GPS survey 05

Subject: GPS survey 05
Date: Thu, 3 Nov 2005 09:10:05 +1100
As my GPS survey has apparently not appeared for some reason (and I'm 
receiving requests from list members) here is the survey again.  Hope it 
gets through OK.

Would those people who have asked me this morning about the survey please 
let me know it has appeared now?

cheers, Martin O'Brien


For list members.

Thanks to all who passed on their experiences with purchasing and using 
hand-held Global Positioning Systems (GPS) for birding. I've summarised 
the responses I received to my questions (over 40) below.

General comments
- A few users had GPS units that may no longer be sold or are old models 
(eg. Garmin GPS 12 XL was purchased in 1998).  Keep this in mind when 
reading the following.
- prices, even for the same unit, varied greatly depending on the retail 
outlet (this means it's worth shopping around) and where and when the unit 
was purchased.
- specialist GPS shops were all strongly recommended (prices, advice and 
support) by those who used these outlets.
- at least two Magellan GPS owners had switched to Garmin units (but no 
Garmin user had switched to any other unit).  [This means their are a few 
'double-responses' in the information below].
- three users had tried and/or purchased a Magellan unit as part of the 
last Birds Australia atlas work. These people tended to say their Magellan 
units were NOT user friendly.
- at least four users also purchased additional items with the unit (eg. 
cig lighter cables, map software, cradle for in-car use and external 
- at least three GPS owners used their units as part of work (eg. 
biological consultant) or study (eg. post graduate student).  These people 
tended to also have some dedicated map software to support the data 
generated in their GPS use.
- at least two people had either purchased their unit over the web or 
while overseas

Provider support
All Garmin users were happy with the support and back-up received from the 
suppliers.  With one exception the few Garmin users that had problems with 
their devices had the issues quickly addressed and the GPS repaired or 
replaced within a day or so.  These were all done under warranty.

Most Magellan users had negative experiences with their units and often 
with their suppliers but NOT all Magellan users had bad experiences.  Two 
Magellan users mentioned their units failed within a year. At least two 
people were quite happy with their Magellan GPS, although one of these 
mentioned the lack of the standard Australian datum (GDA94) as an option 
in their unit.  Another Magellan GPS owner said the device failed after 
the software change date (about 3 years after purchase).  It's worth 
checking whether software upgrades are required in your unit and whether 
they are issued free by the GPS provider after purchase.

Not all Magellan users found their units to be hard to use.  Recent models 
(eg. Explorist series) in particular are easier to use than the older 
models (eg. the 310).

Note that 
- some people did not provide answers to all the questions I posed. 
Answers with the phrase 'not specified' indicate these questions.
- most people mentioned they did NOT use their GPS for much other than 
determining grid references when atlassing/birding.

The following book may be of use to GPS owners: McNamara, J. (2004) 'GPS 
for Dummies: a reference for the rest of us'.  Published by Wiley US. ISBN 
0 764569 333
The two main GPS manufacturers mentioned by people are: Garmin -, Magellan -
How to use hand held GPS -

Detailed summary

1. Which MAKE and MODEL GPS did you buy ?
A number of different brands and models of GPS were used by list members. 
By far the most commonly purchased units were Garmin.  This may reflect 
availability as much as anything else as the outlets people mentioned were 
quite varied.

Note that I've used text to describe the number of units per user to try 
and make the following a bit easier to read.

* Brand: Garmin - 31, Magellan - 9, Other - 1(Fortuna GPSmart)

* Model & no. of users: 
Garmin (model not specified) 1.
eTrex four, GPS II four, GPS II Plus three, GPS72 three, eTrex Legend C 
three, Geko two, GPSMap60 one, Map76S one, 12-Map one, GPS 12 XL one, 76 
one, eTrex Venture one, 360 one
[NB. only the eTrex series, Geko series and some of the mapping Gamin's 
are current]

(model not specified) 3, Magellan 300 one, Magellan 310 three, GPS Pioneer 
one, Explorist 600 one.
[NB. Only the Explorist series is current]

Fortuna GPSmart one

2. What type of retailer did you purchase your GPS from? (outdoors shop, marine 
supplies, map shop, auto?)
Marine/boating suppliers headed the outlets used by people for purchasing 
their unit.  This was followed closely by specialist GPS suppliers (eg. 
Johnny Appleseed).  viz.
Marine/boating supplier - 7, Specialist GPS retailer - 5, retailer not 
specified - 5, purchased through/by work - 3, Mapping suppliers &/or 
retailer - 3, electronics store - 3, communications retailer - 2, auto/car 
radio shop - 2, Birds Australia - 2, sporting goods store - 1, outdoor 
shop - 1, via Ebay - 1, 

3. How much did you pay? 
Most people spent $300- or less on the GPS unit.  Those that spent bigger 
sums generally had work reasons for doing so.  It appears that you not 
need to spend any more for a birding GPS.

Both Garmin and Magellan units were amongst the dearest GPS devices 
purchased by  users.  Garmin units were also by far the most common 
mid-priced ($200 - $300) units purchased.

