Garmin have recently released their Oregon 6xx series of GPS. In the range are the 600, 600t, 650, and 650t. The ‘t’ models include “Full European Recreational mapping 1:100K”. The 650 units include a rechargeable NiMH battery pack (this can be purchased separately for the 600 for under £20), an 8MP geotagging camera, a torch, and a larger storage capacity. The devices are currently retailing at between £370 and £500, depending on the model and whether you add 50k OS maps to your purchase. I took a look at an Oregon 600 with 50k OS maps to see if it was a worthwhile upgrade…
My first impression of the device was that the screen seemed smaller than the Oregon 450 that I’ve used. In fact the screen size is the same (3″ / 240 x 400 pixels). Whereas previous Oregons have the protective raised plastic around the edge of the screen the new version is completely flat with the glass of the screen extending to the edges. This does make the device appear to look more modern and phone-like, however means that the screen isn’t as protected around the edges and gives the illusion that the screen is smaller than it is. It also seems a bit of a waste as it’d be more desirable if the screen filled this vacant space. The glass used on the screen is however “chemically enhanced” meaning that it should be more scratch resistant and durable and therefore doesn’t need that added ridge. Check out this YouTube video where they throw it on concrete and hit it with a hammer and it still doesn’t break!!!
The unit fitted nicely into my hand and although it weighs a few grams more than the previous Oregons (210g compared to 192.7g) it wasn’t that noticeable. The dimensions of the new Oregon are 11.4 x 6.1 x 3.3 cm compared with 11.4 x 5.8 x 3.5 cm of previous models meaning that it’s slightly wider across the front (which sadly doesn’t improve the actual screen size, just the space around it). It’s also slightly thinner. Without the extra protection that the previous models have it does indeed feel less bulky. After I turned the unit on the display looked very crisp with improved menus. There’s a faster processor in these new Oregons too which is noticeable when you start to zoom into and move around the map as it refreshes a lot quicker.
The latest Oregons come with a few new features, as you’d expect. In my opinion the most desirable ones are the improved display and unlimited geocache storage. There’s also the ability to use GLONASS satellites as well as standard GPS satellites, Bluetooth sharing, an updated track recording interface, and a better spot to clip your lanyard…
The display features “reflective display technology” that uses external light combined with the LED backlight to increase brightness and conserve power as you won’t need to turn the backlight up in bright sunlight. This feature does indeed work very well. Along with this there is also the dual-orientation feature meaning that you can use it in landscape or portrait mode, or both as the screen will rotate depending on how you are holding it. This was first featured on the Montana which I found very useful as the large screen means the device conveniently doubles up as a car sat-nav where landscape orientation is a must. Whilst in Geocaching mode, however, I do find it quite annoying that the map rotates around at will, especially when the device is hanging around your neck on a lanyard. It’s therefore a feature that I typically turn off preferring that it’s set permanently in portrait mode. One last new feature of the display is the ability to pinch-zoom like you would on a smartphone. Although this is handy for quickly enlarging an area, the display doesn’t respond if tapped with a fingernail, unlike previous Garmin touchscreen GPS. Personally this is something I find handy as you can precisely click on geocaches on a map. In tests it was harder for me to select geocaches on the map using my fingertips unless I was really zoomed in. I can imagine those cachers with large hands may get frustrated by this. Other than that, the screen is very responsive and it’s far easier to type in comments after you have found a cache and to use the menus as it seems more like you are using a phone than a GPS.
The 6xx series supports unlimited geocaches. Up to 4 million apparently! Although I couldn’t test out loading on quite this many I did successfully load on 17,000 Geocaching.com caches. Do beware that loading this many onto the GPS does considerably affect the amount of time it takes for the device to initially load the first time that you power it on. To allow this unlimited geocaches feature the device shows you just the caches closest to your current location. I should add that the most recent Magellan eXplorist GPS’ support unlimited caches too.
Garmin have also just released a new .GGZ file format which the 6xx series supports. This is a compressed version of a .GPX file which in theory means that more caches can be stored on a unit because they will be of a smaller size. Opencaching.com is the only site using this file format at the moment, however Garmin are allowing other sites to use the format if they so desire. For the time being don’t worry. The unit supports plenty of Geocaches acquired from GPX files and has plenty of storage space so I’m not sure many users will need to make use of the GGZ file format.
…But here’s the geeky bit just in case!!!
I tested the use of GGZ files and found that if you download a cache or batch of caches from Opencaching.com they download as a .GPX file. However there’s an interesting feature on Opencaching.com where you can upload every single cache on there straight to GPS. In this case they come as a GGZ file and are placed in the GARMIN\GGZ folder on the GPS. The entire lot of Geocaches on Opencaching.com at the time of writing is just under 30MB file which holds 47,767 geocaches. I pulled this file into GSAK and then exported it as a GPX file. The filesize was 163MB. A clear indication that the GGZ file format offers massive compression. The file itself is just like a ZIP file and if you rename the extension from .GGZ to .ZIP then you can extract the files and will see that it contains a set of GPX files with 1500 caches in each plus an XML file which outlines all of the caches within. I’d therefore be inclined to say that rather than allow their GPS devices to read ZIP files, Garmin instead created their own file format!
