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Reviews > Navigation and Map Gear > GPS > Delorme Earthmate GPS PN-20 > Test Report by Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd
Earthmate GPS PN-20 Deluxe Bundle
Name: Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd
Location: Sunnyvale, CA
Height: 5'5" (1.65 m)
Weight: 130 lb (59 kg)
Manufacturer's Website: www.delorme.com
Year of Manufacture: 2007
Listed Weight (no batteries): 5.12 oz (145 g)
Measured Weight (no batteries): 5.4 oz (153 g)
Dimensions: 2.43" W x 5.25" H x 1.5" D
(6.17 cm W x 13.34 cm H x 3.81 cm D)
Screen Resolution: 176x220 (38,720) pixels
Memory: 75 Mb Internal or SD card for 2 GB additional Map storage.
Holds up to 10 tracks (10,000 waypoints/track), 1,000 waypoints, and 50 routes.
April 2, 2007
I received the DeLorme Earthmate GPS PN-20 Deluxe Bundle packaged very efficiently into a shoebox sized box. Included in the Deluxe Bundle are:
I first went through the listed items to make sure that everything was included. The SD card and reader were missing, so the next morning I called DeLorme customer service (open during US East Coast business hours). I sat on hold for over fifteen minutes, but once I spoke with someone they were friendly, quick, and courteous. They shipped an SD card and reader out to me via express mail and I had it two days later.
When I receive a new electronic device, my inclination is to just start playing with it - I don't have the patience to sit and read a lot of documentation when I have a brand new 'toy' in my hands. I eagerly ripped open the Energizer batteries and installed them in the GPS unit. Access to the battery compartment is straightforward. Two D-rings flip up and unscrew by hand to remove the panel under which two AA batteries or the rechargeable Li-Ion battery will fit. The battery compartment looks different than any battery compartment I've seen before due to the SD card slot that sits underneath the batteries. For this initial use I did not investigate the SD card slot, saving it for later exploration in conjunction with the Topo USA software.
The batteries slid in easily and I screwed the D-rings back on. Flipping the unit back over, I pressed the obvious power button. There was a flicker, but the unit did not turn on. It was at this point that I opened the User Manual for the first time and found a handy 'Getting Started' section. It told me that to power the unit on I must hold the power button down for 1.5 seconds. I did this and the unit powered up immediately. With my previous GPS unit, I only had to tap the power button and then click 'Enter' three times to cycle through the startup screens (which was also a check to make sure the unit did not power up accidentally). For the DeLorme Earthmate PN-20 there is no such cycling through screens, but since the button has to be held down for more than a 'tap', presumably this is a form of accidental startup protection, although it doesn't specifically say this in the User Manual.
There was a rainstorm going on outside when I first turned the unit on, so I just stood in my front doorway to see if I could get a satellite lock. It was not connecting to any satellites, and after a few minutes a message popped up and asked me if I wanted to turn off the GPS feature to save the batteries since the unit could not get a lock. Instead, I turned the whole unit off by hitting the power button again and confirming the shutdown by pressing 'Enter'. I went back to the Getting Started section of the User Manual and read that if I could not obtain a signal, I could set my current location in the GPS unit. I went back to my porch and found the 'Set Current Location' option by pressing the Menu button when I was on the Satellite Status screen. It bounced me to the map screen. This was confusing to me - my previous GPS would take me to a screen where I could select my state and the time of day. Going back to the manual, I read a bit further and found that after selecting 'Set Current Location' and being redirected to the Map Screen, I was to scroll to my current location and hit Enter. This process took a while - first I had to zoom out several levels to see that the stored location was Portland, Maine. Then I had to scroll over 3000 miles (4830 km) across the country map and zoom in on the San Jose area. After hitting Enter when the cursor was over San Jose, the device, with its WAAS enabled 12 channel receiver, locked on to several satellites within seconds. Every time I've turned the unit on over the past week it has locked on to a position incredibly fast, even in the house! In fact, as I sit here and write this report, the unit is sitting on the desk next to me with a 3-D lock and +/- 41 ft (12.5 m) accuracy.
Satisfied that the unit was working on at least a basic level, I came in out of the rain to check out the unit's details and the rest of the Deluxe Bundle.
