Rand McNally will be releasing their first handheld backcountry GPS unit this May with the Rand McNally Foris GPS. I conducted a beta (pre-release) test of the Foris 850 unit and for its intended market as an entry level GPS I was quite impressed. The Foris is a very basic GPS with only a few functions such as geocaches, track recording, and routing which makes it a great entry level GPS.
Features we like:
I really enjoyed the high resolution touch screen. It reminded me of my iPhone in its responsiveness and ease of use. However, unlike an iPhone you can use the touch screen while wearing gloves – a very big plus! The unit is easy to hold in your hand and you can easily reach all of the buttons without any awkwardness.
The unit features two modes: Bicycle and Pedestrian. You can switch modes even while recording a route.
The unit does come with a bicycle handlebar mount which is handy for for bikers, of course.
Track recording is probably the main function that I need on my current GPS. The Foris has all of the normal track functions that one would expect. When I compared it with my other GPS, it seemed to be accurate, too. The GPS is designed for first-time users and because of this I found it easy to use.
The Loop Me feature is also a nice touch. It allows you to select a timed or distance route and get three different options – all with turn by turn directions. You can also select how hilly or flat you would like the route as well.
The maps on the Foris are pretty accurate. Not 100% – but close. A peak which is incorrectly labeled on my USGS map is correctly labeled on Foris’ maps. The accuracy issues are nowhere near as bad as those on Apple maps, but on a few occasions the map did show a road or trail where there was none. Rand McNally assured me that they will be continually developing and releasing new map updates.
I could easily select routes to nearby peaks, trailheads, water, and many other “on-road landmarks” too (e.g. hospitals, gas stations, etc.). The spoken directions were soft and easily understandable. If you do not want the Foris interrupt your hard-earned solitude, you can turn the volume down easily enough from the “Settings” menu.
The Rand McNally Fortis GPS is also waterproof. I submerged it in three feet of water for one minute. The rubber seal did a great job of keeping the water out and the unit is still working fine.
A few bugs to work out:
Seattle Backpackers Magazine was selected to beta test the unit and feedback to Rand McNally in advance of their consumer release. Many of the issues and bugs found here are expected to be worked out before the consumer release models.
Accidental Power-Off: If you accidentally bump the touch screen button “Switch Off” instead of “Screen Sleep,” the unit does not reply with an, “Are you sure?” message and the unit turns off immediately. This can be a huge hassle as the unit does take a while to reboot/turn on.
The battery life is, unfortunately, less than impressive. I got roughly 3-4 hours while recording a track and roughly 24 hours on stand-by with two AA batteries. I spoke to Rand McNally about this and they informed me that they are about to release a software update that will lengthen the battery life.
There are two modes: Bicycle and Pedestrian. You can switch modes while track recording, but it seems to switch based upon your speed. This is another small software issue that should be addressed by the time the consumer version is ready.
No backpack mount or clip: As it is now, you have to find a pocket big enough for it, or fashion a wrist loop.
Uploading geocaches: As a Mac user, I hope the Trailhead software is available for Mac soon. Currently only PC users can utilize this function.
Backcountry routing: If you want to navigate to an address the Foris will predict the name based upon what state you are in. However, if the city name is not in Rand McNally’s database, then it will not let you enter the city name and consequently you cannot navigate to the address. Given that most trailheads are not located in major cities, this could be a problem.
Touch screen works with gloves.
When recording a track the Foris has a pause function.
The menus are easy to navigate and you can change or customize the menu order easily.
Routing works on trails as well as on the road.
No way to monitor the Barometer, even though the unit does feature a barometer.
No backpack mount or clip.
Difficulty finding small cities within the routing feature.
No power off double check..
The Trailhead software available to PC users only.
The Foris GPS is not a feature-heavy GPS but it is perfect for those who just want the basics, are looking for a GPS to geocache with, or need basic routing and track functions. The features that the Foris does comes with are well engineered and are very easy to learn and use. It is a well built GPS and a great first foray into the market from Rand McNally. If you are in the market for a new GPS, or are a beginner, the Foris is worth a close look. The Foris hits shelves May 1.
Manufacturer: Rand McNally
Date available: May 1, 2013
Manufacturer’s Website: randmcnally.com
Actual Weight: 7.5 ounces with 2 AA batteries
Warranty info: Standard one (1) year warranty.