THE MAGELLAN EXPLORIST 610 GPS

First the basics. It has a color touch screen at 3” diagonally. It operates with Lithium AA batteries which they claim will last 16 hours of continuous operation. It has a still camera and a video camera, a microphone and a speaker. It has 500 Mb of user storage and a microSD slot for additional storage. For more information see the Tech Data section at the end of this review.

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I was sitting at my office desk when I first opened the box, my first impression was, “This GPS is really small and light.” In the box I also found two AA Lithium batteries which are great since all other batteries I have tried in my other GPS units die very quickly with continued use. I slipped in the batteries and looked for the “ON” switch. It wasn’t all that obvious since it is simply a symbol in the gray plastic protective cover, but once you know where it is, it will be easy to find again.

I walked outdoors, switched it on, and it became active quite quickly and located my position on earth within a minute and a half. I own a DeLorme PN-40 which will locate itself inside most buildings, even a warehouse with no windows. Finding yourself in a warehouse may not be important to most backpackers, but finding yourself under a dense tree canopy certainly can be. I went back inside, shut down the unit and restarted it. After four minutes it had not located itself. I went back outside to see if it was the building interfering with the reception and as expected, it found location after about 10 seconds. I went back inside and it lost location again. This gave me great concerns about how powerful the receiver was.

The only way to truly see what a GPS can do from a backpacker’s perspective is to be out in the woods and field test it. My first outing was in mid-winter in the Pacific Northwest. It was a beautiful snowy day at 6,000 feet and this would give me a chance to see how it would perform under cold conditions. Typically, GPS units I have owned don’t have very long battery life in cold weather. I had high hopes that it would outlast my other units as the company boasts a battery life of 16 hours. I strapped it onto my pack with a shoelace as it seems GPS manufacturers don’t believe in providing any means of attaching the unit to anything unless you buy one of their pouches or clips for $10-20. Even a cheap point and shoot camera comes with some means of carrying it without stuffing it in a pocket. As I headed off through the snow, I occasionally stopped, took off the pack and checked if it produced a readable track, and it did. I stopped farther down the trail and accidentally dropped my pack with the GPS strapped onto it. When I picked it up I noticed the GPS had a long scratch in the lens, but it was still working. Well, I thought, that is worth a Brownie point. Apparently it is a pretty tough device.

About five hours into my hike, I sat down for lunch and checked the unit again. It had died, as I had been afraid of what would happen. The batteries couldn’t take the cold. So with this unit as with my others, if you are on cold outings, remember to carry extra batteries (Lithium) if you plan to use the unit constantly. When I replaced the batteries and restarted it, I was glad to see the unit at least had saved my track up until it died.

On another backpack trip in a dense forest I stuffed the unit in a pants pocket to see if it would track and it did fine…until the batteries died again. This time I had tried to time it through a complete battery cycle to see if it really did last 16 hours. I had checked it at 13 hours and the little battery indicator still showed almost fully charged. Then at about 14 hours into the trip, I checked it and found it was dead. On a third hike, also on a warm summer day, it lasted about 14 hours. So, in my experience, if you want to get a complete track of a hike, you need to shut it down and replace the batteries at about 13 hours in a warm environment. The company also states you can prolong battery life by using their “Suspend” mode which shuts off everything except the tracking. I like to have everything up and running so I didn’t use this feature.

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The Explorist has all sorts of other gizmos which can be of value to a backpacker. For instance, you can set a waypoint on an offtrail hike, take a picture or video of where you came from or are going to and record an audio message to use again at a later date or to show friends the route you took.  These might be even more advantageous to a Geocacher.

I liked the full color touchscreen but found it to be less sensitive to operate than my phone, which became a bit aggravating as it often wanted to set a waypoint rather than let me pan from one area to another. When you want to set a waypoint it is easily accomplished and noting time from one point to another can be fun if you want to keep track of such things.

I found it hard to find an altimeter reading, something I like to regularly check as I’m climbing or trying to see and set waypoints. It shows coordinate and time to next destination on the screen at startup, but I would rather see coordinates and altitude.

I like the maps that come with this unit. It has World Edition Maps with roads and city information; the Summit Series contour maps with trails and landmarks were the most useful to me. The quality of the Summit Series rivals USGS with a 1:24000 scale accuracy. Being able to pan from one area to another without having to zoom out to see adjacent areas while hiking makes route finding easier for off-trail hikes.

The Explorist 610 is waterproof, which is pretty essential to those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest. This device was able to handle the rainy weather without a problem. I tested it underwater for two minutes and it still worked fine, so thumbs up for water resistance.

The 610 comes with a USB cable which allows you to connect it to your computer to save and/or share GPX, video and sound files. What it does not come with is a computer program such as the DeLorme system to allow you to integrate the GPS with your computer to open route files, view profiles in 2D or 3D  or plan routes and download to the GPS from the computer.

Pros

-Very light

-Waterproof

-Comes with nice maps

-Full color touch screen

-Takes abuse from drops and bumps

Cons

-Screen not very sensitive

-No computer program to integrate with GPS

-Battery life not reliable

-No strap or clip supplied

Summary

Overall, I like many of the features of the Magellan 610 Explorist. It seems it will take the abuse of rough backcountry trips and keep on working. I like the color touchscreen as well as the device’s resistance to water. I wish it came with a strap of some sort, along with a computer program to allow online or computer trip planning. It would also be great if you could customize what information you want to see onscreen at startup. The price seems reasonable, especially since it comes with good quality maps, for which other companies will charge extra. If you are looking for a reasonably priced GPS for weekend backpacking or Geocaching, this unit will fill the bill.

Technical Data

Manufacturer: Magellan

Date available: Now

Manufacturer’s Website: Magellan

MSRP: US$ lists for $449.99 on the Magellan website but then immediately lists “Your Price” at $399.99

Listed Weight: 6.87 Ounces

Actual Weight: 8 ounces including batteries, still pretty light for a device of this sort

Materials: Soft and Hard Plastic

Dimensions: 2.57″ x 5.04″ x 1.45″

Size/Model tested: Model Explorist 610

Requirements: Requires (2) AA Lithium Batteries

Warranty info: One year from the date of purchase for new GPS receivers

Colors Available: Green and Grey

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