The number of people spending the following amounts on their GPS are as 
$100 - 199 => 1($129-)
$200 - 299 => 14
$300 - 399 => 2
$400 - 499 => 3
$500 - 599 => 4
$600 - 699 => 2
$700 - 799 => 1
$800 + => 1 ($1200-)

Interestingly, a few of the people who spent a large sum on their GPS 
noted how much cheaper similar models were these days.

4. Given that it is for birding, why did you buy that particular make and 
model? (compact?, cheap?, easy to use, only one available?..) 
The ease of use, cost, compact dimensions and sometimes features were the 
main reasons given for purchasing a particular GPS unit.  Many people 
noted that there were only a few makes & models available to them at the 
price range they were prepared to pay.  Clearly, not all suppliers had 
full ranges of any GPS manufacturer.

A summary of the responses, in the order of most commonly made comment 
(covering all the units) follows.  (Not everyone responded with the same 

Easy to use - 17
Compact/lightweight - 8
Good price/cheap - 7
Feature rich/of choice - 5
Well made/reliable - 3
Accurate/quick getting satellite fixes - 3
'Good brand' - 2
Intuitive - 2
Screen clarity good - 1

5. Is it EASY to use? (yes/no and why) 
Nearly all respondents said their unit was easy to use (this related to 
button position, screen size and clarity and intuitive instructions or 
menus on the display.  A number mentioned it was a steep learning curve 
before they found their units easy to use.  Many people mentioned they did 
not use a number of the other features in their unit or loaded the data 
collected, onto their computer.

With a few exceptions, it appeared that all GPS devices take a little 
learning but are fine after this.  Don't be put off by all the features 
they come with and be aware there are likely to be many functions you may 
not use (at least initially).

6. In your opinion, what are the good points/features for this make/model? 
This was often a repeat of answers to question 5.  Additional things 
mentioned were: Works in situations where other units do not, good battery 
life, logical menu, clear manual details, waterproof construction, often 
doesn't work (old GPS device in hilly terrain), text is a bit hard to read 
(small screen with single colour characters), can be run off the cigarette 
lighter outlet, display can be rotated.

Some people found their units hard to understand (poor manuals?) and use, 
especially the use of 'waypoints' or 'points of interest' but others 
mentioned their units came with good user manuals.

7. Have you had any problems or difficulties with the unit? (battery 
usage, complex to understand, hard to read screen, inadequate 
A variety of problems were provided by just a few users.  The majority of 
users had no problems at all.

They covered: battery use or type, cable to antenna broken a few times, 
altitude function not accurate, limited route saving ability, stopped 
working after 3 years, lacks GDA94 datum for Australia, complex to 
understand, doesn't work under dense forest canopy, switches itself off in 
the bag, small size of screen characters, screen hard to read sometimes, 
slow getting satellite fixes, line by line menus annoying.

8. Do you just use your GPS for determining grid and locality references 
for outdoor activities or do you also download data gathered into you pc 
for home or work? 
Only three people mentioned they used their GPS for anything other than 
personal birding.  The ability to take a bird site grid reference for 
addition to an atlas sheets of notebook and as future reference were the 
main reasons people had purchased their unit.

9. Would you recommend your GPS to others? 
All but 3 people said they would recommended their GPS to others.  The few 
that did not recommend their GPS said the units had been superseded by 
better GPS devices at lower prices than they had paid or from bad 
experiences with GPS failure and/or provider support.

10. Does your unit track OK beneath a forest canopy?
The few responses received on this question said their unit worked OK 
provided a satellite fix was made before entering dense canopy areas.  The 
dearer GPS units (those with mapping download and upload facilities) did 
not have any problems obtaining fixes below canopy.  The units that failed 
in this respect tended to be the lower end models or the cheapest devices.

11. Comments - any other comments? 
People were generally very happy with their purchases which means that 
there are a number of makes, models and feature sets for GPS users.  As 
Garmin was the most common GPS people mentioned, I offer the following 

Garmin GPS were by far the most common units purchased but they also 
appear to be the most widely available in terms of outlets.  Garmin have a 
wide range of products and prices to suit.

Dedicated GPS shops were strongly recommended by those who visited them 
and marine outlets also rated strongly.  It seems you need spend only up 
to $300 for a GPS suitable for birding, navigation and storage of 
locations.  Keep in mind that some models are discontinued so check on 
their availability.  Remember that grey scale and colour screens are far 
easier to read than simple 'black pixel' screens but grey or colour GPS 
cost more.

It's worth getting a dedicated GPS wallet or belt holder, as these can 
prevent drops as well as protect screens etc.  I also take out the 
batteries between uses in my tiny Garmin Geko 201 to save on power use.

I've enjoyed this opportunity to gather and provide GPS information to 
birdos.  Another review/survey in a few years time would be a good idea. I 
plan to place an article in the Bird Observers Club of Australia 
newsletter on these findings, so other birdos can benefit for your 


Martin O'Brien
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