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Product Review - Handheld GPS Sat Nav

Belinda and Mike - follow our tourist travels in the UK

GPS Sat Nav Review Update of the Garmin etrex Legend

Update Oct 2006 - one year on.  Living with our GPS Sat Nav receiver.

This page should now be considered an archive resource (although the principles may still apply).

GPS Sat Nav - Garmen etrex LegendSince we wrote our GPS review article a year has passed.  In that time we've used our GPS Sat Nav receiver on many trips and outings - weekend breaks in the Rye area in 2005 and Arundel area in 2006, our 2006 Somerset holiday, in London, and on many walks.

To start on a positive note, we've largely solved the short battery life problem with the purchase of some higher capacity NiMh cells.  We easily get a day's usage now using 2100 mAh capacity batteries, although we still can't understand why the Sat Nav receiver consumes so much power.

The GPS receiver has proved to be a robust little unit, as we've dropped it a least twice onto hard tarmac and all it suffered were some minor abrasions.  However, that brings us to the first bad point.  The reason we dropped it in the first place on one occasion was because the battery cover attachment clip came undone.  As this clip also doubles as the eyelet for the lanyard attachment, the unit dropped to the ground - with battery cover still attached to our wrist via the lanyard!  The clip turns through 90 degrees to attach and it easily comes undone, a more robust clip or, better still, an attachment for the lanyard on the main unit would be a better design.

We've been unable to solve the poor integration with the Basemap, despite tinkering with the magnetic variation setting and Map Datum.  We've also looked for a software upgrade that may solve this problem, but there hasn't been one from Garmin since we brought the Sat Nav receiver over a year ago.  Come on Garmin!

The problem with poor GPS satellite reception in the city or wooded areas remains too.  On a visit to London we couldn't get a GPS signal in the West End at all, until we moved into Hyde Park, then it was fine.  The same problem with no signal was apparent at Cheddar Gorge when climbing Jacobs Ladder.  And on another occasion we thought the unit had failed as it couldn't latch onto any signal at all for several hours, this under heavy cloud cover, but hey, clouds are not that unusual!

Crazy data recorded on the trip computer page!On a number of occasions the GPS Sat Nav receiver reported silly data on the Trip Computer page - recording 106 miles and an average speed of 56 mph on a short walk (and we thought it was the hill that puffed us!).  Another time was even more ridiculous when it said we'd done 619 miles, hit 622 mph and a moving average of 317 mph!  Now Mike's car's fast, but not that fast!  Crazy!

Left. Wow, just see here how fit we are!  The Trip Computer says we've walked 264 miles in 1hr 21mins at an average of 194mph while all along our top speed was 9.1mph (that in itself is an impossibility walking!).

Now to finish our update on a more positive note.  During our weekend break in Arundel early in 2006 we noticed it reporting a higher accuracy - to within 4 meters sometimes.  So maybe the promised GPS correction system satellites in Europe (EGNOS) are now coming online?

Our main use for the Sat Nav is to assist with finding a different way back to where we started a walk and using the GoTo function to navigate to a pre-determined (projected) waypoint, giving us the miles countdown and destination ETA.  For these uses the Sat Nav unit is fine, if a bit limited by the number of routes and tracks it can store and subject to it receiving a solid satellite signal.


Update Aug 07 - two years on - and a spooky sat nav story!
Well, after two years we've used our Garmin etrex Legend GPS Sat Nav receiver a fair bit and become familiar with all its little quirks and annoyances.  Following on from last year's update, we had another crazy reading instance on a walk - some 300 miles at 100 mph in an afternoon!  But even with a turbo powered vindaloo curry Mike can't walk that fast, or far!!

The problem with the Sat Nav receiver being unable to get a GPS satellite signal under heavy cloud, tree or city buildings remain, frustratingly this is the time you probably need it the most!  We're sick of seeing the message 'poor signal, need clear view of the sky' - godammit, it's got a clear view of the sky!  Another thing to report is that the left top most button - used to zoom out on the map - seems to require a firmer pressing than the others and we think it's become more recessed too.  This is worrying as it doesn't get excessive use.  If this indicates a looming mechanical failure with our Sat Nav unit, that would certainly be unacceptable in such a short time.

We discovered an issue with the navigate a route feature.  One day we attempted to use the GoTo to navigate to a projected waypoint we'd set, but appeared to have no GPS satellite signal for the whole journey (horror, we had to use... a map!...).  We thought the Sat Nav receiver had failed, but later realised it was still set to navigate a previous route.  So the unit just refused to acknowledge a signal when confronted with this conflict.  No error message, it just gave up.  A software upgrade would probably fix this, but still none have been forthcoming for the etrex Legend from Garmin.