Initial Impressions on the 'Feel' and Physical Use of the PN-20
The PN-20 sits quite comfortably in one hand. While setting my location and scrolling around the maps I held the unit in my right hand and navigated the buttons with my thumb. The buttons have a rubbery texture and are smooth and shiny. The scroll pad in the middle allows me to scroll the map cursor in any angle by putting pressure anywhere around the button, not just up, down, left and right. The back of the unit that makes up the battery cover also has a soft rubbery texture. It feels rugged and the seams all appear tight. The screen is incredibly clear and bright with sharp, vivid colors under the default brightness and backlight settings. I like the bright yellow upper case - hopefully this will mean it will be easier to find in a pack and I will have less of a chance of leaving it behind after a break on the trail (both of which have been problems with my old GPS)!
There are nine individual buttons on the PN-20.
1. IN/OUT rocker button: Pressing the left side of the button (IN) will zoom in one level on the map. Holding it will zoom the map in to the maximum level. Likewise, pressing the right side of the button (OUT) once will zoom out one level, and holding it will zoom the map out the maximum level
2. Page: This button allows me to move between the enabled pages on the unit. By default, when the unit is turned on it displays the Satellite Status page. Pressing the Page button moves me to the next page which is the Map screen. Pressing Page again goes to the Compass Page, then the Trip Info Page. What pages are displayed and the order that they appear in can be customized. These Pages are described in detail in the following 'Screens' section.
3. Quit: Quit is like an Exit or Cancel button. It backs me out of a screen or cancels an action such as panning around the map screen.
4. Menu: The Menu button is what makes many of the Earthmate PN-20's great functions available. When I press this button I get a screen with two sections. The upper section is a selection of functions and features specific to the page that I am on. The options on the Map screen are very different that those on the Satellite Status screen. The lower section is a list of standard menu options that are available regardless of the page that I am on. These menu options are all described in detail in the following section 'Screens'.
5. Enter: Enter selects a highlighted menu item, or it can be used to get more information about a point on a map by scrolling the cursor on top of the point and pressing the Enter button.
6. Center Arrow Keypad: This is used for cursor movement on the maps and selecting menu options. I noticed when first powering up the unit and scrolling to San Jose that pressing in between the arrows will move the cursor in the corresponding direction (for example, northeast or 45 degrees).
7. Find (magnifying glass): This button brings up menus where I can search for any point of interest - a waypoint, coordinate, map feature, etc.
8. Mark Waypoint (push pin): This button will mark my current waypoint or any waypoint I have scrolled to with the cursor. I can then edit anything about this waypoint (coordinates, description, elevation, etc) and save it to the GPS unit.
9. Power Button (red): Obviously, this button is used to turn the unit on and off. It can also be used to change the backlight intensity and turn the backlight off. It also can reset the unit if held down for an extended time while the GPS unit is on.
There are four major Pages (screens) that can be displayed by cycling through them with the Page button. As mentioned in the previous section, there are also menu options available for each page. Some menu options are available on every screen, and others are specific to the page.
Page 1: The Satellites Page
The Satellites Page displays the current status of the satellite signal strength and the battery life. In the upper left corner it gives a GPS status - GPS off (if it has been disabled), No Fix (when it cannot lock on to satellites), 2-D (connected by not a signal with good quality), and 3-D (sufficient data to determine position). The upper right corner will display WAAS if if the WAAS connection is being used.
The main feature of the Satellites Page is the Satellite Constellation and the Signal Graph. The Satellite Constellation shows the current position of the satellites in the sky relative to the last known location of the GPS (or current position if locked on). The satellites are numbered per their Department of Defense notation and are displayed with little icons that look like Star Wars Tie Fighters. Below the constellation is a graph of the signal being received from each satellite. The height of the bar depends on the strength of the signal. If the bar is red it indicates that the receiver is getting information from the satellite but it is not being used to determine position. Green means that the satellite is providing information and being tracked, and blue means that the signal is WAAS corrected and being used to determine position. The photo of this screen was taken from inside the middle of my house, away from windows. I still had a 3-D signal, though it wasn't a very good one.
In the lower left, below the satellite constellation but above the signal graph, the accuracy of the signal is displayed in the units (meters or feet) chosen by the user. According to the provided documentation, accuracy of the Earthmate GPS PN-20 is +/- 10 meters (33 ft).
At the very bottom of the screen is a battery life indicator.
On the Satellites Page, clicking on the Menu button brings up the following page-specific options:
Disable GPS: This allows me to turn off the GPS functionality so I can save batteries while using non-GPS necessary components.
Set Current Location: This lets me tell the GPS unit where I am so that it knows where to look for Satellites.
