- Review Price: £330.73
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.
Although the 300 came with just a basic map preloaded, the 550t ships with what Garmin calls a Recreational Map of Europe. This is topographic (hence the “t” in the 550t’s name) and includes waterway details, plus a host of Points of Interest such as hotels, restaurants and pubs. The 550t has 4GB of memory on board, so it still offers the same 850MB free for uploaded data as the 300. There’s a microSD slot available, too, for rapid installation of maps. Garmin offers its usual array of Ordnance Survey options via its GB Discoverer range. These are at 1:50,000 or 1:25,000 depending on the particularly package, and are far from cheap, costing around £120 each. But this is likely due to the hefty Ordnance Survey licensing fees rather than Garmin being greedy.
The 550t includes a variety of widgets, which could come in handy for hikers. Times for when the sun and moon rise and set can be displayed, as well as the good periods of the day to go fishing, based on feeding activity estimates. There’s an Area Calculator, which prompts you to walk round the perimeter of the space then figures out its size. The Trip Computer displays information such as distance travelled, average speed, and average speed while moving. The Man Overboard facility marks the current location then immediately starts navigating you back to it, so you can quickly pick up someone who has fallen from your boat. You can also view maps in 3D, which may be handy for getting your bearings on certain occasions.
The Oregon 550t offers the same fun-oriented facilities as the 300. It supports geocaches, so you can also download these from Geocaching.com to the device and then use them to find the locations. Whereigo location-based games are also compatible. The 550t includes an identical sci-fi-based tutorial to the 300, and you can also download further ‘cartridges’ or create your own via the Whereigo website.
Befitting the 550t’s premium status, it comes supplied with a pair of 2,000mAh rechargeable batteries and a charger. But these are still AA format so you can carry a supply of regular alkaline cells as a backup. Garmin claims a duration of 16 hours of use from new or fully charged batteries, which should cover a couple of days’ hiking.
Although the list price for the Garmin Oregon 550t is close to £500, we’ve already seen it available for nearer to £300 on a number of retail websites. This still doesn’t exactly make it a bargain, and it’s even more of a serious hiker’s GPS than the 300 was. But it does the intended job well, and the geotagging integration is extremely well executed. So if your outdoor activities would benefit from a seamless ability to make a still image record of where you’ve been, the Garmin Oregon 550t is without peer.
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