Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

Garmin Etrex Vista HCx Reviews

If you are reading this and the other reviews of the Garmin eTrex Vista HCx then you are doing your homework and wondering if this GPS is as good as all the hype makes it out to be. The short answer is YES! I have an old Garmin 12 Map which has served me well, but was getting a bit long in the tooth. I wanted something a bit smaller, lighter, with color screen and was water tight. The Vista HCx meets all of these needs and so many more. It is small in size, but with a fairly big and bright screen (easily readable in the sun) for its size.

Every review I read touted the extra sensitive antenna and how it picked up and locked onto satellites inside of homes or buildings. Well I can honestly tell you that it does all this and does it quick. How this happens it Garmin magic. I was always told you had to have line of sight to pick up satellites, but not in the case of the Vista HCx, it can get them just about anywhere short of being in a bunker.
The menu is intuitive and easy to navigate, so much more that my old Garmin 12 map. The long story short, this little GPS is the one for everyone else to beat. If you are seriously considering a GPS purchase for hiking or navigating the back country, do not look elsewhere, this is the one to get!

The base maps in the garmin etrex Vista HCx are of course upgradeable through additional accessories purchases from Garmin (at substantial cost), but worth the money. How Garmin managed to pack so much into so little a package is a mystery to me. Do yourself a favor, stop reading the review and just buy one, you will not be disappointed.

BTW, I purchased mine through and took advantage of the free shipping. It arrived four days ahead of when it was scheduled to arrive which was a nice surprise. Amazon has a very good price and I have always been happy with my purchases through them. And no I am not getting paid to say these nice things about Amazon, I am just a very satisfied customer.

Best GPS I have ever Owned

I have owned quite a few GPS units all including Phone, Laptop and Dedicated. Flat out before I even get started the Garmin Nuvi 265WT is the best I have ever owned. Let me just make a couple of comments on the most important features.

Touch Screen Interface
Very intuitive and easy to use. Touch screen is responsive but not instantaneous. What I particularly like is the ability to switch to a top down view by touching the screen. Once done you can use your finger to drag the map around at any zoom point. Once done you can hit the back button and resume your 3D view.

Turn by Turn
You have two options here. You can use one of the Text to Speech voices or one of natural voices. The text to speech voices will give you more information such as street names. This is what I use and even though you can tell it’s a computer generated voice its quality is superb. The 265WT does a good job at keeping you updated. Also at any time you can hit the turn Icon and it will speak the distance to the next turn, giving you street name as well as direction. The audio is quite loud and in my noisy little Scion I have no problem hearing the messages.

I have found the map accuracy quite good. I live in Northern virginal and it seems to be very well updated as many of the very new streets included.

Automatic Routing
Very effective. You can choose between the quickest or the shortest with options to avoid U-Turns, Highways, Toll Roads, Traffic, Ferries. The automatic rerouting is faster than my TeleNav phone and my Laptop computers.

Points of Interest
On my TeleNav phone GPS system I can enter any business in the national database and I can get directions, address and phone number. This is where the 265WT falls short. The TeleNav system has the advantage of searching online. Since the Nuvi 265WT is limited to onboard memory there is a limit to the number of points of interest. A good example is I was looking for “Off Broadway Shoes” and the unit could not find them. However a search for “Payless Shoes” worked very well.

Traffic Alerts
The lifetime free traffic comes at a price. You will get popup adds. These are very small popups that supposedly only come when you are in the menu. This is not true. I have gotten them while in the navigation screen. For now they it seems to be once per trip but there is nothing to say they wont start getting more frequent. The other thing I don’t like about the messages is that you have to hit them to continue and doing so takes you out of the nav screen to a kind of favorites screen. You have to hit the back button to get back to your navigations screen.
How well does the traffic system work. I live in Northern VA and have coverage throughout my area. The included radio fails to pick up a single signal without using an external antenna. Sadly you can just go down and purchase an FM antenna.. The Power cable has a 3/32″ jack. What I did was to pick up a 3/32″ plug from Radio Shack and soldered a 4′ wire to the tip pin on the connector. Once draped out one of the windows I get very frequent traffic updates.
Once you start getting traffic reports I found them to be accurate and they do help. You can automatically avoid high traffic arias or do it manually as they accrue.
I am still debating if the popup adds are worth the effort.

Bluetooth Integration
This is my favorite feature. I can keep my keyboard locked Motorola Q in my pants pocket and use my 265WT to make and receive all my calls at a touch of a button. All my phone features are available on the 265WT. Phonebook, Call history, Voice Recognition. The voice quality is quite acceptable on both ends. As a matter of fact the echo I get on my Motorola is not there when using the 265WT as a hands free set.