Page 2: The Map Page
This page displays the map data for the GPS's current location or the last known location. An arrow displays the position on the map. The color of the arrow indicates the signal status - red means no signal, blue is in a playback or navigation simulation mode, yellow indicates 2-D fix, and green is a 3-D fix. Under the map are the information fields. These are customized by the end user to contain the information most relevant for them. The maps that can be displayed on this page are the basemap, Aerial Data packets, Topo USA maps, Street Atlas USA maps, and World base data.
There is a significant amount of customization that can be done on the Map page. These customizations will be tested and evaluated for usefulness during the Field Test period.
On the Maps Page, clicking on the Menu button brings up the following page-specific options:
Hide Info Fields, Arrange Info Fields, Change info fields, Restore info defaults, Measure Distance, and Map Setup. These menu options provide all of the customization options necessary for the Maps page. The Measure Distance option allows the user to measure the distance of a line or the perimeter of a polygon.
Page 3: The Compass Page
The compass on the PN-20 is not magnetic and can only determine heading when moving. It displays a bit different if navigating a route or tracking. The heading is always pointing up, and the bearing to the next stop is displayed as an arrow on the compass. There are also customizable fields on the Compass Page.
On the Compass Page, clicking on the Menu button brings up the following page-specific options:
Arrange Info Fields, Change info fields, Restore info defaults. Like on the Maps page, these are for customization of the screen layout.
The Trip Page
On the Trip Page, clicking on the Menu button brings up the following page-specific options:
Change info fields, Restore info defaults, Show Large Text, Reset Info. Like the other screens, these customize the page layout.
Every Page has the following options available on the bottom half of the menu screen:
1. Waypoints: The Waypoints selection allows for marking, averaging, editing, routing to, and deleting waypoints.
2. Routes: This selection provides all of the routing functionality, such as editing, creating, reversing, and deleting.
3. Tracks: This provides access to the track data and allows for backtrack navigation. Tracking preferences can also be edited from here.
4. Sun/Moon: Shows time and date, moon phase, and sun/moon rise and set times.
5. Tide: Shows the tide table for the closest selected location.
6. Device Setup: Provides access to the system, display, interface, sound, and units settings. For example, the page order can be changed, or the coordinate units can be changed from UTM to Degrees:Minutes.
Earthmate PN-20 and Topo USA Integration
What makes the Earthmate GPS PN-20 come to life is the integration with the DeLorme Topo USA software. The software, retailing for $99.95 standalone, comes with all of the Earthmate PN-20 bundles. This software enables the user to upload detailed street maps, satellite data, USGS topo maps, and aerial imagery to the PN-20. It also enables the end user to work with custom routes, tracks, and waypoints beyond what can be done in the GPS unit alone. It is impossible to get into every detail of the software in this report series, let alone as an Initial Report. To keep it straightforward and simple, I will just summarize my initial experiences in setting up the software and transferring maps and waypoints to the PN-20, saving further details for the Field and Long Term reports.
Topo USA Software Installation
My computer is a Dell Inspiron 6000 (laptop) with a 1.6 GHz Pentium Processor, 80Gb hard drive, and 504 Mb of RAM.
The Topo USA software (version 6.0) comes on two DVDs. One DVD holds the program and its installer, and the other DVD contains the map data for the entire United States. I put the first DVD into my drive and the installer ran quickly and cleanly after guiding me through the setup wizard. When inserting the second DVD (with the map data), I first was able to select the regions I wanted installed on my laptop. I chose one of the four Eastern United States regions (the one with Michigan, where I travel regularly to visit my family), and all of the Western regions since most of my outdoor play is done in the western half of the country. 'Installing' these regions means that the data is copied to my hard drive. The regions I didn't install are still available to me - I would just have to pull out the disk if I wanted access to them. It took a long time to install the regions - at about 2.5 Gb of data, this is to be expected.
While the map data copied to my hard drive I installed one of the LCD screen protectors on the PN-20. It was strongly recommended that they be applied over a dust free, clean screen, so I thought I'd do it while the unit was new and shiny! The screen protectors are stiffer than the ones I am familiar with from my Palm and iPod, and it slid on nicely with no bubbles. Once on, I couldn't even tell it was there. There are a few additional screen protectors included, so I will see if it needs to be replaced during the test period.
Basic Topo USA Software Use with the PN-20
There is no better way to learn about the functionality of these robust mapping and navigating tools than to jump right in and plan an outing!
I decided to participate in a group geocaching hike on Sunday, April 1. The plan was to tackle Palo Corona peak in Garrapata State Park, a beautiful coastal park just north of Big Sur. The park offers steep canyons, ridges with panoramic views, and a good selection of geocaches. I noticed that there is not much mapping information available on the internet for this young State Park, so I turned to the Delorme Topo USA software.