We can work with what we’ve got though. If you are familiar with the wonderful Python programming language, head over to GitHub and download ggz-tools. This allows you to create a .GGZ file with multiple .GPX files. You can then export a load of GPX files from your GSAK database and pass them through gpx2ggz.py. I’m yet to fully test doing this to create GGZ files from Groundspeak Geocache GPX files but this should work.
Navigating to caches
Along with this is the new Geocaching menu which looks far more friendly than the previous menu although the functionality is the same.
The current track interface as been vastly improved. The buttons for track recording are larger and easier to use. From here you can pause, save or discard the current track. The interface includes the track information, map view, and elevation plot tabs which show data about the track. There’s also the ability to add a track control dashboard whilst looking at the map. New Track Log recording functionality has been added to the unit: Auto Start and Auto Pause. Auto Start begins recording as soon as the device is switched on and has satellites. Auto pause temporarily stops track recording when you stop moving and starts again when you do. This should remove clutter from track recordings when you have stopped for a long period of time.
Like the units in the latest Garmin eTrex series, the latest Oregons can also use GLONASS satellites along with standard GPS satellites. This supposedly gives quicker position fix times and helps maintain your location whilst under heavy tree cover. The improved accuracy of GLONASS is debatable. The unit did quickly get a GPS fix as soon as I turned it on, however in tests performed as well as an Oregon 450 when I hunted out a few caches under dense tree cover.
Improved wireless sharing
As well as ANT+ which allowed us to share caches with other units and locate chirps, the Oregon 6xx series also supports sharing with Bluetooth-enabled devices meaning that you can share photos that you take on your Oregon with your phone (for example) and also means that you can connect to Garmin’s BaseCamp mobile app and upload waypoints, routes and tracks. When I first heard about this I thought maybe it was now time we could log our cache finds from our GPS by connecting to our phone, however unfortunately we can’t do that yet.
I thought I’d test out connecting it to Garmin basecamp. Unfortunately this requires an iPhone 4S and above. I was however able to download the iPhone app onto my iPad to test and successfully uploaded all of my tracks and waypoints to it and viewed them on maps. A nice feature, but it’s limited and the novelty soon wore off! Here’s a few screenshots from my iPad which pretty much shows the entire functionality:
Although a very minor improvement I really liked the fact that the part that your lanyard can attach on to is a lot larger, meaning that you can get a sturdy clip securely fastened on to the device.
The Oregon 6xx series has some handy new features. The screen is much more like that of a phone and the device is much more responsive when viewing and zooming in on the map. Also Garmin’s attempts to make the screen more readable in bright sunlight seem to have paid off. The new Geocaching interface and Current Track interfaces are a lot more intuitive and user friendly and the ability to store unlimited geocaches makes the device seem quite desirable. It’s clear that Garmin have put a lot of thought into redesigning the look of the Oregon series and it does appear to look more modern and phone-like, however I don’t feel as comfortable out and about with it as I do with previous Oregons. These bulkier models definitely feel more rugged in the hand. Despite knowing that the glass has been reinforced, you could still crack it if you drop it on a rock in just the right place!
I’m slightly disappointed that there is nothing on this new Oregon which makes me go “WOW!” so I’d say I wouldn’t recommend it as an upgrade for existing Oregon users as there aren’t really enough new features to justify it. For a user looking to get their first GPS or upgrading from a Garmin Dakota or eTrex then the device does seem more appealing. Oregon 450’s are currently priced at around £200. A Montana is around £300 and an Oregon 600 is £319. If a better display and unlimited Geocache storage are worth the extra £120 to you then the device is a worthwhile purchase.
I’ll add that although the Oregon 600t device that I was using to test functioned very well with just the odd crash and loss of caches here and there, a friend of mine purchased an Oregon 600 from Go Outdoors a few weeks later and had nothing but problems. The GPS wouldn’t maintain a satellite fix, it wouldn’t always store the geocaches he loaded onto it, it would often crash and seemed sluggish at loading some geocaching descriptions. Sometimes it just wouldn’t load the descriptions at all despite several restarts. Go Outdoors replaced the unit, but the problems were the same. He’s now trying the slightly more expensive Oregon 650.
I know that when I had my Montana I got it pretty much as soon as it came out because I couldn’t wait!!! It was buggy at first and required several firmware updates before it became more reliable. Therefore it may be worthwhile to wait a few months for any bugs to be ironed out with firmware updates. It may also be worth the wait seeing as just a few days ago Garmin announced the release of the Garmin Monterra, an Android-based GPS the same size as a Montana. Which is rumored to appear around September time. Now that DOES look exciting! 🙂