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Garmin Colorado 400t Handheld Color Mapping GPS - REVIEW

Garmin's latest mapping GPS has a large, high-resolution display, streamlined controls (including the new "Rock 'n Roller" input wheel), and topographic maps for the entire United States at 1:100K scale. In many ways, it represents an advance in handheld GPS for the general consumer...but it appears to have missed the mark for lightweight backpacking.

Overall Rating: Average

We like the Garmin Colorado's high-resolution display, Rock 'n Roller wheel, ergonomic case, and some aspects of its new menu system. However, these are offset by a dark display, lower-than-ideal battery life, software and operational frustrations, and heavier weight than many handheld GPS units. The Colorado could be considered an above-average "general consumer GPS," especially if you are a Geocaching enthusiast or want a do-everything-GPS for car navigation, marine navigation, athletic training, picture viewing, and games, etc. Unfortunately, the Colorado's design and software don't appear to be focused on serious backcountry navigation...and that shows. Thus, when you factor in its deficiencies, we rate it as just Average for lightweight, multi-day backpacking use. We hope that Garmin will improve functionality, battery life, and readability issues through software and firmware updates, bringing those aspects of the Colorado up to par with its impressive display resolution and ergonomics.

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by Alan Dixon and Steve Nelson |

Introduction

The Colorado series is a new line of high-resolution-display GPS units from Garmin. Backpacking Light tested the Colorado 400t model, which includes built-in topographic, recreational POI, and elevation data for the entire United States at 100K scale.

One of the Colorado's most prominent features is its new color TFT display which, at 240x400 pixels, provides higher resolution than any other GPS in this class. The display is particularly well-suited to the topographic and marine data. In addition, the Colorado includes a beautiful shaded color basemap and does 3-D terrain rendering, both of which are enhanced by the display. However, we did find that the display and color choices are dark and difficult to read, even in moderate light, requiring frequent use of the backlight.

Garmin Colorado Review - 1
The Colorado's large display has over twice the resolution of older Garmin units. Note that this promotional image from Garmin makes the map colors and display look much brighter than they do on the actual unit. (Image courtesy of Garmin)

The other obvious stand-out feature is the new Rock 'n Roller input wheel. This innovative input wheel has the simplicity and power of a Blackberry wheel with an additional inner rocker ring that allows for cursor slewing, map panning, and movement in text fields. The scroll wheel allows for a new interface design that makes many basic functions like jumping to a different display page or navigating to a single waypoint easy and intuitive.

The revised screens and menus on the Colorado are generally simple to understand and navigate, though some intermediate and advanced tasks are now actually more cumbersome to access than on previous models. While our experienced GPS users liked the Rock 'n Roller input wheel, they found that some important tasks, such as route building, took additional steps or were deeper in menus than on previous Garmin GPS units.

Garmin Colorado Review - 2
Improved ease of use: it's easy to scroll though the basic menu, Macintosh Dock style, and perform essential functions using the new Rock 'n Roller input wheel (shown at top of GPS). (Image courtesy of Garmin)

This may in part be due to the fact that the Colorado appears focused primarily on features and automation for Geocaching and Whereigo enthusiasts. While it does display detailed topographic maps (and high-quality nautical charting GPS with additional map data such as those included on the 400c and 400i versions), trekking and route navigation seem to us to be a secondary focus.

The Colorado comes pre-loaded with topographic maps for the entire US, as well as recreational points of interest data. One serious caveat to note is that this mapping data is only accessible on the Colorado, not on your computer. Data usable on your PC is an additional purchase (more on that in a bit). However, for map viewing (on the Colorado) across the full United States, there's no need to connect the Colorado to a PC to load and manage maps; it's ready to go right out of the box. The Colorado does come with Mapsource software (minus maps) for transferring routes, tracks, geocaches, and additional mapping data acquired separately; however, without the additional PC readable maps, route planning on the PC is limited and frustrating.