I had three goals upon opening the software for the first time:
DeLorme provided a fold-out color brochure that describes the steps to upload maps to the PN-20 in a step-by-step manner. The first step, obviously, was to find the location that I wanted to include in my uploaded maps. When Topo USA opened it showed a split view of the Grand Canyon. On the left side of the screen was a 3-D rendering of the USGS quad, and on the right was a flat, 2-D version of the same topo map. Both maps include 'extras' over the standard USGS quads, such as trails and labels. On the top of the left panel there was a pull-down menu for selecting alternate map types for the display, such as downloaded aerial imagery.
Unfortunately, I wasn't planning an outing to the Grand Canyon, so I located the Find tab under the several function tabs at the bottom of the screen. I typed in 'Garrapata' and in a panel to the right was given a selection of all objects that matched my search. I clicked on Garrapata State Park and the two maps adjusted accordingly. Below is a screenshot of the map panels. On the left is a 3-D rendering of the park and on the right is the standard view.
Our plan was to hike up the canyon in the middle of the 2-D map on the right to Palo Corona, a peak that is inland several miles.
Step two in the map upload process is to create a map package. Under the function tabs is one called 'Handheld Export'. A search field with pre-filled data was presented, listing several generic nearby locations. I selected the top listing, Monterey, CA and clicked on the Preview button. It laid a grid over the map. There are two buttons that allow me to either select the entire highlighted grid (the Monterey, CA grid), or select my own grid rectangles to export. The Monterey area did not quite cover as far south as Garrapata, so I chose 'Select' to add and remove my desired grid boxes.
In the image below, The six brighter blue boxes are the Monterey grid. The pink boxes below them are the ones that I selected for upload to the PN-20.
I gave my selected grids a package name, Garrapata, and hit Save. Following the directions, I clicked on the 'Exchange' button just below the save button. This brings up the Earthmate PN-20 Exchange box, which allows maps to be transferred to either the SD card or the GPS internal memory. When I did this originally, I transferred the maps to the SD card for speed and space reasons. The first time I connected the 8-pin USB connector to the PN-20 was a test of nerves. It takes some pressure to snap the 8-pin connector into place on the PN-20, and just as I was afraid I might damage something it snapped cleanly into place. Now, after having done this a few times, it snaps in a bit easier.
This screenshot, taken after I uploaded the Garrapata map to the SD card and installed the SD card into the PN-20, shows everything saved in the Topo USA software as well as in the PN-20. I can use the Send and Receive buttons to transfer Waypoints, Tracks, Routes, and Maps in between the two, as well as remove items from the GPS unit directly by using the delete button.
Turning on the PN-20 and scrolling to the coastal area of the park showed me that the maps uploaded successfully. At the initial glance I was very impressed with the clarity and detail of the topo maps on the PN-20 screen - it looks just like it does in Topo USA!
My next step was to import the GPX file from geocaching.com. GPX is a standard file format for geocaches, and I usually use several tools to extract and manipulate data from within these files. One such software tool is ExpertGPS and another is Geocaching Swiss Army Knife (GSAK). Both of these programs have functionality for transferring GPX files into GPS units, and in the past they are all I have used for this purpose since other topographic software programs do not support the GPX file format. Unfortunately, neither of these programs yet support the DeLorme Earthmate PN-20 GPS, but the good news is that Topo USA supports the GPX file format. Importing it was a bit tricky - I had to refer to the help documentation to find that I had to go through several non-intuitive steps to import such a file.
Once the file was imported, the geocaches contained in the file all appeared on the map. Hovering over them even revealed the link to their cache description on www.geocaching.com.
Just like with the topo map, with the Export tool I was quickly and easily able to transfer this set of waypoints into the PN-20.
I decided against creating a track since the route was evident from the caches and I would be with ten other people. I'll save that for the Field Report.
I will discuss the details of my experience with the PN-20 on the hike in the Field Report, but I do want to mention the track data I took on the hike. Using the Export tool I was able to transfer my recorded track to back to the Topo USA software with a single click. Even though according to the map it was a 3000 ft (914 m) climb to the peak over a round trip of 12 miles (19.3 km), my recorded track revealed the truth - factoring in all the wandering while looking off trail for caches and the up-and-down of the trail, the hike was closer to 15 miles (24 km) and 5000 feet (1524 m) of gain! My knees sure agree.
