Geocaching with the Garmin Montana 650t - first thoughts review

Share this post TFUPM Posted April 26, 2012

Having seen a Montana 650t at the OZ Mega event in Albury Wodonga at Easter, I just had to get one. I have been using a Garmin Oregon 550 for a while now, and so most of this comparison will be between the two.

A few features sold me on the Montana, and we will see how we go in testing these:

  • The massive 4 inch screen that is so much bigger and brighter than my Oregon 550.
  • The rechargeable interchangeable lithium-ion battery, with the option to use 3xAAs.
  • Dual mode - it's a handheld Garmin outdoors GPS (like the Oregon) and it's a Nuvi. It replaces two devices. 
  • Geocaching GPX compatibility in Nuvi mode - "Navigate to Geocache". Bliss.
  • I could get it from the Qantas Frequent Flyer store for 113,000 Qantas Frequent Flyer points so I didn't have to spend any of my own money. ;-)
  • 3.5Gb of on-board storage for lots and lots of maps etc.

     

The Montana arrived just before a business trip to Singapore (for my real job). So that would be an excellent opportunity to give it a go in an unfamiliar location. I didn't want to spend $$$ in purchasing a city map from Garmin, so downloaded a freebie routable Singapore city map from garmin.openstreetmap.nl. And I also subscribed (for $$$) to Birdseye, the Garmin satellite mapping service (probably more on this in another blog post) and load all of that into the Montana.

My first attempt at using the Montana 650t for caching in Singapore came early yesterday evening when I'd finished work for the day, and headed down to a cache that faces the bay. Around 350m from the Singapore office.

Even though that part of Singapore is packed with high rise buildings the Montana got a signal as soon as it got a bit of clear air. Nice work Montana.

While the Montana is certainly a huge device, the 4 inch screen is awesome. Crystal clear, nice and bright in all conditions and really really easy to read. Even with the Birdseye satellite maps of downtown Singapore loaded it was very quick to zoom in and out. Much quicker than the Oregon.

My only gripe, and this is minor, and fixable by a configuration option is that while I was being "stealthy" and but the Montana to my side, the screen flipped from vertical to horizontal and vice versa, so I was constantly flipping it around.


In terms of the navigation to the cache itself, even though I'd looked at the cache hint earlier, I let the Montana do the work. It overshot me by 9m initally, and then settled down to between 0 and 3 to 4m at GZ. I'd expect that performance from the Oregon, so I think they are pretty similar in performance. Although I think the Montana recalculates position more quickly and more frequently.
In terms of this cache - too many muggles. DNF. But it was a good chance to put the Montana's 5Mb camera through it's paces. The camera on the Oregon was always very slow, and grainy. The Montana's is not quick by any standard but the picture quality seems to have improved. The picture shown here was the taken straight from the Montana with my post production Photoshopping or altering in any way. Pretty impressive result huh ?

Up to this point the Montana was running on the original rechargeable lithium-ion battery as supplied by Garmin, and charged up by me last week from my laptop. So I was interested to see how long it would last. I wanted to get a cache in another country (my 11th caching country actually) so late in the afternoon I headed over the causeway to Johur in Malaysia - simply to grab one cache ! While on the bus to the causeway, I played with the Garmin switching it between Geocaching and Automobile (Nuvi) mode. It was very responsive, and the freebie maps worked very well providing the normal Nuvi view. I could easily see and get details of Geocaches as we passed them on the road.

With the Montana back in "Geocaching" I used it to guide me the several hundred metres on foot from the arrivals terminal in Johur to the geocache. The Montana didn't miss a beat, and it's battery was going strong.

A couple of hours later, upon arrival back at the coach depot in Singapore, the Montana was complaining of a low battery. So I popped into a shop, and bought some cheap AAs. Replaced the Garmin supplied rechargeable lithium-ion battery with the 3 AAs, and we were quickly back in business. I quickly found another cache 146m away in a park.

Overall - I'm very impressed. It's a great geocaching device.

I love - the speed of the device, it's large clear screen, the battery options (and charging from mini USB), the quality of the camera, navigation accuracy, the quality windscreen mount, ability to navigate directly to geocaches in Automotive mode. Dual mode- it replaces two types of device.
Dislikes - not many. The tendency for it to flip into vertical or horizontal modes with the slightest move. People looking at you like you are playing with a very early gameboy.

 

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