The Colorado also features a built-in electronic compass, altimeter, and barometer, as well as ANT wireless compatibility for connecting to other devices and accessories. The Colorado can serve an automotive/pedestrian GPS like a Nuvi (with additionally purchased mapping data), a training device like a Forerunner (with optional heart rate monitor or other hardware), and a picture viewer (of any supported file stored on the internal or SD memory).

Finally, the Colorado can wirelessly transfer tracks, waypoints, routes, and geocaches with other Colorado units and also mounts on a computer desktop as a storage device, just like a USB drive making file transfers blissfully simple. It runs on two AA batteries and includes an SD card slot for storing not only additional maps, but also photographs, Geocaching data, and other files.

What's Good

  • Large, high resolution display. Good color, detail, and shaded relief.
  • Most often used, basic GPS functions easy to find for new and occasional users, due to graphic based software menus and Rock 'n Roller input wheel.
  • 1:100K topographic maps for the entire United States pre-loaded in GPS.
  • Plug-n-Play USB computer interface: the Colorado mounts as an external USB drive.
  • Superior GPS reception.
  • User customizable main menu: display only the functions you need.
  • Good ergonomics.

What's Not So Good

  • Display (both text and graphics) is hard to read in moderate to dim light.
  • Some display text is quite small and difficult to see.
  • Short battery life in comparison to eTrex units.
  • Intermediate to advanced functions can be more cumbersome to find and use than on previous Garmin GPS units.
  • Limited 1:24K map availability from Garmin: only for some National Parks, and only as an additional purchase.
  • No satellite imagery.
  • Heavier than eTrex series and other "mid-sized" GPS units by 1.5 to 2.0 ounces.
  • Rock 'n Roller input wheel will not work in many protective enclosures/cases.

Things to Know

  • The software vexingly jumps back to your current physical location on the map, even when performing tasks such as route building, where such jumping is extremely undesirable.
  • The included US topographic maps are only viewable on the Colorado 400t, not on a personal computer. To view the topographic maps and use them to enhance route planning on your PC, you need to purchase Garmin Mapsource Topo U.S. 2008.
  • Panning and zooming can be slow at very large display resolutions (map scale approximately 20 miles or greater).
  • The Colorado is still a bit buggy. The unit hung on more than one occasion, and we had to pull the batteries to get it to reset. The Colorado is quite new, and patches and enhancements are inevitable; make sure you update your Colorado with the latest firmware (the latest version as of this review was 2.40 - since then, a beta 2.5 version has been posted).

Specifications

(Unless identified otherwise, all are manufacturer claimed)
Description  
Position accuracy WAAS-enabled 3 meters
Routes 50
Waypoints (total) 1000
Memory Expandable SD card
PC Compatible Yes
Magnetic Compass Yes
Barometric Altimeter Yes
Color Screen Yes
Quad Helix Antenna Yes
Display Size 2.6 x 1.5 inches
Screen Pixels 400 x 240 inches
Battery: 2 AA alkaline, NiMH or lithium (not included)
Battery Life at 70 Degrees 15 hours (manufacturer claimed)
  The following are BPL measured:
  * 13.7 hours, alkaline batteries, no backlight, compass off
  * 11.5 hours, alkaline batteries and backlight set at 100%, compass off
  * 21.5 hours, lithium batteries, no backlight, compass off
Dimensions 5.7 x 2.4 x 1.4 inches
Weight 7.3 ounce (manufacturer claimed)
  7.5 oz (214 g) alkaline batteries BPL measured
  5.8 oz (165 g) without batteries BPL measured
Physical & Performance:  
Unit Dimensions, WxHxD: 2.4 x 5.5 x 1.4 in (6.0 x 13.9 x 3.5 cm)
Display Size, WxH: 1.53 x 2.55 in (3.8 x 6.3 cm); 3.0 in diag (7.6 cm)
Display Resolution, WxH: 240 x 400 pixels
Display Type: Transflective Color TFT
Waterproof: Yes (IPX7)
Floats: No
High-sensitivity Receiver: Yes
PC Interface: USB
RoHS Version Available: Yes
Maps & Memory:  
Basemap: Yes
Preloaded Maps: Yes (topographic)
Ability to Add Maps: Yes
Built-in Memory: Yes
Accepts Data Cards: SD Card (not included)
Waypoints/Favorites/Locations: 1000
Routes: 50
Track Log: 10,000 points, 20 saved tracks
Features:  
Automatic Routing (turn by turn routing on roads): Yes
Geocaching Mode: Yes (paperless)
Outdoor GPS Games: Yes
Hunt/fish Calendar: Yes
Sun and Moon Information: Yes
Tide Tables: Yes
Area Calculation: Yes
Custom POIs (ability to add additional points of interest): Yes
Unit-to-Unit Transfer (shares data wirelessly with similar units): Yes
Picture Viewer: Yes