When playing with the track data of the hike, I realized how useful the 3-D capabilities of the software are. I am looking forward to using it to 'preview' trails before heading out. The images below are a comparison of a stretch of trail as displayed in the Topo USA 3-D rendering vs. the real life view. The ridge that the trail runs down is very obvious and the coastal point and ridge in the distance matches exactly.
The DeLorme Earthmate PN-20 GPS will be used extensively during the test period. It will be used on a weekday basis for geocaching around town and will spend the weekends with me on the trail. Along with the Topo USA software it will be used as a navigation tool and hike planner. It will be treated as the rugged piece of outdoor equipment it is intended to be - this means it will be tossed around, thrown in packs, taken out in the snow and rain, and tossed on rocks. I know I have not addressed all of the functions and capabilities of this GPS unit and the Topo USA software in this Initial Report as there are simply too many. Every time I turn it on I discover more! In the course of regular use I expect to discover much more and include the information in the upcoming Field and Long Term reports.
This concludes my Initial Report. Please check back here in about two months for the Field Test Report.
June 12, 2007
Table of Contents
Field Conditions and Use
The DeLorme Earthmate PN-20 GPS has been used on several dayhikes, drives, and backpacking trips over the two month Field Testing period. For the purposes of this report, I will focus on the performance of the unit and the Topo USA 6.0 software on five separate outings that cover all of the ways I have used the PN-20.
Trip Planning in Topo USA 6.0: Trails, Routes, and Waypoints
Before heading out on the trail or geocaching, I will do a certain amount of planning in the Topo USA 6.0 software. The amount of planning depends on the conditions I expect to encounter.
The first hike that I planned in the Topo USA software was the Mount Sizer dayhike in Henry Coe. Although I was prepared with detailed maps already, I wanted to map out the route on the software to see how it compared to my map, as well as to educate myself about how the software works. I noticed that the roads/trails that were listed on my park map were already in the Topo USA software, so I had no need to manually draw any of the trails on the map, although it is possible. Planning a hike is simple. The first map below is a stretch of the trail that descends from Mount Sizer. I wanted to know the distance between the two junctions, as well as the elevation gain and loss. To do this, I went to the Route tab, chose a new File, gave it a name, and selected 'Trail' from the drop down box for the type of routing ( I could also choose Direct or Road). I clicked on the green dot and selected my Start location on the map. I then clicked the red dot and chose the Finish. The software automatically followed the trail and filled in the route. The second image below shows the route that was automatically traced along the trail when I selected the Start and Finish locations using the Route tools.
But that's not where the valuable information lies. By selecting the Profile tool and then clicking on the route, I was given the detailed information about that stretch of trail. The profile below also shows why Henry Coe hiking can be so rough - this was the easiest stretch of my 17 mile (27 km) hike! This is a very simple example - the routing can be much more complex. There is a 'Via' selection that can be added to routes between the Start and Finish so that if there is more than one possible route it will take the trail I choose. Routes can also be joined to other routes. After compiling the entire route, I added text boxes to the map and imported my GPX file of geocaches. The final result was a labeled map with distances, geocaches, and elevation information from which I could build profiles, capture and print maps, and see the route in 3D.
Geocaches are very easy to manage in the Topo USA software. Since the software accepts the GPX file format of Geocaching.com, I use my typical manipulation tools to put the cache in the format I wish to have it in, then I load the GPX into Topo USA. I then upload them to the PN-20 using the Handheld Export tool just as any other waypoint.
Route planning was an essential part of preparing my backpacking trip to the Lost Coast. I was a bit nervous about navigating some of the back roads of the area and wanted to have a reliable route in my GPS in addition to maps. The route in question was the 40 mile (64 km) stretch between our meeting point and the trailhead, which included about 16 miles (26 km) of 4WD road. The road, known as Kings Peak Road, was labeled on the Topo USA map and it was very easy for me to create a route by Road Navigation which could then be uploaded to the PN-20. Although I was fairly comfortable with the idea of navigating the road by map, I was looking forward to trying the GPS's routing capabilities while moving on twisty, steep, rugged terrain. There were also some forks that looked like they might be questionable, so I made sure to include 'Via' points along my route at these intersections. The entire route creation process only took a few minutes, mostly so I could learn the difference between the 'Stop' waypoints and the 'Via' waypoints. Stops indicate, rather obviously, places where I might want to stop along the route. Via waypoints just tell the route that I want to go on one specific road or trail and not another. The route also estimates the time for me to cover the distance, based on the estimated average speed for the road or trail type. This speed can be customized - even though the road was marked as a country road on the map, in reality the twisty and steep nature of the 4WD terrain made the speed much slower than the estimated 25 mph (40 kph)!. The field result of my route calculation is discussed below in the Field Use section.