Picture Viewer
I found this to be a very useless feature. If the photos are very big it takes forever for the 265WT to load them. This may be due to the slow access to the SD card slot.

There are other features like the ability to connect the 265WT to your PC and automatically add favorite locations using GoogleMaps. All in all I am very happy with my purchase and would purchase it again.

FYI the Garmin Nuvi 265WT is the same unit as the Nuvi 255W without the Bluetooth ability and the FM reliever cable (GTM 25). You can even purchase the GTM 25 from Garmin. If you don’t want the Bluetooth feature and don’t currently need the traffic feature you can pick up the Nuvi 255W cheaper.

Problems with Satellite Acquisition and other Issues

I received the Garmin Nuvi 260W as a gift. I have subsequently read comments about many different GPS units and have concluded that:

-a hand held GPS is a complement to, not a substitute for a good road map and some common sense. All GPS units have positives and negatives; none are absolutely perfect. These are not toys, but they are not self sufficient navigational tools either. Given enough time, every owner of every unit will have a story about how he couldn’t find a particular point of interest, or was directed down a dead end street or across a 4-lane divided highway!

-considering screen sharpness, ease of use and other features, the Garmin 260W is one of the best in its price class.

-Garmin also has the best customer service of any of the companies.

The purpose of this review is NOT to repeat what others have written but to discuss workarounds for the various limitations of this unit.

COMPUTER ACCESS: To download firmware, software upgrades and maps, access to is a virtual necessity. Since a computer cable is unfortunately not included with the unit, the user will need to buy a USB 2.0 A / mini B cable. It can be found on Amazon.

At, download the web updater and whatever updates it prompts and also, remember to download the updated TTS (Text to Speech) voices. We find that “British” English is sometimes easier to understand than the American counterpart and suggest that it be downloaded as well.

The USB cable will also charge the Garmin’s battery but the unit does not operate when plugged into the computer. The optional AC converter is only required if the user wants to operate the unit on 110 volts.

SATELLITE ACQUISITION: Failure to reliably acquire satellite is the biggest single weakness of the Garmin 260W and the reason for the 3* rating. The user never knows in advance whether, after the 30 second boot up, it will take 15 seconds or 15 minutes to find a satellite.

Customer service suggests that the preferable satellite acquisition position is the top edge (NOT the face or back) pointed straight up to the open sky with the unit held still (which means you should not be driving).

When the unit is powered up out of the box and acquires a satellite for the first time, leave the power ON for an hour to download almanac data.

If the unit is moved to a new location with the power off, powering up the unit is similar to an initial power-on, and it can easily take 15 minutes to locate new satellites.

If all else fails, do a hard reset (see the instructions for “clearing user data”). Note that all user data (favorites) is in the gpx file in the gpx folder so save it to your computer and restore it after the reset. Again, leave the unit on for an hour after satellites are acquired.

POINTS OF INTEREST: Some of the data is not current. If a particular restaurant, etc., cannot be found, enter it by its street address and then change the name.

MODIFYING A ROUTE: This unit is less flexible than some. If a favorite place is selected and the GPS simulator mode activated, the proposed route will be highlighted. “Sliding” the screen with an appropriate magnification will allow the route to be compared with a computer or road map alternative. To force Garmin to select a particular road or direction, add a VIA point (gas station, motel, whatever). Because Garmin only allows one via point per route, several such points may be needed and the driver may have to skip stop between them.

ADD: June 26th. The Garmin 260W will NOT display routes downloaded from Mapquest. That feature is reserved for more expensive units.

ADD: June 26th. Failure to arrive at a specific house number may relate to mistakes on the part of developers, subdivision planners or mappers rather than the GPS. If necessary, give an address TWO favorite places – one labeled (per gps)that has the desired address; and one labeled (actual) determined by touching the car icon when standing in the driveway.

ADD: Aug. 4. Polarized sunglass lens fix: If you have the brightness set low (to conserve the battery when walking or biking, for example), polarized sun glasses may make it difficult to read the display which is also polarized. But, if you turn the display VERTICAL, the polarized settings will align and the display will immediately brighten up.

BATTERY LIFE: We’ve run two hours on battery without losing a green bar. Battery life can be extended by reducing the brightness level to the lowest acceptable.

In summary, the Garmin Nuvi 260W will do pretty much everything it is supposed to do EXCEPT acquire satellites quickly every time. If the company fixes this problem with a new firmware upgrade, the 260W deserves 4 stars. If the unit were also to allow multiple via points and route selections, then it would, in our opinion, earn 5 stars.