Included

  • Colorado 400t
  • Preloaded topographic maps
  • Worldwide basemap with shaded relief
  • Carabiner clip
  • USB cable
  • MapSource Trip & Waypoint Manager
  • Owner's manual
  • Quick start guide

Feature Details

Display

The Colorado has the largest and highest resolution display of any handheld recreational GPS. In bright daylight and held at the right angle, its sharp display presents high-resolution maps with good color and detail. At 400 x 240 pixels, it is larger than the Quarter VGA and has over twice the display resolution of older Garmin units, such as the GPSMAP and eTrex series. Note that the display is at a finer pitch than those previous units (That is, while the resolution is doubled, the physical size of the display is not, being only slightly longer than the display on the 60 and 76 series GPS units. So, the pixels are smaller, and some displays seem to use type and graphics that are better suited to larger pixels.).

Garmin Colorado Review - 3
With features approximately the same, you can see how much more map area the Colorado 400t (left) displays than the eTrex Vista HCx (right). (Screen shots via software) (Alan Dixon notes: Actually, while the level of map detail and area of coverage is correct, in the field, the HCx would display the same map coverage and level of map detail, but 10% to 20% larger because its pixels are that much larger. Unfortunately, up scaling the HCx screen-capture significantly distorts the JPG file with a serious case of the jaggies for text and contour lines. Given that the two displays have differing individual pixel sizes, I see no way out of this, and the above seems to be the best approximation to compare the displays.)

Comparison of Selected Handheld Mapping GPS Dimensions

GPS Unit Oz Display (inches) Pixels Dimensions (inches)
Garmin Colorado 400t 7.5 2.6 x 1.5 400 x 240 5.7 x 2.4 x 1.4
Garmin GPSMAP 76CSx GPS 7.6 2.2 x 1.5 240 x 180 6.2 x 2.7 x 1.4
Garmin eTrex Vista HCx 5.6 1.7 x 1.3 240 x 180 4.2 x 2.2 x 1.2
Magellan Triton 500 6.6 1.7 x 1.3 320 x 240 4.7 x 2.2 x 1.2
Delorme Earthmate PN-20 7.0 1.7 x 1.3 220 x 176 5.3 x 2.4 x 1.5

Also, in lower light, a heavily overcast day, at dusk or dawn, even in room light or the interior of a car in daylight, the display appears dim...significantly dimmer than other Garmin GPS units we have used. To see the display in low light, our reviewers used the backlight much more often than with previous Garmin units.

Garmin Colorado Review - 4
While larger and higher resolution, the Colorado 400t display uses a darker color scheme with less contrast, which can be difficult to read in moderate to dim light. Note how hard it is to discern the topographic lines on the Colorado 400t (right) in comparison to the eTrex unit (left), which has a much lighter display color scheme.

Several things besides overall brightness appear to hinder readability of the display in low light:

  1. The color scheme of maps, menus, and other displays is much darker than previous Garmin units. While these deep, rich colors look nice in bright light, they appear quite dark in dim or even moderate light. Some display elements are quite close in shade and color (e.g. display text is close in color and shade to its background). In dim light the text and background start to merge and become hard to distinguish. The same is true for map contours, trails, and other imagery.
  2. The display often presents very small letters and icons. Some of these will challenge the farsighted in bright daylight, and in the dark they challenged even some of us with good close vision. It appears that some type and graphics were not scaled up to adjust for the new, smaller pixel size.

