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We have mostly looked at Garmin’s in-car sat-navs here at TrustedReviews. But the company is arguably just as well known for its sports and outdoor GPS devices. The Oregon 300 brought touchscreen technology and Ordnance Survey maps to handheld navigation, and latest in the Oregon line is the 550t, which comes with a more detailed topographic map as standard and a built-in camera.
The 550t’s basic specification is very similar to the 300. It weighs the same 193g with batteries, is ruggedised to withstand knocks and drops, and is waterproof to IPX7 standards. This means that it can survive up to half an hour under a metre of water, so it should cope if you fall in a river by accident or your tent gets flooded. There’s a mounting spine on the back for a karabiner, so you can attach the 550t securely to your clothing or backpack.
The two main new hardware features are the aforementioned camera and a triple-axis digital compass. The camera sports 3.2-megapixels and is built into the back of the device in a similar fashion to a mobile phone. It offers autofocus, and takes acceptable pictures. Even in relatively poor light, it picks up a better image than a lot of smartphone cameras.
But the 550t’s camera is not really there to replace even your smartphone’s photographic ability. Its true power lies in its geotagging function. This is something which can be a bit of a gimmick, particularly in camcorders. But in the Oregon it makes complete sense. If you want to take a visual record of where you’ve been, a GPS-equipped camera will require a minute or two to find its bearings before location information can be stored with your pictures. In contrast, assuming you’ve been using the 550t during your journey, it will be ready for action straight away.
When you browse photos in the library, you can easily call up a map showing the location of any that are geotagged, and this will be displayed on the installed topographic map rather than the very limited ones offered by cameras and camcorders with this facility. Best of all, photos provide one of the destination options, so you can navigate to any geotagged picture, which is ideal for all manner of applications, such as naturalists tracking the location of plants they have discovered. Couple this with the 550t’s ability to send data wirelessly to other Garmin Oregon devices, and you have a powerful extension of the outdoor GPS’s usage.
The display has extremely poor viewing angles, but in practice this is only an issue when you’re trying to show something onscreen to someone else. Most of the time, you can angle the device so you can see quite clearly, although care needs to be taken to avoid reflections. Thanks to the triple-axis compass, the 550t can be held at any angle and the map should remain correctly oriented with regard to the real world. This is because it detects the earth’s magnetic field in X, Y and Z directions. Devices with dual-axis compasses only work reliably when held parallel to the ground.