Managing Content on the DeLorme Earthmate PN-20 GPS
Any content on the Topo USA 6.0 software, such as routes, waypoints, tracks, and maps, can be uploaded to the PN-20. This is done via the Handheld Export described in my Initial Report. I have found that the detection of the PN-20 by the Topo USA software can be a bit picky - if the PN-20 has not completed the entire boot sequence before I click on the 'Exchange' button (to bring up the transfer screen), the device will not be detected. Information can be transferred either to the GPS unit directly, or onto a Secure Digital card. The transfer of data directly to the Secure Digital card is much faster, but getting to the card is awkward and I prefer to leave it in the PN-20. I can still transfer to the SD card when it is in the GPS, but it takes much longer to transfer since it does it by the USB cable. I usually do not mind this as I will set up the transfer and walk away to take care of something else.
Transferring data is quite easy. The Exchange Dialog contains two panels, one showing the content of the Topo USA software and the other the GPS. There are simple Send and Receive buttons between the two to send and receive data. The image on the below left shows the Topo USA contents while my 'Project' for the Lost Coast was open. Rather than show all of the routes I've ever created with the software, it limits it to the routes that I currently am working with in my open 'Project'. This is also true for the waypoints and tracks (if any). It shows all of the saved and regional map packages, however. The right side of the image shows the contents of the GPS when I connected it just now while writing this report. Currently, I see the two waypoints I created on my last backpacking trip - my truck at the trailhead, and our campsite, wpt33. It also shows me two tracks - the first one is one I saved on a drive through the mountains. The other one is the 'Active Track' - meaning the track that records waypoints as I move whenever the unit is on. Also on the GPS are routes from some backcountry navigating I did last weekend - I followed a route to a map feature, Phipps Peak. After summiting, we descended a different way and the 'To wpt33' is the direct route that the GPS created to get us back to our campsite. Finally, under Map Packages, there are folders for External and Internal Memory. External refers to the SD card. I've stored the topo data for my last backpacking trip to Desolation Wilderness here, along with a western regional map.
On the GPS panel, any route, track, waypoint, or map can be deleted from the GPS or SD card by right clicking on the item and selecting delete. Right clicking on the top of the tree, such as on 'Waypoints' will allow me to delete all of contents under that heading in the GPS and SD card. I find that this is an easy and efficient way to manage the content on the PN-20, especially since I see it right next to the content of the Topo USA 6.0 software.
Field Use of the DeLorme Earthmate PN-20
Navigation: Prepared Routes
Most of the hiking I did during the Field Test Period was on well established trails, and detailed route preparation was not necessary. However, for the Lost Coast Trip, I very carefully prepared my backcountry road route and put it to the test while navigating through the steep and rugged coastal mountains. Not only was the road steep, climbing over ridges and dropping back into canyons, but it passed through dense redwood forest, making the ability of a GPS receiver to maintain a constant signal questionable. At the beginning of our drive I went into the Route menu in the PN-20, selected my prepared route, 'SC to Mattole via KPR' (conveniently named the same as in the Topo USA software with no truncating or compression), and started navigating.
The PN-20 took me to the map screen with the detailed map of my position, along with the distance to the next turn and the next turn's name in a large font, and below that the elevation and distance to finish (my customized fields). I had included about 45 'Via' points along the route, and had put them at questionable looking intersections with direction notations in the waypoints' names. As I approached these waypoints, the PN-20 would chirp at me. I could quickly glance at the screen, and the large font of the text, along with the map, I was easily able to know what direction to go. I had no trouble navigating the 4WD terrain, watching the route on the PN-20, and making the correct turns. Knowing now what the road was like, I was very grateful to have had the PN-20 and prepared route with me - I know I would have made some incorrect guesses as to the turns in the road, ending up who-knows-where!
Navigation: Roads On-The-Fly
To be completely honest, I only used the Navigate by Road feature once on the PN-20, and it was a disaster. I was trying to locate a small park inside a residential neighborhood. I knew where it was on the map, so I scrolled to the location and selected the road navigation option for the waypoint. I already was planning on approaching the neighborhood from a familiar direction, but the PN-20 wanted to send me off in a different direction. I figured it would update as I got off of its intended route. As expected, it told me I was off-route and asked if I wanted to recalculate. I let it recalculate, but it took so long that in the meantime I had moved another mile and was off of the new route! I spent the rest of the time driving in circles, with the PN-20 constantly recalculating my route but taking so long that by the time it was recalculated it was invalid. That was not a fun thing to deal with while I was trying to pay attention to the road.