Garmin Colorado Review - 5

Garmin Colorado Review - 6

The Colorado sometimes uses small fonts, which are not easy to see. In this case, critical position information is in a very small font and not prominently located on the screen. It is quite difficult to read. Note how much more readable the GPS location (and most other information) is on the older eTrex display. (Note: In the field, the screen never looks as bright as the software-generated screen shot at far right.)

Menus and Operation

The Colorado makes use of three primary controls for navigation: the Rock 'n Roller scroll wheel and rocker pad and the two buttons below and to either side of it. The Rock 'n Roller wheel zooms on the map screen and moves the highlight in lists, while its rocker pad slews (moves) the cursor on mapping screens, and moves the highlight in lists as well. The left-hand button pops up a menu of options for the current screen, while the right-hand button pops up a list of screens to cycle through.

Cycling through options with the scroll wheel is relatively intuitive, though some of us found the "round" menus rotated in the opposite direction than was intuitive using the wheel (we got used to it). For those preferring the older style of "paging" through device screens, that is an option available in the settings, although you may have to download a new firmware version.

Because the Colorado is meant to serve so many audiences and has more features than many GPS units, menus can sometimes feel cluttered or filled with options not germane to the task at hand.

Garmin Colorado Review - 7
The Colorado is something of an all-in-one unit for the mass market, with a multitude of functions designed to serve many different GPS users. These additional, non-backpacking features can clutter the screen menus. (Screen shot via software)

However, the main screens list can be customized so that only those of interest appear on the primary arc of choices, with the remainder hidden under an "Other..." option. In addition, these customized settings can be saved in groupings for easy accessibility (the unit ships with Recreational, Geocaching, Automotive, Marine, and Fitness groupings, and you can create and name your own.)

Numerous settings allow customization of how the Colorado works and displays information. Also, many screens are configurable for data fields and sometimes for layout as well.

Garmin Colorado Review - 8

Garmin Colorado Review - 9

Garmin Colorado Review - 10

Examples of the Profile screen, with the ability to create a new profile: the Compass screen showing editing data fields and the Datum choices within the mapping settings. (Screen shots via software)

One caveat: the scroll wheel is not ideal for text entry. Rather than navigating a matrix of letters (as on some GPS units), the Colorado displays a few characters at a time in an arc, and you rotate the wheel to move through letters, symbols and the backspace command, pressing the center button of the Rock 'n Roller to enter a choice in each slot. This is a bit cumbersome.

Garmin Colorado Review - 11
Text entry can be tedious with the Rock 'n Roller. With no "shift" function, it takes forever to scroll to the lower case letters. We also missed the "Clear" function (available on eTrex units) to delete a long previous name in one stroke. (Screen shot via software)

The combination of wide-ranging menus, Rock 'n Roller, and the all-in-one feature set do come at a cost. The non-backpacking features (and sheer number of choices per menu, in some cases) can inhibit usability. Interface simplifications make some intermediate and advanced functions harder to access and/or more time consuming in comparison to the eTrex and GPSMAP units. For example, we found it exceptionally vexing to create a new multiple waypoint route, whether using a list of waypoints (sorted only by nearest to most distant), or using the map display.

In what may have been a move to help novice users find their current location, the Colorado has a maddening tendency to jump its map display back to your current location when you attempt actions at another point on the map. For example, slewing the cursor to a waypoint and adding that waypoint to a route (or even sometimes just turning the wheel to zoom in or out) causes the display to snap back to your current location, not remain at the location you'd panned to. This may be a bug, or it may be a feature, but we found it extraordinarily frustrating, especially when route building or exploring terrain ahead. It made route building exceptionally tedious and inefficient!

