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Author Topic:   Picking a new Garmin handheld GPS
Frank O posted 11-07-2008 12:41 PM ET (US)   Profile for Frank O   Send Email to Frank O  
Recently I noticed that my Garmin eTrex Vista handheld GPS unit, which I've used for some years as a backup to my console-mounted Lowrance unit, appears to be dead. Even with fresh batteries, when I power it on I get a normal screen only for a few seconds before the display disappears and is replaced on the screen by a single vertical black line. It's well out of warranty by this point. I'm therefore thinking of a new handheld.

I want to stay with Garmin, because I enjoy having the ability to download my track information to my computer. I like having a map displayed, rather than simply digital data. I don't see much benefit in a color display; black-and-white is fine. I'd like to go with something as inexpensive as possible.

There are two things about my Vista that I viewed as limitations. First, the life of the two AA batteries seemed awfully short. Garmin states 12 hours for the Vista's battery life, but it seemed shorter than that. Second, the unit seemed to lose satellite lock a lot, even when there was only minimal obstruction of the sky.

When I combine the criteria of long battery life and sensitive receiver, these stand out on the Garmin website:

eTrex Legend HCx ($250 list)

eTrex Vista HCx ($300 list)

Both are said to have sensitive receivers and a 25-hour battery life. Both also have color screens, which I don't care about. The only difference I find in their specs is that the Vista has an electronic compass and barometric altimeter, while the Legend doesn't.

Any comments about these, or any other Garmin units to consider? If anyone is using these, how do you find the receiver sensitivity and battery life in actual use?

AZdave posted 11-07-2008 05:39 PM ET (US)     Profile for AZdave  Send Email to AZdave     
Your GPS symptoms sound like those of my Garmin 72. Try turning off the WAAS feature. Mine has worked fine since I did. This was covered in another thread: Good luck.
Chuck Tribolet posted 11-07-2008 08:30 PM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
First call Garmin. There's a master reset incantation (you
hold down certain buttons on power up). And Garmin has a
fairly friendly fixed price repair option.

I've got a Vista also. I've been happy with as a hiking GPS,
and using it to locate a whole mess of bluebird houses and
make a nice map. The little joystick is getting fiddly now


jimh posted 11-07-2008 09:46 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I do not know of any way an end user can make a measurement of the sensitivity of a GPS receiver in any standard unit of measurement. Generally only anecdotal reports of GPS receiver sensitivity are possible. The test equipment to make a meaningful and accurate measurement is far too complex and expensive for anyone to have casual access to.
kwik_wurk posted 11-07-2008 10:30 PM ET (US)     Profile for kwik_wurk  Send Email to kwik_wurk     
My other half rewarded me with a 76csx. And luckily I have never had to use in an emergency.

It is my back-up, whenever I am on the big boat, or when I am going on an extended fishing trip in the Montauk.

This unit takes a micro SD card, and I have blue charts for the water, and national parks when hiking/skiing.

It is quite pricy, but it was the only screen we could reasonably read with resultion when it came to reading channel markers and depths found in blue charts, or contours in topo maps.

Frank O posted 11-08-2008 12:39 AM ET (US)     Profile for Frank O  Send Email to Frank O     
Thanks, guys. Updating the firmware (and removing/replacing the battery) seemed to do the trick. I gather it was the issue with the WAAS update.

Even so, the newer units with longer battery life and a more sensitive receiver (this is Garmin's characterization) sound interesting -- I might check them out as well.

K Albus posted 11-08-2008 03:49 PM ET (US)     Profile for K Albus  Send Email to K Albus     
Jim, Garmin differentiates its GPS receivers between high sensitivity models and non-high sensitivity models. I believe the high sensitivity models have the SiRFstar III chip, whereas the non-high sensitivity models do not. The non-high sensitivity models easily lose their satellite reception if there are any overhead obstructions such as trees.
Marlin posted 11-08-2008 08:11 PM ET (US)     Profile for Marlin  Send Email to Marlin     
I recently had the same problem with my daughter's eTrex, as well as my dad's old GPSmap 76. A firmware update fixed them both.

My 76CSx has the SiRF chipset. Compared to either of those models, or to my old 76S, the ability to hold a lock on the satellites is amazing. No problem under heavy tree cover, no problem inside the house (though the accuracy suffers somewhat, with about 50 feet of drift). Out on the water, of course, they all get a clear view of the sky, so the better chipset isn't such a huge benefit.


Frank O posted 11-09-2008 11:09 AM ET (US)     Profile for Frank O  Send Email to Frank O     
Thanks for the information about the high-sensitivity chipset. Although in theory there should be an unobstructed view of the sky out on the water, I've recorded a lot of tracks on my eTrex Vista that show major dropouts when the boat changed direction and structural parts of the boat apparently got in the way of satellites. I've decided to lash out and get one of the newer, high-sensitivity models, the eTrex Vista HCx, since they're only about $200. It will be interesting to take it and my existing eTrex Vista out on the water and compare their performance.

fishgutz posted 11-13-2008 02:13 PM ET (US)     Profile for fishgutz  Send Email to fishgutz     
Wow, I had the same problems with my GPSMAP76 and a 4 year old Etrex Legend.

The update fixed the GPSMAP76 but only partially fixed the Etrex Legend. If I bumped the Legend it would really act up. Everything from a blank screen to flashing solid screen. Acted like a very loose connection.

Called Garmin. The customer service rep asked me some questions then offered to fix it for $80 dollars. I said, "Ouch, I can get a new one for $120." He said, "I'll tell you what, I'll meet you halfway. Make it $40." I agreed. He then asked me more questions about what was wrong. He agreed that it seemed like a loose connection. He then said, "Oh heck, I'll cover it under warranty". Woohoo, 2 weeks later I have a brand new Garmin Etrex Legend. They handled it well. I'm happy. I was very friendly on the phone and the rep really seemed to want to help.

On another note the Garmin cable for adapting the DB9 to a USB plug (for the update, my laptop won't take a DB9) was $60. Got one from for $15 including postage. My Windows Vista found the correct driver automatically and I was on my way.

All in all a very good experience.

handn posted 11-13-2008 02:36 PM ET (US)     Profile for handn  Send Email to handn     
I have a Vista hcx. I use it for on land for hunting. The receiver is much more sensitive than my old Magellan which I use as a backup on my boat. It will generate a position even under a heavy tree canopy and hold a signal even if I stick it in my pocket. Accuracy appears to be within a few yards which is necessary it find a game trail dead ending in a heavy forest.
Batteries last a whole hunting season of non continuous use.
Mine holds a chip (extra cost) which contains regional topo maps. Chips for the whole country are available. There is a computer interface but that is clunky to use. Check to see if a marine chip is available. If so, that would greatly increase the versatility of the unit.
Street price, at Cablela's for instance, is less than $300.
Altimeter is of course useless in a marine application.

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