Garmin eTrex review: Garmin eTrex

4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Lightweight; sharp screen; loads of memory.

The Bad No driving directions; expensive; additional MapSource programs are costly.

The Bottom Line Although the eTrex Vista and its add-on programs may be a bit pricey, you will not find a more feature-packed GPS device in a smaller package.

8.0 Overall

Garmin's eTrex family of handheld GPS devices has come full circle in the form of the eTrex Vista. Building on the success of earlier models, including the eTrex Summit and Legend units, the eTrex Vista combines the best of both products in a single, powerful, 12-channel GPS receiver that features a built-in compass and altimeter, a whopping 24MB of memory, detailed base maps, and an extensive database of local attractions. Garmin's eTrex family of handheld GPS devices has come full circle in the form of the eTrex Vista. Building on the success of earlier models, including the eTrex Summit and Legend units, the eTrex Vista combines the best of both products in a single, powerful, 12-channel GPS receiver that features a built-in compass and altimeter, a whopping 24MB of memory, detailed base maps, and an extensive database of local attractions.

Familiar features
The eTrex Vista maintains the weight (5.3 ounces) and dimensions (4.4 by 2 by 1.2) of its predecessors and is housed in the same waterproof, pocket-sized casing. The main design difference between the Summit and the Vista is color (the Vista has a metallic-silver exterior). No changes were made to the 2.1-by-1.1-inch, high-resolution, monochrome LCD, and none were needed since the map detail is amazingly clear for such a small display.

Like the Summit, the Vista sports five convenient, black rubber buttons, including two Zoom controls, Power/backlight, Find, and Pages buttons, on either side of the unit, allowing for easy one-handed operation. However, Garmin has mounted a sixth button, called the Click Stick, on the face of the Vista. This five-position, joysticklike navigation key lets you scroll through the various options within each of the main pages.

You can also use the onscreen keyboard to enter search criteria. Use the Page button to view satellite information, maps, compass heading, elevation history, or a trip computer (which displays an odometer, speed, average moving time, and more). The sixth page is a Windows-like menu where you can create routes, mark waypoints, view track logs, and find local points of interest. We were particularly impressed with the extended Find function, which displays the distances ("as the crow flies") and a heading pointer to your desired location on both the map and compass pages.

That's a lock
As for performance, we were fairly impressed. The 12-channel receiver did a great job of locking and holding onto satellite signals, especially in the city, unlike Magellan's Map 330, which lost signals from time to time. The only thing we found lacking was the Vista's inability to view driving directions. The eTrex Vista runs on two AA batteries (not included) and gave us a little more than eight hours of continuous use before we changed batteries, which is about standard. The unit will accept rechargeable batteries, but don't expect them to last as long as alkaline cells.

The Vista's best feature is its 24MB of internal memory--the most to date in a GPS device. You can use the memory to store local street-level maps, points of interest, and up to 500 waypoints in addition to the preloaded base maps of North and South America. Unfortunately, to download data to the device, you'll need to purchase the MapSource MetroGuide CD ($174.98). We tested the software and were able to search for points of interest by name or proximity to our location, including hotels, restaurants, landmarks, and other attractions, as well as locate intersections and street addresses. The Vista also accepts data from other Garmin programs, including U.S. Waterways, Fishing Hot Spots, and U.S. Topo.

Despite the lack of driving directions and expensive mapping software, the eTrex Vista is still one of the most feature-packed handheld GPS units we've seen in such a small package. Its ergonomic design, crisp screen, 24MB of storage capacity, and user-friendliness makes the eTrex Vista one of the top pocket-sized navigation tools available to outdoors enthusiasts and urban travelers alike. We just wish it didn't cost so much ($375).

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