Garmin Colorado Review - 12
Adding a waypoint to a route via the map is a mix of joy - as in this clear, useful screen - and frustration - the GPS is about to jump the display back to its current location, hundreds of miles away, as soon as I add this point to my route. I'd prefer to stay at this location and use the cursor to select waypoints, only returning to the current location on the map when I'm done. We have yet to find a way to defeat this "feature." (Screen shot via software)

Testing

Field Testing

We used the Colorado in Yellowstone National Park, the central Sierra Nevada's Stanislaus National Forest, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, Shenandoah National Park, the Chesapeake Bay, and the open space preserves of Marin County, California. Conditions ranged from open water to densely forested canyons; weather ran the gamut from clear and sunny to a snowstorm, with temperatures dipping as low as -14 °F overnight on one occasion and hovering in the 20s on many.

Navigational Performance

Because the Colorado locks onto and tracks satellites well, even in sheltered terrain, it's a pleasure to use for basic tracking and route recording. Screen legibility issues aside, the large, detailed maps are useful in the field; they present a lot of detail, and we found the shading a meaningful addition. However, these features are mitigated by frequently too tiny fonts and dark color choices that often render maps difficult to read.

Among the many surprises discovered in the field was the omission of route and waypoint management features available on previous units like the 60CSx and Vista HCx. For example, it's not possible to reverse a route or track on the Colorado. This means that you can't "trace back" on a track you create while out in the wilds, nor can you reverse a pre-planned route to use on your way out. So, when doing an in and out trip, you'll need to create two versions of the route on your PC and load both into the unit in advance.

It's also difficult to create a route on the fly in the field, whether using preexisting waypoints or adding points to the map. We detailed some of those frustrations earlier in this review, and suffice it to say that the current software on the Colorado left both Alan and Steve pulling their hair out in frustration when trying to create or adjust a route in the field, such as on our Yellowstone expedition, when we had to reverse our originally-planned route, then add side trips, due to an illness in the party and other unexpected events.

These are serious shortcomings for backcountry navigational use. While they are potentially addressable via software updates, so far Garmin has not done so, and so at this point the Colorado falls well behind the GPSMAP 60 and 76 series and the Vista HCx, both of which BackpackingLight recently recommended for backcountry use.

Battery Life

The Colorado draws a lot more power the previous GPS units we've tested. It only ran an average of 13.5 hours at room temperature with alkaline batteries, no backlight and the magnetic compass off (two batches of batteries from different manufacturers). This is less than the Garmin specified run time of 15 hours and less than half the life of the Garmin eTrex Vista HCx with a similar high performance GPS receiver. It would be nice if run time could approach the range of 20 to 25 hours offered by the Vista HCx.

Cold weather field testing showed (as one would expect) even faster battery depletion: when used at 10-20°F the Colorado's battery life was cut by half. Also, while the Colorado allows you to set your battery type to alkaline, NiMH, or lithium for more accurate battery capacity metering, we found in our field testing that battery life was often overestimated, particularly for alkaline and NiMH batteries.

Conspicuously missing is some sort of "battery saver" option: for example, shutting down the display while continuing to run the GPS and save a track log.

In low temperatures or for long trips, we strongly recommend using lithium batteries. In other conditions, the environmentally conscious - or frugal - might choose to take extra rechargeable NiMH batteries for long trips.

We often resorted using a backlight setting of 50% or more to make the display more readable in low light. Fortunately, using the backlight even at 100% had only a minor reduction in run time (11.5 hours).

GPS Performance

Garmin Colorado Review - 13
The above screen shot showing excellent reception in our limited sky view reception torture test. (Screen shot via software)

The Colorado has excellent GPS reception. Even in difficult conditions, the Colorado produces high accuracy fixes. In our lab and field testing, we found its GPS reception performance equal to or better than the top performing Garmin Vista HCx and GPSMAP 60CSx.

  First Fix Fix at 5 min
GPS Min Acc ft Sat Acc Sat
Garmin Colorado 400t (1) 0:47 200 4 24 8
Garmin Colorado 400t (2) 3:10 140 4 30 6
Garmin eTrex Vista HCx 3:30 160 3 24 6
Garmin eTrex Venture Cx no fix no fix 0 no fix 1

Ergonomics

We like the Colorado's ergonomics. The curved and rubberized case is easily gripped, even when wet, and has a nice feel in the hand. The two buttons and the Rock 'n Roller input wheel are easy to use single-handed (equally so for lefties). The unit has the easiest battery cover removal and battery change of any GPS we've tested other than the GPSMAP 60CSx.

