GPS units have come a long way in just a few short years. Look at the Bryton Rider 20 which is also on test in this issue, just over $100 and packed with features. There’s been a lot of movement at the higher end of the market too, as we can see from the Explorist range from Magellan, a group of ‘do anything’ GPS units for the serious outdoors person. Garmin are the undisputed kings of dedicated cycle GPS units, so I was interested to see how the Magellan compared to them and also to some of the systems designed for smartphones.
The Explorist 610 is a fairly bulky unit, weighing in at 228 grams, compared to 98g for a Garmin Edge 800. Both have similar claimed battery lives (about 10 hours with the backlight on) and both are waterproof to IPX7 standard. Interestingly both use similar handlebar mounts, a ‘rubber band’ style that attaches to a cradle and stretches around the bar. I was initially concerned about this for the Magellan with its bulkiness and extra weight, but in practice it wasn’t an issue. While there certainly was some shaking over badly potholed roads, there wasn’t any sign of creeping and I never thought I was going to lose it at any time. Both units have touchscreens which can still be activated while wearing riding gloves, although this is sometimes more difficult with the Magellan as its screen is recessed to help prevent it from cracking if the unit is dropped. I also found that the Explorist touch screen had to be pressed a little harder to activate it, particularly in the corners of the screen. Not as hard as, say, a cheap smartphone, but certainly harder than an iPhone. Someone addicted to their iPhone would be rather frustrated when moving to this unit. On the plus side the screen on the Explorist can still be read perfectly in bright sunlight and can be adjusted to save power.
As you might expect, the Explorist 610 is packed with software. You not only get a full range of Australian topographic maps which are excellent for mountain biking and bushwalking, you also get worldwide street mapping. And just like a TomTom, you can program a route and get your ‘turn left here, turn right here’ instructions. These can be done on the screen or by voice although this feature is only available on the overseas vector maps. In the profiles section you can customise whether you are using the unit on the bike, walking, in a car or on a boat and you can also set up a number of alarms such as ‘going off route’ etc. There’s also a proximity alarm where you can input a waypoint so if you’re out riding, the unit will tell you when you’re getting close to it, a certain turn-off for example. This works very well for long trips in conjunction with the Suspend Power mode which tracks your route while turning most of the power off. There’s a couple of other natty features such as moon
phases and sun rise/sunset, though I thought this would be nicer if you could program in a date and have it show you that information. Handy if you’re sea kayaking, for example. Total memory storage for the unit is 4mb, which is good and you also have the option of extending this with a micro SD card. Lastly you can take photos with the 3.2mb camera and geotag the location. You can do the same with the voice memo function, though I personally found the microphone to be a bit noisy.
However, what I did find impressive is the Explorist 610’s ability to keep track of satellites, something that has greatly improved in the past few years. This completely blows away any smartphone apps which rely on signal coverage. Our office near Wollongong, for example, suffers badly with phone coverage. Ride up the escarpment and you’ve completely lost signal, and therefore data. Not so with this unit.
From a pure cycling point of view the available information seems fairly limited. You get current speed and average speed and some OK information on the current track such as length, total amount of climbing, time, speed and also the vertical profile for the trip. All handy stuff. But so is cadence, ANT+ processing compatibility with power meters and the ability to download training programs. These are all things that dedicated bike units have as standard, which the Magellan, designed as an outdoor unit, does not. That said, it is still an impressive piece of equipment and I particularly liked the included topographical maps for mountain biking. The 610 is perfect if you are heading overseas and plan to do a bit of biking, driving and hiking but don’t want to be carrying several units and all the associated cables and chargers. You would have no problem using this unit either for riding l’Alpe d’Huez or climbing Mont Blanc. My inclination though would be to keep a dedicated unit on your bike and save the Magellan for more off the beaten track adventures.
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