Direct navigation is the feature I use most frequently on the PN-20. I've used it to locate geocaches, mark campsites, and travel cross country. Navigating directly to a waypoint is usually referred to as a 'GoTo' in GPS-Speak, and most GPS receivers have a 'GoTo' button. On the PN-20, this is the magnifying glass. I think of a 'GoTo' as one of most basic functionalities of a GPS receiver, and it is a bit surprising to me how many 'clicks' it takes to perform a direct 'GoTo'. It is at a minimum an 8-click process in order to do a simple direct 'GoTo' to a nearby waypoint, including navigating through options and selecting them. It is a rather cumbersome process for something that I consider to be the core functionality of the unit.
I've noticed that if I am more than approximately 2 miles (3 km) from a destination waypoint, sometimes the distance to the point will freeze up and no longer update, even as I get closer and closer to the waypoint. The only way to unfreeze it and update the distance is to recalculate the route. This is annoying when in the backcountry, but especially so when driving. I don't want to be distracted by recalculating a route when I'm that close to a waypoint and moving at highway speeds.
The sensitivity of the 'off route' message can be configured - which I found out after a couple of annoying geocaching outings. I would be on the trail, with a short distance to go to a cache, but if the trail zigzagged away I would get a popup message saying I was off-route, asking me if I wanted to recalculate. This would pop up anytime the trail would 'wiggle' off of the direct route, but I quickly found that this sensitivity could be turned off - which I did. It can also be set to different amounts of sensitivity depending on the distance I am off-route.
Navigating in the backcountry is where the PN-20 really shines, however. With the topo information at my fingertips, I am able to select a feature on the topo map and navigate to it. For example, a few weeks ago in Desolation Wilderness we chose to climb Phipps Peak. There is no real trail to the top, but it is an easy cross-country approach. I set up a direct navigation route to the summit, and combined with our live position on the topo map, I could easily pick the best route to the top. We chose to descend on the other side of the peak, and once again having the campsite waypoint along with the topo map on the GPS made navigating the trickier descent much smoother than it could have gone! It was incredibly helpful to see our position and direction and intended direct route on the topo map in the PN-20 as we got stuck in little gullies and could no longer see our relative position to the surrounding terrain landmarks.
Although I haven't needed the PN-20 to find my way down a trail, I usually leave it on while I am hiking in order to leave a track. It could be incredibly useful were I ever to get lost, but mostly I like to look at my track after I've returned from a hike. A track can often reveal details of a hike that aren't visible through a map. For example, on the Henry Coe hike that I showed in the above screenshots, the planned trail added up to about 13 miles (21 km). In reality, however, there were many more switchbacks than on the mapped trail, and the track revealed this detail as well as the true distance - closer to 17 miles (27 km). The screenshot below shows the track section of the same stretch of trail that I created a route for previously in the report. Notice how much more information the track reveals about the true nature of the trail!
Other Field Use
I found some of the extra features in the PN-20 to be of use to me in the field. Most useful was the tide information. Along the Lost Coast there are certain points that cannot be navigated at high tide. Anyone who hikes the Lost Coast needs to plan the hike based on the tide tables. Our hike was rather leisurely, so a rigid hike scheduled around the tides was not required, but we still needed to be aware of the tide schedule so that we didn't get ourselves in a dangerous position. We had printed tide tables with us, but confirming the data, and also having the backup info on the GPS for when we separated, was useful.
It is also nice to have sun and moon rise and set information with me. On our trip to Desolation Wilderness, we had a beautiful waterfall cascading down the rocks behind our camp. The light for photography wasn't very good in the afternoon and evening, but we could tell that the light would be beautiful in the morning. With the PN-20 we knew what time sunrise would happen the next morning and set alarms accordingly.
General Observations about the Earthmate PN-20
Field Report Conclusions and Long Term Testing Plan
So far I have been pleased with the PN-20 and Topo USA software. The software has taken a bit of getting used to, but I could usually find the answer to my questions pretty quickly in the provided electronic help documentation. The PN-20 required no 'break-in' period at all as it is so intuitive to use, at least for me as an experienced GPS user. Although the GPS has a few quirks and issues, I have been very pleased with many things about it and in general have had a positive experience.
