REVIEW: Garmin Montana


The wait is over

Since I first blogged about the Montana in May I had been itching to get my hands on one, patiently waiting for a UK online store to get some in stock. I didn’t really want to pay the price that Garmin were stating as the RRP. £600-£650 is a lot of money for a GPSr. I was therefore pleased when I saw them sold by Marine Electronic Services Ltd. I pre-ordered my Montana 650 and patiently waited for 2 weeks until finally the day came when my Montana was delivered. Sod’s law meant it came on the very day that I was travelling to Wales for the MEGA so I had to again patiently wait until I got back to play with it. For anyone thinking of purchasing a Montana, I will say that I’m definitely pleased with Mes Ltd. I emailed them a few times to check on my order (I lied when I said I was patient!) and always got a reply back within an hour or two. They also provided a tracking number for me to watch the status of my order. At the time of writing they are also the cheapest price I can find for all of the Montana models, although I notice the 650 has gone up by £20 since I purchased it. I think their site currently does still have the best price.

The review

I’m going to look at the Montana as “A Geocacher” and review the features that I think a Geocacher is most likely to use, so this isn’t going to go into depth with the Marine, Hunt and Fish features, etc. The model I am reviewing is the “Garmin Montana 650” although there’s not a massive difference between this and the other models. The 600 is the base model. The 650 is the base model + a 5 megapixel camera, and the 650t is the base model, camera, and maps.

The size

The first thing you will probably notice about the Montana is that it’s big! It has a 5.06 x 8.93 cm (4″ diagonal) screen. I think this is the thing that will put most people off of purchasing it (Other than the price, of course!). It’s also quite chunky, but you do need that to ensure that it’s not easily damaged. To be honest, the size doesn’t bother me too much. If we were going caching in a really urban location (e.g. a day trip to London) I would be tempted to leave it at home and take our Garmin Dakota simply because you wouldn’t be as easily noticed. The size gives a huge advantage and the massive screen is just brilliant to work with. It’s so easy to scroll around the map and see caches, particulary if you are in an area and are not sure where to go next.

A Dakota 10, Samsung Galaxy S, and the Montana

Caches on the map zoomed out

Profiles

Like other Garmin GPSr’s there is the idea of ‘Profiles’. There are the options of Recreational, Geocaching, Automotive, Marine, Fitness, Camera, Classic, and Motorcycle as well as the ability to create your own profiles. I found with our Dakota that I just configured a profile and stuck with it. These come in really handy with the Montana though as the setup and maps can be configured differently for each profile and as it can act as both an “on the trail” GPS and a traditional “sat nav” this is very useful.

Profile selection screen

The Geocaching Profile

If you switch to the Geocaching profile, the Montana will order the menus in an order it thinks will be most useful to you whilst Geocaching. You can of course change this via Setup -> Main Menu, just like you can order pretty much every list that is available on the device.

(left) The main menu, (right) Customizing the main menu

From here it’s pretty much like any other Garmin where you can go into ‘Geocaches’, find them, pull up the description, logs, hint, log attempt, enter next stage, find another, and show found. The huge advantage here is that the large screen makes the description and logs much easier to scroll through.

(left) Find a cache, (middle) Reading some logs, (right) Options for the cache

The dashboard for geocaching whilst you are viewing the map is very useful. It displays at the top of the map with the cache name, compass, difficulty/terrain rating, distance to the cache, size of the cache, and the number of caches that you have found. You can easily minimize this by clicking a little arrow below the dashboard. This dashboard is also customizable if you would rather see different data fields.

Geocache Dashboard whilst navigating

The Montana can be viewed in portrait or landscape mode and auto rotates based on the way that you hold it. I found this a little annoying whilst caching as I have it on a lanyard around my neck. It constantly kept flipping so I locked the rotation to portrait. If however, you do flip the unit to landscape whilst entering text then you’ll get a QWERTY keyboard appear which is a lot easier to type on, especially if you are entering field notes. The Landscape mode is obviously more useful when using it as a car sat nav.