The Colorado ships with a slide-in carabiner clip. We found this to be unnecessary extra weight and a "floppy" way to carry the Colorado; we preferred to carry the unit in a shoulder strap or hip belt pouch, or even in a pocket.

Maps

The Colorado 400t ships with 1:100,000 scale topographic mapping data for the entire United States, including 3-D data and a colored shaded relief basemap, already installed in internal memory.

Maps show trails and roads in many areas, in addition to the topographic information. The map screen is also customizable to show data fields or not, and at what zoom level to display additional details. At wider zoom levels, the topographic information is hidden, and the basemap displays by itself - it's a really nice shaded relief map, and though it displays under the topo data as well, it shines on its own.

Garmin Colorado Review - 14
Example of shaded relief basemap overlaid with topo lines.

In bright light, the Colorado's map display is significantly better than previous units. The display is larger and higher resolution, displaying far more information than previous eTrex and GPS Map units. As noted before, viewing in dim light is problematic.

Garmin Colorado Review - 15

Garmin Colorado Review - 16

In these field shots, you can see how the display is not brilliant as screen shots captured via software on the Colorado 400t, seen above and many other places in this review. Map on left is close to what the display looks like in field with good light. On right is something close to what the display looks like in the field in moderate light. In dim light, it is often unreadable without using the backlight.

A large and detailed map screen, with two selectable, transparent data fields on the bottom, provides excellent navigational information. It's something like combining the map and compass pages from an eTrex, only larger and on one screen. De-cluttering the screen of all menus and data features is a great option.

Garmin Colorado Review - 17

Garmin Colorado Review - 18

Left: Colorado's map screen with data fields. Right: Skip the data fields and have all map! This 1:24K map detail of Shenandoah National Park is from "Garmin National Parks East" (at an additional cost), loaded into the Colorado via Garmin Mapsource software. (Screen shots via software)

It's possible to load in additional maps (such as Garmin's 24K National Park data and marine charts, or third-party 24K maps produced in the Garmin format). Marine charts and land maps co-exist on the Colorado and will display seamlessly on the same screen. Plus, it's easy to switch between maps using one of the options choices on the mapping screen.

On the downside, satellite imagery is not available for the Colorado at this time (except for limited instances on newer marine charting cards), and most commercially available map data from other manufacturers are not compatible with Garmin GPS units.

The Colorado also provides a 3-D map view. This seems to be a derivation of Garmin's automotive navigation feature, more suitable for street routing than for backcountry use. For topographic maps, it is quite slow to refresh, has a limited range of vision, and doesn't provide much useful information. It seems more gimmick than useful feature for backpacking use.

Garmin Colorado Review - 19
Example of "3-D view" showing same area as previous "screen detail" shots of Shenandoah National Park. (Screen shot via software)

Other Screens

The Colorado includes many screens standard in other GPS units: compass, data, elevation plot, and so on, as well as many new or improved screens. We won't cover them all here, but we did find a few useful in our testing, including this mapped tide table and a Sun and Moon calendar:

Garmin Colorado Review - 20

Garmin Colorado Review - 21

The Garmin contains useful screens, like a new sunrise/sunset calculator and tide tables. Note: we wish Garmin had included the much more powerful tide table function from previous marine units, like the GSPMap 76 series. It allowed you to calculate the tide level for any hour of any day in the year and included a daily graph of tide levels, not just a report of high and low tides. (Screen shots via software)

Performance on the Water

The Colorado is an excellent marine GPS when marine maps (e.g. G2 vision cards, pre-installed maps on the 400c and 400i, or Garmin Blue Chart loaded via comptuter) are installed, providing most of the features of the old GPSMAP 76C series. The expedition kayakers on our testing team were enthusiastic about the Colorado's larger high-resolution screen and extensive capabilities with nautical charts.