My Long Term Test Plan is to continue using the Topo USA 6.0 and PN-20 as tools to help plan my backcountry adventures. I am in the process of planning several hikes and longer backpacking adventures and both the software and the GPS are essential tools for this. By the time the Long Term Report is posted I expect to have, at a minimum, another 22 field days of use, almost entirely in the High Sierra. I am using the software to plan routes, campsites, water refills, and other important points. This information, along with the topo maps, will be uploaded to the PN-20 and taken along in the backcountry to supplement my paper maps. I will also update the firmware on the PN-20, which I have not done yet. In addition to all of the backpacking time, I even expect to bring the PN-20 with me on a work-related trip overseas. I hope to pick up a couple of geocaches in Bulgaria and Germany with the PN-20, and am curious to see how the unit will react to being on the opposite side of the globe.
Please check back here in approximately two months for my Long Term evaluation of the DeLorme PN-20 and Topo USA 6.0 software.
LONG TERM REPORT
August 21, 2007
During the Long Term Test Period the DeLorme GPS PN-20 has been used as a secondary navigational tool while hiking and finding my way to trailheads. I even carried it all the way to Bulgaria via Frankfurt while traveling for work, but unfortunately I didn't have the chance to even turn it on!
Trip 1: It was carried on a five day, 50 mile (81 km) backpacking trip in southern Yosemite. Although the trip followed established, well-marked trails, finding the trailhead on back forest roads promised to be tricky. I prepared routes and maps to the trailhead using the Topo 6.0 software and the PN-20, and then the PN-20 was also used to track positions and elevation gain on the trail.
Trip 2: I carried the PN-20 on a weekend of dayhiking just outside the eastern border of Yosemite National Park. Maps showed part of our Saturday dayhike to be off-trail so I prepared and uploaded maps to the PN-20 beforehand. The trail ended up being relatively well-established so my careful preparation was not necessary. The two dayhikes on Sunday offered great opportunities for using the PN-20 - the first hike took us to a geocache and an abandoned mine at approximately 10,000 ft (3048 m) in the Sierra Nevada mountains just outside of the park border. The second dayhike was a steep 2500 ft (762 m) climb in 1.5 miles (2.4 km) up Mt Hoffman, where I used the PN-20 to track my progress through the seemingly endless elevation gain.
Trip 3: The PN-20 was carried as part of my base gear while hiking for two weeks and approximately 160 miles (258 km) along the John Muir Trail (JMT) in the High Sierra, concluding with a climb of Mt Whitney, the tallest peak in the continental US. Before the hike, I prepared daily routes with campsites, water sources, and bear boxes marked to use as backup information in case the maps were not sufficient. With this information uploaded to the PN-20 I confidently hit the trail. When on the trail I rarely needed to refer to the PN-20. The JMT is a busy, well-marked route, and hikers are friendly and share valuable information with each other. I found that with these resources I did not need to refer to my prepared information on the PN-20, although it was reassuring to have it along. I did use it on two occasions, however. The first was when I stepped off the JMT for a couple of days and headed through Humphrey's Basin. This is an above tree-line, barren, beautiful place. The trail I found myself on did not match what I was on my map or what I had pre-loaded to the PN-20. But, with my position on the topo clearly displayed on the PN-20 screen in front of me, I was easily able to determine my position relative to the old trails that were the ones marked on the maps. I also turned the PN-20 on for the last 1000 feet (305 m) of my ascent of Mt Whitney. I was excited to see the elevation slowly step up to nearly 14,500 ft (4420 m)!
Long Term Observations
My experience with the Topo 6.0 software and PN-20 over the Long Term Test Period is consistent with my Field Report results. In the interest of brevity (and sanity) I will not summarize these many similar experiences in this Long Term portion, but I'll mention issues, experiences, or problems that are in addition to what I wrote about in my Field Report.
I have enjoyed testing the PN-20. It has many features that make it incredibly useful for someone like me, who spends most of her outdoor time either backpacking or geocaching. I think that the physical construction of the unit is great - it is easy to hold and work in one hand, the screen is a great size, and the body is incredibly rugged. The features that are offered are also very valuable to me. However, there are many small little quirks that cause this software and GPS combination to be a bit more frustrating to use than they should be. No issue is major enough to make me want to seek out a new solution just yet, but I feel like there is room for improvement. I look forward to seeing where DeLorme takes this GPS unit in the future, since it has the potential to grow into something even better and more powerful than it already is.
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