(left) The portrait keyboard, (right) The QWERTY landscape keyboard

The Automotive Profile

The Montana is easily switched into a sat nav, simply by changing to the ‘Automotive’ profile. In this view you are automatically given the 3D-style view that most car sat-nav’s have. Although It’s possible to customize the dashboard, the “Nuvi” dashboard acts just like a Garmin Nuvi showing you statistics and turn-by-turn information.

Routing to a destination shows caches as you pass them

To navigate anywhere by car, however you will need a map! If you get the 650T you’ll get the maps that you need, however if you purchase maps separately you will need “Garmin City Navigator” maps in order to get anywhere! The free OSM maps that Talky toaster produces are routable so you can use these, however be aware that these aren’t as “intelligent” as the paid option. e.g If the M11 crosses over a road, it may see a link between the two roads and direct you onto the M11 via this route!

If you plug something into the standard headphone jack on the device then it will also speak to you in your chosen voice. There’s a good list of voices already on the Montana in various languages. You can also add additional languages if you fancy someone like Yoda guiding you! 😉

Language Selection

As the Automotive Profile is separate to the Geocaching Profile you can switch on/off different options depending on which you are using. For example, whilst Geocaching it’s nice to record the track that you have walked and have it display on the map. You’re less likely to want the track recorded whilst driving, so you can turn it off completely for Automotive mode, or perhaps record it, but tell it not to show the line on the map.

Track record options

Like most sat navs, there are the options to modify settings that affect the routing calculation. For example, you can choose the calculation method to minimize distance or minimize time. I currently have mine set to distance rather than time as when set to time it was definitely less convenient routes due to this. I’ve also experienced it once where the routing algorithm was calculated based on the direction the car and sat nav were facing. Therefore, instead of just turning the car around and facing to the right and doing say a 1 mile trip to the destination, it would keep the car facing left and calculate a 4 mile “round the house” route. This has only happened to me once and most times it does seem to get it right. I do try and take its calculation with a pinch of salt and pan out the map to check it’s a sensible route to the destination.

Configuring automobile options

Other nice features

Camera

The only additional feature on the Montana 650 is the camera, so is it worth the extra money? There are some nice features that go along with it in that all photos taken with it are ‘Geotagged’. For those unfamiliar with this it means that photos are “stamped” with the coordinates of the location that you took them, along with the altitude of the location.

The attributes of a geotagged photo

This means that if you use a website such as EveryTrail to create a route of a trip then your photos will be automatically positioned. If you enjoy waymarking then you are able to take a photo of a location and then reference it later to check where it is and if there is an existing waymark for that object. If not you then have all of the data that you need to create one. On the track that you have recorded you will also notice that a little waypoint is added to your map of a little photo icon. If you click on it you will see a small image bar appear along the top which you can then click to view a larger image.

Geotagged photos on the map

In the Geocaching profile, by default my Montana was set to the medium 3.2MP photo resolution. The unit has plenty of room on it so I upped it to 5MP for some good quality images. Click the images below to show the high-res versions:

Elevation and recorded tracks

The Montana also includes elevation plots for your current track, a plotted route, or a saved track. The large screen gives a clear view and it’s possible to click on different parts of the elevation to see additional details about that section.

Elevation for a track

You can also look at the recorded tracks and see the track that you walked and the distance.

A recorded track on the map

Shortcuts

Montana Shortcuts are really quite cool. If there’s a particular action that you perform regularly, you can create a shortcut and add it to your main menu so that it’s easy to access. For example, you can set up a shortcut for ‘Home’ and ‘Work’ and enter the coordinates in for that and create a shortcut on the main menu of the Automotive profile to get you to popular destinations quicker. I am often changing profile between Geocaching and Automotive, so I have a ‘Profile Change’ shortcut on my main menu. There are also some default shortcuts for turning track recording on and off. With this option it’s possible to not only customize the layout and order of items, but also quick links to the buttons you press regularly. This is definitely one of my favourite features.

Setting up Montana shortcuts

Compass

Like some Oregons the Montana includes a 3-axis compass which gives it a heading while standing still or not held level. I’ve found it to be very good and very sensitive. As it displays along the Geocaching dashboard whilst you are navigating it’s easy to see which direction you are heading.

