're meant to set yours off if you're miles away from anywhere and have become too injured to get yourself back to civilization under your own power. But the Rino 120 can't do that, beyond the obvious radioing for help over a GMRS channel, upon which there is no guarantee anyone is even listening. Maybe you can get one of those in the same unit as your weather radio and your magnetic compass.
There's also no memory card slot, and no USB. And no volume buttons. And no everything else I've already complained about it not having.
You Know You Want One, Then
All this banging on about all the things I wish the Rino 120 had doesn't have any bearing on the fact that you probably already knew if you're one of the sorts of people who needs or wants this sort of thing from the very start.
The marketplace for magical multiple-person geo tracking and navigation devices isn't exactly what you'd call saturated. The principal contenders are basically only other entrants in Garmin's own Rino series, inelegant solutions involving smartphones and social mapping apps, or police grade big brother GPS snooping devices. If you and your backpacking troupe, paintball squad, hunting party, or band of ringbearers would like to all keep in communication and keep track of each other out in the wilderness, your other options are pretty much back to shouting, or smoke signals. On a consumer level there literally is no other alternative for a device that does what the Garmin Rino does. The only remaining question is if it's any good.
And it is.
It's built like a tank, it's a competent trail mapping and navigation aid, it keeps track of the rest of your party, and it's a competent radio, too. Refreshingly, it's not a case of one gadget just stapled to another, but truly a case of a multipurpose device designed to be that way from the ground up, in a way that benefits both functions.
Yes, it's missing some trivial features. Yes, several things about the user interface are very silly. And yes, there probably is no rational reason the thing should cost as much as it does. But there is nothing it says it does that it doesn't. There are no features on the Rino that are half-baked, no matter how silly they are. And there's nothing that doesn't work as advertised, and there certainly isn't anything that doesn't work at all, except probably the hunting and fishing calculator.
It is also not a total replacement for a compass and a map. Even if only because a map can't run out of batteries, nor is it likely to stop working if you roll a boulder over it. But it's close. And it does lots of other things a regular map can't, of course.
With all of that said, and every issue and trivial omission accounted for, what the Rino 120 is... Is brilliant.
It won't disappoint you.
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