The Colorado is moderately waterproof (the GPS case can withstand accidental immersion in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes), assuming that all the covers are closed properly and the seals are in good order, which is not always a safe assumption. It is not immune to mud, grit, sand, long-term exposure in wet environments, and especially not exposure to salt water. In many environments it's a good idea to use a protective case over any GPS. Unfortunately, the Rock 'n Roller input wheel cannot be rotated when the Colorado is in most protective enclosures/cases, rendering many functions inaccessible, which is a serious hindrance to marine usage.

Garmin Colorado Review - 22
The Rock 'n Roller input wheel can't be rotated in most protective enclosures/cases. Previous units, such as the GPSMap 76 series, worked fine in a protective case.

Computer Software

The Colorado comes with Garmin's Mapsource software, which runs only on Windows. Mapsource allows updating and loading of maps to the unit (via separately purchased Garmin mapping data), and loads and retrieves waypoints, tracks, and routes. Its user interface and route and waypoint manipulation abilities are basic, but adequate for most trip planning. Beta versions of Macintosh software are available from Garmin, and we found them even more basic and limited at this point.

The Colorado, like all Garmin GPS units, can only use Garmin's proprietary mapping data. The only way to load maps into the Colorado is with Garmin mapping products. A surprise to us, especially at the Colorado's price point, is the failure by Garmin to include the Topo 2008 data disc with the unit. As a result, there's no way to use the detailed maps from the Colorado 400t to plan routes on your PC. The only way to do this is to purchase the Garmin Topo 2008 data disc for an additional $100. Route planning on the unit, on the other hand, is frustrating unless you have already created a set of waypoints (see our comments about unwanted re-centering of the screen to your current location), which is a task better done on a PC with the full maps to reference.

The software limitations are mitigated somewhat by the fact that it's possible to use many other software packages, such as National Geographic Topo or Google Earth, to create routes and waypoints (but not maps) and load them into the Colorado 400t.

Documentation and Manuals

The Colorado ships with a small manual that's really not much more than a quick start guide. We believe the unit would benefit from the more complete documentation that we've seen in previous Garmin units like the eTrex and GPSMAP series.

Suggestions for improvement

  • Improve display readability.
  • Make the display brighter.
  • Use lighter and higher contrasting colors for display scheme (or at least add a low light color scheme option).
  • Increase font sizes on important information such as waypoint or POI names.
  • Improve battery life.
  • Allow option to turn off display to save battery life while keeping GPS running.
  • Eliminate snapping back to the current location when planning out a route, marking waypoints, and after executing a "Where To?" search (or at least this elimination an option).
  • Include Garmin Topo US 2008 with the unit (or at least make it very clear to prospective buyers that they cannot view or do trip planning on a PC with the 400t's pre-loaded topographic maps, but can only do so with the basemap).
  • Reduce GPS weight.
  • Add power user features and shortcuts back (e.g. improved route planning, turning the compass on/off from the map screen).
  • Add additional sorting modes for waypoints (e.g. alphabetical).
  • Allow reversal and/or track-back of routes and tracks.
  • Publish a more detailed user manual (or at least a downloadable advanced version on the Web).
  • Design a waterproof case that works with the Rock 'n Roller wheel. This is much needed for marine and other harsh environments.

Citation

"Garmin Colorado 400t Handheld Color Mapping GPS - REVIEW," by Alan Dixon and Steve Nelson. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/garmin_colorado_review.html, 2008-05-20 21:50:00-06.

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Garmin Colorado 400t Handheld Color Mapping GPS - REVIEW
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Garmin Colorado 400t Handheld Color Mapping GPS - REVIEW on 05/20/2008 21:51:55 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Garmin Colorado 400t Handheld Color Mapping GPS - REVIEW

Steve B
(geokite) - F

Locale: Southern California
Good review on 05/21/2008 12:15:43 MDT Print View

Good review. I think that most consumers, before purchasing a Colorado, would want to make sure a 60CSx wouldn't be better for them. A good comparison is at http://garmincolorado.wikispaces.com/Colorado+vs+60csx

IMO, the Colorado is very lacking in many areas. If you have a full featured GPS, you will probably see features that you have come to expect that are not available on the Colorado.