Using the compass

The Battery

Along with the ability to use AA batteries, the Montana also comes with a Lithium Ion battery which is capable of 16 hours use. Readers of the blog will know that when we go out Geocaching, our days are often very long. The Lithium Ion battery has not once run out. That includes an entire day of use from about 8am to 7pm whilst using it not only to navigate to Geocaches, but also as a car sat nav. I have got to a point a few times where the device says “Battery Low” however the battery still takes about 2 hours to die! If the Lithium Ion battery does die, it can be replaced by 3 AA batteries. Doing this does make the unit slightly heavier, however I’ve not really noticed the extra weight of the unit much. It’s not as heavy as it looks!

The built-in battery

The Bugs

I’ve tried to focus the review on the Montana’s features and capabilities without mentioning any problems that I’ve had with it. I shall mention these here:

  • Whilst navigating in the Automotive mode using the Nuvi dashboard I’ve been randomly experiencing times when the details on the next turn, speed limit, and turn directions wouldn’t display as they should. Turning it off and on again would always fix this problem. This seems to have improved with updates in the respect that it doesn’t happen as often, however it does still randomly happen. I’m not too worried about this at the moment as I’ve spoken to others on forums and no-one else seems to be experiencing this bug.
  • After upgrading to firmware v3.1 it sent my screen calibration crazy! I would click on the screen and the click would register as being elsewhere. I was on the verge of sending the unit back to Garmin, however after several downgrades and upgrades of the firmware I eventually got it to sort itself out.
  • The unit occasionally crashes for no reason (I think most users are experiencing this). On average it crashes twice during every Geocaching day that I use it.
  • I had a problem where the main menu dashboard would randomly disappear after logging an attempt on a Geocache and selecting ‘Find Next Closest’. The dashboard would disappear and if I tried to access the other menus the unit would crash. It was caused by my use of Garmin Custom Maps as once they were turned off the unit wouldn’t repeat those problems.

The Firmware Updates

As I write this the firmware available for the Montana is v3.2. I received my unit about a month ago running v2.6 so that’s 6 firmware revisions in that time! It’s clear that the Montana team are working exceptionally hard at fixing the bugs and ironing out any problems that are reported to them. With every new release they add a list of problems that have been fixed. I have to say, I’m exceptionally impressed with the Garmin Montana Team. Whereas the unit isn’t perfect yet, they are working super hard to try and improve it. For the bug I experienced with the dashboard disappearing, I emailed the Montana Team (MontanaBeta@garmin.com) on Wed 24th August. They immediately requested a few extra details. They then emailed me on Mon 29th Aug to say they had released v3.2 of the Firmware which should fix my problems and indeed it did. They are really listening to the users and the bugs that are reported.

Conclusion

I honestly think that the Montana is an excellent piece of kit and I’m truely impressed with my unit. It’s possible that this is helped by the fact that I’ve moved from a Garmin Dakota, so the large-screened Montana seems extra impressive. The sat nav features of it are definitely very useful and one of the main reasons I purchased a Montana instead of an Oregon. Do be aware though that you will need to purchase maps if you want to take advantage of this feature. It’s so simple to just load PQs onto that single unit and switch between Geocaching and Automotive mode as needed. As you drive along you can see all of the Geocaches on the map and as the unit can hold 12,000 geocaches, planning a long trip would be easy as you could add PQs that show caches along your route without worrying about them taking up too much space. FYI, a Dakota holds 2000 Geocaches and I believe an Oregon holds 5000.

The Geotagging of photos and Shortcuts are really lovely features that make the Montana stand out to me, however it’s definitely the large screen which is the thing that impresses me the most. Yes, the unit is big, but with a screen that size it has to be in order to provide the rugged protection for outdoor use and drops.

At this point the unit is a bit buggy, but it’s very impressive how fast Garmin are working to iron out these bugs. From first-hand experience, I can honestly say the Montana Team listen to any problems reported and try to fix them in the next update. I’m going to stare into my crystal ball and predict that in about a month’s time, most of the bugs will be ironed out and there will be a very impressive GPS on the market.

