Electronic Mapping Comes of Age for Handheld GPS
Full US coverage with USGS 1:24K digital downloadable maps are available for Magellan and DeLorme GPS units.
I’m betting that in less than three years non-mapping GPS sales will tank and all but be replaced by high-res mapping units. High resolution internal maps and even aerial imagery are the future of GPS. In anticipation of this, two companies, Magellan and DeLorme, both debuted GPS units with the capability to download USGS 1:24,000 (7.5 minute) internal maps into their units. Magellan partners with National Geographic Topo! for maps. DeLorme uses their own “Topo USA” for maps.
Sweet spot: The Magellan 400 and 500. Both units accept 1:24K downloadable maps and have an SD memory slot for digital map storage. The 500 also includes a magnetic compass and barometer. Both use a 2.2 inch one-quarter VGA resolution display and have high performance electronics including the SiRFstarIII chipset. GPS weights are a bit over 6 ounces with batteries (pre-production unit weights).
Until now, Garmin had been the industry leader with their USGS 1:24K series of maps for National Parks East (NPE) and National Parks West (NPW) which could be downloaded into mapping capable Garmin GPS units. These maps were proprietary to Garmin and could not be downloaded into other GPS’s. This left other GPS units without internal USGS 1:24K maps. They stored maps at much lower resolutions, typically around 1:100,000 – not really suitable for precise off trail navigation.
In addition to rasterized topo maps, the EARTHMATE GPS PN-20 displays DeLorme vector based topo maps and aerial imagery. Like the Magellan the EARTHMATE GPS PN-20 is a rugged, IPX-7 waterproof device, with high performance GPS electronics using the STMicroelectronics chipset with SiGE RF front-end. Performance should be close to SiRFstarIII. It is a bit heavier than the Magellan Triton at 7 ounces. The form factor is a bit awkward with the top tap sticking out. The tab is masquerading as a lanyard attachment but also contains the unit’s antenna
And even for Garmin, their proprietary NPE and NPW 1:24K maps covered only a small fraction of the country that was national parks – places with good trails that are well understood with lots of navigational resources – arguably the places least in need of internal GPS maps. For the rest of the country where one could really use high resolution internal GPS maps, there were only 1:100K maps to download to your handheld GPS.
Another problem with internal maps was the complexity of downloading them to your GPS unit. Many times downloading waypoints and internal maps was a multiple-step, multiple-software process. Usually you did your route planning and GPS waypoint setting in one mapping tool, like National Geographic’s Topo! (the most popular online mapping software). Then you had to shut down Topo! and load another product like Garmin’s Mapsource to download the appropriate 1:24K maps to your GPS. Wouldn’t it be better if you could download the same 1:24K maps you were just using in Topo! directly to your GPS along with your waypoints and routes? Thus saving a step and remaining in a mapping software product you are familiar and comfortable with. And you could download whatever 1:24K maps you needed country wide, not just the national parks.
Finally, the high resolution internal GPS maps tend to be expensive. Garmin’s NPE and NPW list for $117 each. This is frustrating when you already spent $100 on 1:24K maps in another mapping software (but are unable to download them into your GPS).
Magellan Triton Units and National Geographic Topo! mapping software.
Magellan has solved all of the above mentioned problems via their collaboration with National Geographic Topo! electronic mapping software. Now you can now download any Topo! 1:24K USGS maps you own into Magellan’s Triton series of handheld GPS units. This simplifies trip planning and downloading waypoints, routes and maps to a single step. You can do all of this with a software program many backpackers and hikers are familiar with. It also reduces your electronic map costs.
The Magellan units contain excellent quality circuitry with a high sensitivity antenna and the high performance SiRFstarIII chipset. They should have excellent GPS performance even in difficult reception areas. They are rugged (able to withstand a drop on concrete) and waterproof to IPX-7 standards.
Magellan’s top of the line Triton 1500 and 2000 units offer full-color, touch-screen controls and the ability to record and attach audio to waypoint files and a built-in LED flashlight. The Triton 2000 also has a built-in 2MB pixel camera, and magnetic compass and barometer.
While the touchscreen on the 1500 and 2000 is indeed very nice, the unit’s weight is around 9+ ounces. While we can see some justification for additional weight for a larger and more functional screen, we wonder why they put a metal clip bar at the top of the unit instead of the much lighter traditional lanyard attachment point.
