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Reviews > Navigation and Map Gear > GPS > Garmin eTrex Legend HCx > Owner Review by Kurt Papke

Garmin eTrex Legend HCx GPS unit - Owner Review

Review date: November 5, 2007

Personal biographical information:

Name: Kurt Papke
Age: 54
Gender: Male
Height: 6' 4" (193 cm)
Weight: 220 lbs (100 kg)
Email address: kwpapke at gmail dot com
City, State, Country: Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
Backpacking Background: mostly in Minnesota - all of the Superior Hikiing Trail, starting on the Border Route.  Dayhiking in Utah, Colorado and Oregon.  Mostly Spring/Fall season.  I have a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering and a 30-year career in software development, so I have a working knowledge of electronics and software which helps with a GPS.

Product Information

Manufacturer: Garmin Ltd.
Year of manufacture: 2007
Manufacturer website: http://garmin.com
Listed weight: 5.5 oz with batteries (156 g)
Weight as received: 6.0 oz (172 g) with Duracell 1800mAh NIMH batteries
4.2 oz (118 g) w/o batteries
Unit dimensions, WxHxD:
4.2" x 2.2" x 1.2" (10.7 x 5.6 x 3.0 cm)
Display size, WxH:
1.3" x 1.7" (3.3 x 4.3 cm)
MSRP: $289.27
PC interface
USB (cable supplied)

Field Information

Location of testing: Minnesota, Oregon
Description of location: One 8-day/100 mile trip on the Border Route and Superior Hiking trails, numerous dayhikes in the Twin cities area, and city driving (Minneapolis, Portland).  Elevations: 600 - 1800 ft (180 - 550 m) on the SHT, 0-400 ft (0 - 120 m)
Weather conditions: Cool weather (40-60F) and heavy rain

General Information

The Legend is a handheld GPS designed for trail use.  The Legend is the lowest end of the Garmin line with auto-routing capability.  The "H" stands for the new high-sensitivity receiver which gives the unit the ability to capture satellites in a "green tunnel".  The "C" stands for a color screen.  The "x" indicates a slot for a MicroSD flash memory card (no built-in map memory).

This review will focus on the handheld unit, but will touch on the MapSource software and the City Navigator NT, North America map, as these are all part of a complete GPS system.

Description of Unit

Garmin Legend HCx in sunlightControls

All interaction with the eTrex GPS is through 5 buttons:
Power key: Turns unit on/off and sets backlight
Quit/page key: Escapes the current function or goes to the next main page
In/out zoom keys: Zooms in/out on a map page, or scrolls through lists in menus
Menu/Find key: context-sensitive menus or press and hold to access the Find menu
Enter/rocker: joystick, press and release to Enter or mark locations
I have had no problems performing desired tasks using these six controls.

Handedness (left versus right): I find that I use the Quit/page key more than any other control, and it is located at the tip of my right thumb were it can be used easily and without fatigue.  The one control that is somewhat "handed" is the Enter/rocker key: it is offset to the left front of the unit where it is easily reached with the tip of my right thumb.  I find it uncomfortable to use the Enter/rocker control with my left hand: it is too close to my hand and I have to "crook" my thumb too much to access it.  Left-handed users may find this annoying.

With gloves: I find that the controls are large enough that I can easily perform all operations with a mid-weight fleece glove.  For those of us who hike in colder climates this is an often-overlooked attribute.  The picture shows the Satellite Page of the Legend with backlight off in full sun held in my gloved left hand.

Batteries/MicroSD slot

Legend with the back cover removedThe picture to the left shows the Legend with the back case cover removed.  The two AA batteries are easily removed and replaced, though a fingernail is required to dig them out.  The MicroSD slot with a map chip installed is in the upper right corner of the picture.  Memory cards are painlessly inserted, and the slot is spring-loaded making it trivial to pop out the card.

The battery usage indicator can be seen on the main menu in the picture below.  I find the icon confusing, with the black color indicating the remaining charge.

Though I like the compactness of the MicroSD format, I would be concerned with changing these in the field.  They are only the size of a fingernail, and if dropped on the trail they would be difficult to find.

The lanyard and its attachment slot can be seen at the left side of the image.

Menus

Garmin Legend main menuThe page key navigates sequentially through the main Legend menus: map, compass and main menu (shown at left).  When powering up the Satellite page is displayed, and can be returned to via the main menu.  The order and which pages are displayed in the page key sequence can be customized, though I have not found this necessary for my use.  The contents of the pages can also be customized, in particular the number and content of the displayed fields.  I have found this useful for the Trip Computer and Compass pages where I have changed the default fields to data that I wanted frequent access.

The main menu is used frequently, and can be rapidly accessed with two presses of the menu key.  The default order is shown at left, but can be setup to display in order of the most frequently used menus.  I find the default menu order works well for me, and I don't like it when things get moved around on me.

Software Updates

I have updated the firmware once on my unit.  The instructions are clear, though a bit scary due to the warnings that if the download is botched the GPS has to be sent back to Garmin for re-imaging with no warranty coverage of the costs.

MapSource Software

Mapsource screenThough there are 3rd party software packages that can be used to upload/download and edit waypoints, tracks and routes, Garmin MapSource is the only software that can load and display Garmin maps and comes standard with the unit.  MapSource comes with the same basemap as the Legend.  I have used MapSource effectively to edit my track files post-hike to clean up detours, organize tracks by trail section, and rename and annotate waypoints and tracks.  I have also used it to import GPX files for trails created by others with only one problem encountered: I came across one GPX file which could not be imported by MapSource but could be read and downloaded to my GPS by other 3rd party software (EasyGPS).