If you’re thinking of upgrading to a Montana soon then my advice would be:

  • Don’t sell your existing GPSr. Keep it until you’re sure that your Montana is working correctly and firmware updates become less regular.
  • Be aware that there may be odd bugs that you experience. Report them to MontanaBeta@garmin.com giving as much detail as possible and keep an eye out for the next firmware update. If you’re not technically minded or prepared to play around with settings and firmware upgrades/downgrades to fix things if they go wrong, then it may be best to wait a bit before purchasing.
  • Keep an eye on the Groundspeak forums. Just do a search for “Montana”. The discussions here seem to currently be the best place on the Internet to find out about other user’s experiences and share any problems.

I noticed in the user manual for my Montana that a feature called “Adventures” was listed. It sounded like a “to do list” for Geocaches and waypoints. This really interested me, although I couldn’t find it on my unit. I emailed Garmin and they told me that the development team were working on that feature. I’m really looking forward to that and hope it’s developed soon! I’m also a bit disappointed that the unit doesn’t support Wherigo. As a huge wherigo fan I live in hope that someday Groundspeak will care about it again and it will be revived. It certainly isn’t dead yet, so it’s a shame that no new Garmin units support it.

As always, if you have any questions about the Montana, feel free to add a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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21 Responses to “REVIEW: Garmin Montana”

  1. jane Says:

    wow 12000 geocaches!! I would love that!!

  2. Pardlerum Says:

    [Geek Mode] I like the time-machine feature where you can go back and have a file modified date *before* the file creation date… (See screen shot in camera section) 😉 [/Geek Mode]

  3. Pardlerum Says:

    On a more serious note – how do you think the Garmin (or other dedicated GPS) stack up against general purpose devises such as the Samsung?

    I currently use a Blackberry Bold 9700 for all my geocaching – and whilst the GPS is not fantastic (you have to be in motion to get a pseudo compass etc.) but I don’t think I am missing any caches that I would otherwise be finding with a dedicated device…

    So given that you obviously take your Samsung (or iPhone) with you anyway what is the justification for the Garmin?

    • geocass Says:

      Dedicated GPSr’s are definitely more accurate. We found our first 500-ish with an iPhone and it wasnt easy. Tree covered locations were the worst. However that was a 3GS and now I have a 4G. Even still the accuracy can’t be beaten. The other main issue is battery! My iPhone lasts long enough to log caches throughout the day, but wouldn’t handle hunting as well. With non-iPhone smartphones I know battery issues are less of a worry. There’s also the issue of caching where there is no signal. Our phones really struggled to do anything whilst at the top of the Peaks!

      I think wherigo cartridges are the best way to test the accuracy of smartphone VS GPS. Say you have a 5m x 5m zone. A GPS will register being in the zone as soon as you are in the outskirts of it, whereas you’ll have to get a lot deeper with a smartphone. Through my testing I found that the Samsung registered being in a zone a lot sooner than the iPhone. It took lots of wandering around before the iPhone would settle. As a result had to make the zones bigger. I’d say the GPS in the Samsung is more accurate than the iPhone. I’d pick a dedicated GPS any day though! 🙂

  4. Heather Cunningham Says:

    Cass, having read your review I have purchased a Montana. Can I ask what map you use, I was going to buy the discoverer 1:50k?
    Best wishes
    Heather

    • geocass Says:

      Hi Heather. The screenshots in the review are TalkyToaster’s OpenStreetMaps. There’s a tutorial on how to get them on your GPS here: https://geocass.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/free-maps-for-your-garmin-gpsr-from-open-street-map/

      They are completely free so I’d maybe suggest giving them a go first and see how you get on before purchasing the discoverer maps.

      I’d also recommend taking a backup of your montana by simply copying off the files and folders on it to your computer and burning to a disc just incase you accidentally delete a file in the future.

      Happy Caching!

      Cass

      • Heather Cunningham Says:

        That’s great, thanks Cass, my other half will be pleased I don’t have to spend more!
        I am desperate to get out and try my new toy, can I ask another question, should I automatically update it when I plug it in – I note you have a had a few ‘moments’ with upgrades?
        H

      • geocass Says:

        The updates seem to have got a lot more stable now so I think it’s safe to say you can update. I only had real problems with one update, the other times were only slight niggles so yeah go for it. 🙂 Have fun with your new toy and feel free to ask if there are any other questions you have! Cass

  5. Heather Cunningham Says:

    Sorry, I will go away in a minute, ishould I pop the free map on micro sd card, or should I just pop it onto the device – does it matter which?