We did have a chance to briefly play around with a working version of the Magellen Triton 2000. At first blush the touchscreen display, operational menus and screens seem promising.
Expected availability for Magellean Triton GPS units is Fall of 2007. Prices will be quite reasonable with the most basic mapping units (Model 300) at $149 (10K internal map storage and lacks an SD expansion slot); and the mid-price units, the Model 400 and Model 500, at $199 and $249 respectively. The larger Triton 1500 and 2000 are quite a bit more expensive at $399 and $499 respectively. Add another $100 for each 1:24K Topo! state series map set you need.
Delorme Earthmate GPS PN-20 and DeLorme Topo USA mapping software
The DeLorme Earthmate GPS PN-20 also solves most of the problems mentioned at the beginning of this article. You can do trip planning, waypoint setting, and map downloading via a single software program, DeLorme’s Topo USA 6.0. In addition to USGS 1:24K raster maps the EARTHMATE GPS PN-20 takes mapping quite a bit further. You can also download 1:24K DeLorme vector maps, as well as aerial imagery and street map. The EARTHMATE GPS PN-20 makes it fairly simple to toggle between the different map and imagery overlays. For instance, you can first look at the aerial image and then view the 1:24K map underlying it.
USGS rasterized topo maps on the EM.
DeLorme Topo USA software (vector maps not USGS topos) is included with the EM, while Garmin and Magellan owners must purchase separate software. The EARTHMATE GPS PN-20 comes with a $100 dollar credit to download 154 square miles (400 square kilometers) of USGS rasterized 1:24K topo maps and aerial imagery. Additional data can be purchased at $1 per square mile.
In addition to rasterized maps, the EARTHMATE GPS PN-20 displays DeLorme vector based topo maps and aerial imagery. Like the Magellan the EARTHMATE GPS PN-20 is a rugged, IPX-7 waterproof device, with high performance GPS electronics using the STMicroelectronics chipset with SiGE RF front-end. Performance should be close to SiRFstarIII. It is a bit heavier than the Magellan Triton at 7 ounces. The form factor is a bit awkward with the top tab sticking out. The tab is masquerading as a lanyard attachment but it also contains the unit’s antenna.
DeLorme also includes the ability to download maps and waypoints directly to the SD card (included) which is faster and easier than downloading them via the GPS unit.
The EARTHMATE GPS PN-20 is available now for $367. Included with the Earthmate GPS PN-20 with Topo USA 6.0 National Bundle:
- The Earthmate GPS PN-20, handheld GPS receiver
- SD Card & Reader (speeds transfer of date between computer & GPS)
- DeLorme Topo USA software with full U.S. topographic and street-level detail
- Pre-loaded worldwide highway and major road base map
- Certificate for $100 worth of Aerial Data Packet downloads from DeLorme (up to 400 sq. km)
- USB interface cable
- A convenient neck lanyard
EARTHMATE GPS PN-20 Specs
- IPX-7 waterproof standard, impact-resistant rubberized housing
- Device dimensions: 2.43" W x 5.25" H x 1.5" D
- Weight: 7.05 ounces with batteries
- New high-sensitivity NMEA-compliant 12-channel GPS receiver with low-power baseband and RF chipset
- STMicroelectronics chip technology with SiGE front-end and DeLorme firmware for faster acquisition times and outstanding signal retention
- Proprietary Kalman filter for enhanced GPS accuracy
- 75 MB available internal flash memory for user-uploaded maps
- Uses 2 AA batteries (included)
- AA Energizer Max: 14 hours, at an average cost of .12/hour
- AA Energizer e2-Lithium: 22.50 hours, at an average cost of .22/hour
- WAAS-enabled, 12 parallel channel GPS receiver continuously tracks and uses up to 12 satellites to compute and update your position
- Warm: Approximately 15 seconds
- Cold: Approximately 60 seconds
- Update rate: 1/second, continuous
- Position: < 15 meters, 95% typical*
- Velocity: 0.05 meter/sec steady state
- Position: < 3 meters, 95% typical*
- Subject to accuracy degradation to 100m 2DRMS under the United States Department of Defense-imposed Selective Availability Program.
- Sharp high-resolution 2.2" Transflective TFT color display (220 x 176 pixels)
Memory & Storage
- SD card slot for up to 2 GB additional map storage (1GB SD card and Reader included)
- Holds up to 10 tracks (10,000 points per track), 1,000 user-defined waypoints, and 50 routes