The Sat Nav receiver is said to withstand immersion in water.  We've never tested this, but we did have a problem with the display misting up when using the unit in warm sunshine a week after previously using it in drizzle.  So it had clearly gotten damp inside.  Although this quickly cleared up of its own accord, nevertheless we wouldn't want to test the water immersion capability!

Now, the spooky sat nav story...
One day we discovered a mystery waypoint we hadn't set.  It was numbered 13 too, ooh er!  So we decided to navigate to it, somewhere in Brighton.  We trotted off towards the Hove border and found it located in a side street off a main road, although we could only get to within 10 meters as the waypoint was pointing into someone's property.  So we retired to the nearby cafe to ponder on this.  Now we've used this cafe before, and the obvious explanation is that we inadvertently marked the waypoint on the Sat Nav then.  But we've never been down the street nearest the point, and in any case the cafe is a good 150 meters away.  Now a GPS coordinate is rather fixed in position and cannot move, if we did set a waypoint in error previously then either the GPS satellites are way inaccurate or our Sat Nav receiver is.  We tested this theory by navigating to the waypoint we set outside our home over two years ago when we first bought the unit, and this was still spot-on.  We tried it with another early waypoint, also exactly right.  So that's a relief, but it still doesn't explain our mystery waypoint...

The GPS Sat Nav locations may be accurate, but we're still plagued by the inaccurate Basemap.  The photos (or rather video stills) below illustrate just how hopeless this is, from a walk we did along The Shropshire Way on holiday in 2007.  Notice the road and railway line seem to be the wrong way round too, were going to hit the road first.

Sat Nav receiver display
Compare this with the picture on the right -
here the Sat Nav receiver positions us between
the railway line and the road...

Road and rail position
...but we've yet to reach the road (where the van is)
and in any case the road has just passed under
the railway at the bridge on the right.

One final point on waypoint accuracy.  We often enter into the Sat Nav a GPS coordinate obtained from a postcode (eg using Multimap), and did so to locate our 2007 Shropshire holiday cottage.  Usually this pinpoints a location fairly accurately.  However, on this occasion the GPS position was some 200 meters to the South West of the actual cottage.  It's probably an issue with the postcode system rather than GPS, but something to be aware of.Return to top


Update Sept 08 - three years on - and our GPS unit is still going strong!
Never worry about something that hasn't yet happened!  Remember our concern with the Sat Nav's recessed zoom button?  Well, this has came to nought and nothing's failed.  It's still recessed, but hasn't got any worse and continues to function just fine.  Not such a good outcome with our previously highlighted issue with the lanyard attachment to the battery cover rather than the GPS receiver itself which causes the cover to detach and sends the unit to the ground.  Despite being well aware of this problem, it's happened again a number of times and on one occasion the receiver landed onto the gravel driveway of our New Forest short break cottage on its face causing abrasions to the screen.  This really is poor design.  However, despite the numerous drops the hand-held GPS Sat Nav has proved a little toughie and continues to work just fine - too well sometimes as we've had another crazy reading!

Silly data recorded on the etrex Legend Sat Nav - again!Right. Although we've only maxed 4.9 MPH we've covered 343 miles in 2hr 42mins at an average 127 MPH!  Mike's been wearing his superhero underpants on the outside of his jeans again!

There's only been one new issue that's manifested itself with our Sat Nav unit since last year's update.  This is the Sat Nav receiver's rubberised surround oozing glue when it gets hot, eg on the car dash or left too long in the sun on a walk.  (Err, what sun?  The last two summers have been washouts!).

Still the Basemap doesn't tally with our location and still no software update from Garmin.  When the time comes to replace our GPS receiver, this situation will undoubtedly cause us to look at other brands.  We'll also go for a colour screen next time as we find the display difficult to follow.  In fact, we've been considering what to replace our Garmin GPS Sat Nav receiver with and decided a PDA or Palmtop type unit would be more suited to our needs, especially as we're into Geocaching now and web access, a photo store and making notes electronically while on the move would be really useful features.


Update Sept 09 - four years on - a software update at last!  And increased accuracy!
Yes, it's true, since our last update we've updated the GPS receiver's software (or rather firmware).  To be fair, we only did so while investigating the ability to download Geocache coordinates directly to the receiver from the Geocache website and suspect Garmin had the upgrade available for some time - we just hadn't checked for a while.  Anyway, a simple download and install later and we're up-to-date.  The GPS unit really does now receive the WAAS / EGNOS correction satellites and the best accuracy we've seen is to 1 meters (6 feet) on a good day!  A bad day is when no EGNOS satellite is within range, usually when they're on the horizon in the sky which seems more often than not.

