(Continued: Page 2 of 2)
Users can also use the eXplorist to set custom waypoints and navigate to them. This is a useful feature for getting back to your car if your day of geocaching takes you off of the beaten path.
Users are able to add more caches by USB connecting their eXplorist to a PC and downloading new data from the Geocaching.com user community. The eXplorist listed five caches in the city of San Francisco, but a quick search on Geocaching.com showed over 150 geocaches in the same area, so there is quite a bit of replay value. With your purchase, Magellan includes a 30-day premium membership to the Geocaching.com site, after which the site will charge $30/year. There is also a free basic account that may be enough for most casual 'cachers, but if you find yourself getting serious about this activity, the advanced search tools and notifications of new caches make the Premium membership a heck of a deal.
The eXplorist GC is powered by a SiRFstarIII GPS receiver that, while accurate to within 3 meters under optimal conditions, doesn't appear to include a any sort of internal compass. This means that the device can only infer the direction you're facing based on the direction that you're moving. This isn't so bad at the beginning of your hunt, when you're far away from the cache and moving pretty quickly, but as you approach the waypoint and need to move more precisely, it can be frustrating to have to walk in circles to get pointed in the right direction.
Geocaching is a sport that takes place in the great outdoors, but more and more caches are being hidden in densely populated urban areas. During our testing of the eXplorist, we used the device to sniff out a few caches that we were familiar with in Oakland, Calif., and a few new caches in San Francisco.
In Oakland where the sky is mostly unobstructed by skyscrapers, the eXplorist took us straight to our five favorite geocaches with little issue. We liked having access to the full color maps and that all of the cache info was right at our fingertips. The street names could be a bit difficult to read, and scrolling around the map with the joystick was at times maddening, but overall our impressions were very positive.
For the second portion of our test in San Francisco, we first set out to discover a cache hidden in the city's Union Square. Along the way, we had to pass through the tall skyscrapers and narrow streets of the downtown area, where we noticed that the eXplorist GC had a hard time maintaining its satellite lock. For blocks at a time, our position wouldn't change on the eXplorist's screen, and occasionally, the device would just give up looking for the satellites and ask if we wanted to quit. However to be fair, most GPS devices suffer in this sort of urban canyon.
Once in the relatively open air of Union Square, the eXplorist was back on task, tracking our location rather accurately within the city-block-size park. The waypoints led us to the base of the monument at the square's center. According to the info, we were looking for a micro cache that was hidden with a high degree of difficulty. After an hour of searching, occasionally raising the curiosity of the tourists in the area, we called of the search. Our second San Francisco cache was located at the top of a hillside park. We were unsuccessful in our hunt, but--despite its initial satellite reception issues--the eXplorist had proven itself a worthy geocaching tool.
Compared with the only other standalone geocaching tool we've reviewed, the Apisphere Geomate.jr, the Magellan eXplorist GC stands head and shoulders above the competition. It sits in a sweet spot between the toylike Geomate.jr, which is aimed at being a child's first GPS device, and a high-end handheld GPS device. The eXplorist has a larger color screen that displays richer and more accurate data than the Geomate.jr, and it is updatable without the need for special equipment. Yet, the eXplorist lacks the even larger touch screen and internal three-axis compass of the higher-end model that offers more precise directional tracking while standing still.
At an MSRP of $199, the Magellan unit also sits in the pricing sweet spot between the considerably less expensive $69.99 Geomate.jr. and the more expensive prosumer units. For the urban outdoorsman, the extra cash is money well spent, leading to a much more enjoyable entry point into the geocaching experience.