    • geocass Says:

      Hehe! That’s ok! It doesn’t matter which. Mine are on the device. There’s lots of room on it anyway, I’m not convinced I’ll ever need a card for my Montana.

  6. Hannah (The QCs) Says:

    A quick question…how do you do screen shots of the GPS unit? I have a Dakota 20, can I get a shot of the screen or is that only for higher spec units? Thank you!

    • geocass Says:

      You can screenshot all Garmins (I think) Definitely Dakota. In Setup -> Display I think you’ll find “Screen Capture” Set that to “yes” and then you’ll be able to take a screenshot by pressing the power button once. Instead of taking you to backlight options it will capture the screen.

  7. Guy Says:

    Hi there,
    Quick question from Belgium 🙂
    I’ve been looking into the possibility of buying a Montana.
    The only thing I can ‘t seem to find is an answer to this : “Is it possible to put my topo-maps ( Benelux and Germany ) , which I use currently on my Oregon, onto the Montana. Or do I have to buy new ones ?”
    Thanks for the reply….great review by the way 🙂

    • geocass Says:

      Hi Guy!

      I don’t think I’m going to be of much help to you with that as I’m not sure. I think Garmin would be the best people to contact. I’ve contacted them before and they’ve always got back quickly.

      I’d guess that if you purchased the maps with/on your Oregon then no, you won’t be able to use them as they’re usually tied to a unitID (IE that of your Oregon) You might be able to use them if you purchased them separately.

      As I said, Garmin would probably be your best point of contact!

      Happy caching!

      Cass

  8. spinetrak Says:

    Hi –

    Great review, thanks! So I take it unlike a ‘real’ road GPS, this doesn’t have audio (except via headphone jack), correct? That makes these gorgeous accents a bit less useful for driving, doesn’t it (if you don’t like wearing a headset while driving)? I’d love to have a GPS for both the road and hiking trips (bigger size wouldn’t bother me too much)…

    • spinetrak Says:

      nevermind, i see now that the speaker is integrated with the optional mount… thanks

      • geocass Says:

        I use a X-Mi X Mini II speaker that plugs into the jack and sits comfortably on the dashboard. I think integrating a speaker into the Montana would have made it less watertight which is why theyve done it this way. Shame that the auto mount is a bit on the pricey side though after you’ve spent so much on the unit!

  9. Jill (Happileigh) Says:

    Hi Cass, Wondering what you would buy is you were buying a new GPS now? Screen size is important to me, as I’ve got a Dakota 10 at the mo. Happy Christmas! Love, Jill (Happileigh)

    • geocass Says:

      Hi Jill,

      Well, your options pretty much are: An older Oregon (e.g. Oregon 450), a new Oregon (From the 600 series), a Montana, or a Monterra. The Oregons have a smaller screen. The Montana/Monterra have a much bigger screen.

      The older Oregons are quite settled and quite reliable now that they’ve been through several firmware upgrades. They’re discontinued by Garmin now, however, but you can still get hold of them.

      The new Oregons (600 series) have been out for a while now, but they do seem to have a mind of their own and seem to be quite buggy! I’ve heard lots of people complain about theirs and it’s not unusual to have to take them to the shop for replacements a few times before you get one that is ok to rely on. Mine always seems to be about 50ft off whilst the Montana is about 15ft off of the same cache. It’s very annoying (And means Andy, with the Montana, always finds the cache first!!!)

      The Montana, like the older Oregon, seems to be well settled. Mine is very good and reliable. It is quite big though. It’s usually spot on where it says the cache is too!

      The Monterra is a similar size to an Oregon. It seems to look quite nice and I’ve played with one and spoken to a few people who have them. The general feeling, however, seems to be that they aren’t very reliable and are buggy so might be worth waiting a bit before buying one (Which is why I haven’t done so)

      So… in conclusion… If I were in your situation and had a Dakota 10 wanting to upgrade, the GPS I would upgrade to is a Garmin Montana. 🙂

      Happy Christmas, time to treat yourself! 😉 Cass xx

  10. Jill (Happileigh) Says:

    Thanks- I might just do that! x


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