Another useful thing we've done is to integrate the unit with Google Earth and transfer our saved routes, tracks and waypoints - which then show up in 'Places' and added as a map layer.  This has confirmed our ongoing issue with the unit's Basemap, namely that it's very inaccurate, as our locations and tracks show up spot-on on Google Earth.

We've had a few problems since our last update.  Last time we mentioned the rubberised surround was oozing glue.  Well, this surround is now quite loose and unstuck.  Another problem was when the receiver locked up, displaying a pulsating, flashing display which we blamed on a low or iffy battery connection, but sorting this and even resetting (sw off/on) didn't fix it.  The next time we used it it was fine, so this remains a mystery.  And another problem is the display sometimes blanks out when the backlight is activated which isn't very helpful.

On our previous update we hinted at a replacement.  In fact, in the summer we did look at Pocket PCs and mobile devices and did a fair bit of research but couldn't come up with a unit that met all our desired requirements.  Then our fridge/freezer packed up (while away on our Cotswold holiday) so we had to re-allocate our earmarked funds.  Maybe next year...


Update Oct 2010 - five years on - and the craziest readings ever!
Crazy readings on the etrex Legend's trip computer pageEr, even wilder readings on the etrex Legend Sat NavFirst, those crazy readings - just have a look at our photos of the Garmin's Trip Computer page!  And we all thought a Concord successor wasn't in development!

A new problem manifested itself in the last year - a dodgy click-stick (that's the little joystick on the front of the Garmin used to navigate around the device).  It doesn't always register when moving side to side or clicking in; we suspect the contacts within becoming worn, which is worrying considering the click stick is fundamental to operation.  Continuing problems are the ongoing flashing/pulsating/blanking display and rubber surround coming adrift as previously highlighted.  We've not found any further software updates from Garmin, nor do we expect to given the age of this GPS Sat Nav unit now.

Pics of our Garmin etrex Legend's trip computer screen.  Left: 112 miles in only 18 minutes at a max speed of 1743 MPH!  And on the right we've covered a whopping 1225 miles at an average 5744 MPH in only 12 minutes while hitting a measly max of 7 MPH this time!  (Um, sorry about the screen reflections - pics taken on the hop at the time).

We'll probably make this brief update the final one for our handheld GPS product which is now five years old and past its prime, both operationally and technically.  As hinted in our previous updates we're looking to replace it with a smartphone type device with Sat Nav function - Mike has his eyes on HTC and Android - which we'll review in due course!


Update Oct 11 - six years on - OK, one more update then.
Well, we're still using this Garmin device!  As highlighted last time the click-stick is temperamental in operation - sometimes it's fine for ages then it'll refuse to register in the 'left' or 'down' directions.  But it doesn't appear to be the control itself at fault, as a sharp tap on a hard surface often corrects the problem.  Very strange.

Something else strange was when the unit couldn't find any satellites one day and reported 'poor satellite reception, use with GPS off'.  OFF?  Come on, the whole point was to navigate!  This happened on the way to do a spot of Geocaching and with a wide clear view of a clear sunny sky.  Rebooting didn't rectify it and all settings looked normal.  Then miraculously just before reaching our target area it decided to work!  Could the GPS system itself have gone down?  Who knows, but it's been fine ever since.

And on our Isle of Wight holiday yet another strange thing happened when the batteries (rechargeable AA size) refused to fit despite using them many times previously.  It was like they'd grown longer!  In fact, it bent the battery contacts necessitating a 'field-fix'.  On closer inspection when back home we discovered that indeed they had got marginally longer, following getting cooked when we left them in the re-charger for far too long (it also wrecked the battery's ability to hold a charge).  Learning from this, we got a charger that cuts off when fully charged!

No more ridiculous readings to report this time, and we still haven't stuck down the rubber surround which still comes adrift in hot weather.  We still intend to replace this unit with a smartphone... sometime.


Update Oct 2012 - the seven year itch?
Well, we've hardly used our Garmin GPS Sat Nav handheld receiver since our last update.  Yes, as we've being hinting in previous updates we finally replaced it with a mobile device and are now happily using an Android powered Samsung smartphone + appropriate navigation apps.  So our faithful 2005 vintage Garmin etrex Legend, complete with all its quirks, is now gathering dust in the back of a cupboard.  And that means... no more review updates for this product.  Should we buy another similar unit then we'll review that of course, but we find the smartphone fulfils all our navigational needs and renders a separate GPS receiver unnecessary.

See the main GPS receiver review.


You can find the Garmin website at: www.garmin.com/en-GB

micbinks 2006-2012. Please ask permission if you wish to reproduce any of our content.

View our Dorset holiday pages where we first used this product.