The image to the left shows a typical MapSource screen: the yellow dots are a track recorded from a hike, the panel on the right is the detailed track log, and the graph shows the elevation profile of the track.  In the background on the left you can see tabs for the main entities a GPS deals with: maps, waypoints, routes and tracks.

POI Loader: Garmin has a utility for downloading 3rd party Point Of Interest files.  I have used this to successfully load waypoints for Portland microbreweries  :)

City Navigator NT, North America map

The standard basemap pre-loaded in the unit is very rough: there were times on the Border Route Trail that my GPS was saying I had crossed the border into Canada, when clearly I was on the U.S. side of the river.  With use of the City Navigator NT North America map the Legend no longer declared me an illegal Canadian immigrant.

The auto-routing capabilities of the Legend are useless unless a street map is purchased.  I chose to buy a MicroSD chip preloaded with the 2008 City Navigator NT, North America map.  I was pleased with the completeness of the map itself: it contains many forest roads allowing the GPS to be used to navigate  to remote trailheads, a use often overlooked.  It also has a very complete database of POI's: gas stations, motels, restaurants, etc. that can be very useful on road trips.  I have appreciated the capability of doing a quick find for the closest fueling stop.

My only disappointment with the map was the inability to upload and view the map in MapSource.  This severely limits its use in pre-planning trips on a PC.  A better alternative would be to buy the DVD version of the same map and a blank MicroSD card.  Another disadvantage of the preloaded chip is the inability to manage multiple maps, i.e. topo + roadmap.  Additional map data cannot be added to the preloaded chip, and there is only one chip slot.

I had a situation on my last trip where I would have liked both a topo and the roadmap available: my car was parked at a shuttle service in Grand Marais and as I descended from the SHT I would have liked to use the roadmap routing to give me the best walking route through town to my car.  I can envision other situations (e.g. mid-hike resupply) where this would be useful.

Driving navigation: I have used the Legend in my car in city navigation.  It makes good use of auditory cues and temporary map zooms to warn the user of upcoming turns.  I have used other car GPS systems with voice outputs and I would have liked the verbal warnings, but the "beeps" are a reasonable cost compromise.

Supplied Accessories

The Legend comes standard with a lanyard and mounting adapter.  The adapter is useless without an extra-cost mounting bracket for an automobile, bicycle handlebar, belt clip, etc.  It screws into a metal threaded socket in the back of the GPS.  The lanyard is easily lashed/removed from a slot on the bottom of the unit.  The lanyard extends 18" from the base, making it easy to read the unit when hanging it around the neck, though personally I never do so as I find it irritating to have it bouncing off my chest as I walk.

Field Performance

Receiver Sensitivity

The "H" in HCx connotes that this Legend model has the Garmin high-sensitivity receiver.  I have never experienced a loss of satellite capture with this unit in the field, even in densely wooded areas of Northern Minnesota.  I even get reasonable reception inside buildings.

Screen legibility

The unit's color screen has good legibility with the backlight turned off in bright sunlight.  There is no need to find a shady area to read the screen.

Battery life

I have not done an exhaustive battery life test with different battery types to confirm the manufacturers claim.  It will vary of course depending on backlight usage, WAAS enabled/disabled, etc.  There is no "sleep" mode for the Legend.

Startup time

10.45 s to "Acquiring satellites"
40.2 s to satellite acquisition

Tracking

Tracks are the "breadcrumbs" that the unit logs during a trip.  The Legend has a TracBack feature for selecting the current or saved track and allowing me to retrace my steps.  This is the purpose for which I initially purchased a GPS: a fork in a trail or creekbed looks very different when backtracking, and I've been known to take a wrong turn.  I used this function successfully on my BRT hike when I took a wrong turn and lost the trail.  TracBack use is a little confusing at first as the unit requires selection of the point to track back to, which when I take a wrong turn I really don't care, I just want to go backwards.

Another feature that is confusing is that the Legend does not clear the current track log when a track is saved.  I typically save my track at the end of every day, and have inadvertently ended up with a lot of overlapping tracks.

Tracks are easily uploaded to MapSource and saved to a file.  I have found it useful to keep my tracks in separate files that can be downloaded for use in re-hiking the same trail.  This avoids cluttering the GPS memory and map screen with tracks not currently in use.

Routing

Routing works in two modes: following roadways, and point-to-point.  I find I mostly use routing in the car, so leave the Legend in roadway mode rather than having it prompt me every time (this is configurable).  When route navigation is active, the page key menu has an additional screen in the sequence with the turn-by-turn directions.  I find that the routes chosen by the Legend using the City Navigator map are appropriate.  Routing is configurable to prioritize shortest distance or travel time.

Gripe: there does not seem to be a way from the Legend GPS to avoid a given section of roadway.  Case in point: I used to take the I35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis bridge every day in my commute to/from work, but with the recent well-publicized collapse that is no longer possible.  I have been using my Legend to find alternate routes home, and I'd really like to indicate that the bridge should be routed around, but have yet to find a way to do this other than picking a waypoint to route through.

Conclusions

The Garmin Legend HCx is a useful compromise of cost, functionality, trail and road use capabilities.  I found it a reasonable choice of a first GPS unit for myself who bought it to use for a combination of hiking, driving and bicycling.

Pros:
  1. Low-cost,  moderate weight, robust mechanical design, waterproof
  2. Excellent receiver sensitivity, high memory capacity with add-on SD card
  3. Routing capability makes it useful for car and bicycle use as well as on the trail
  4. Complete support for map (if DVD maps are purchased), route, track and waypoint management from a PC.
Cons:
  1. Requires purchase of a map to make the auto-routing capability useful.  The basemap is good for freeway driving only.
  2. Single MicroSD slot limits the utility of purchasing pre-loaded map cards.


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Reviews > Navigation and Map Gear > GPS > Garmin eTrex Legend HCx > Owner Review by Kurt Papke



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