Steve

James Mills
(jmillsjr) - MLife
Compare to other manufacturers on 05/21/2008 13:23:00 MDT Print View

I'd like to see some suggestions of other manufacturers GPSs. What features are available elsewhere? What may be better for backpacking?

Russell Swanson
(rswanson) - F

Locale: Midatlantic
Re: Garmin Colorado 400t Handheld Color Mapping GPS - REVIEW on 05/21/2008 14:11:46 MDT Print View

Is this supposed to be in the G Spot? Shouldn't this be in the Editor's Roundtable forum?

Steven Nelson
(slnsf) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Other GPS units on 05/21/2008 23:50:04 MDT Print View

James - check past articles for additional reviews, and a recent thumbs up recommendation from Alan for the Vista HCx.

I own a GPSMAP 60CSx and find it generally superior to the Colorado for backpacking, though it also is heavy and goes through batteries more quickly than the Vista. The wiki Stephen mentions is excellent.

I hope we'll get in reviews of GPS units from a few other companies - though I think Garmin still is in the lead - and we also hope to do a mapping and route planning software evaluation later this year.

- Steve

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
I own the Garmin Colorado 300 (sob!) on 05/22/2008 00:23:01 MDT Print View

I bought the Colorado 300 & the "Garmin Topo USA 2008" software disc. This is because I wanted the greater internal memory of the 300 than the 400 pre-loaded maps series.

As soon as I called Garmin for help in loading the software they said do NOT use a SanDisc ULTRA II SD card...which, of course, I already had. (Why in Heaven's name don't they put that as a warning label on the GPS box????)

Anyway The Garmin sofware tech (as opposed to a "regular" tech) had me download a NEWER version of Topo USA into my SD card. WELL, it didn't load & now I have to do the entire 45 min. download (all the western USA) again. on the phone W/ a tech ...again, and hope it works...again.

AAAaaarrrgggghhh! Now when i call back tomorrow I'll ALSO ask for the latest firmware download. I don't care if it takes all day, I must get this resolved. I've got solo hikes and backing trips in the Nevada Spring Mountains upcoming.

As for batteries I'm using Lithium batteries for reasonable usage life. Here's hoping firmware updates DO permit longer battery life but I doubt if that is possible unless they find a way to speed things up. I'm carrying 2 spare batteries "just in case".

If Garmin offered a reasonably cheap (under $50.)microprocessor or other hardware replacement I'd probably do it just to get better battery life.

Eric

Fred eric
(Fre49) - MLife

Locale: France, vallée de la Loire
still waiting on 05/22/2008 00:35:52 MDT Print View

ill either replace my etrex legend C with
- a GPS allowing easy uploading of scanned maps.
- a watch size GPS that only gives coordinates but with good autonomy.

i dont really have use for anything bewteen those 2 .

John Carter
(jcarter1)

Locale: Pacific Northwest
re: other GPS options on 05/22/2008 01:08:57 MDT Print View

There are fairly compelling rumors that Apple is going to include GPS in the next version of iPhone in June. It would very likely be a high sensitivity receiver like most high-end GPS phones today. And with third party application support coming in June, its only a matter of time before a major topo map company has topo software for the iPhone--especially if it includes GPS. Plus with 16GB (possibly 32GB in June), one could load a substantial number of high quality scanned topo maps at multiple resolutions.

Granted, these are many 'ifs,' but I personally would wait before making a major electronics purchase decision until the end of next month.

And to those who would complain about the lack of a removable battery, there are some lightweight chargers that accept 4 AAA batteries that will charge the iPhone, which could be more convenient than buying several proprietary (read: expensive) removable batteries.

the iPhone isn't ruggedized like the Garmin, but it's one of the most solidly built phones on the market thanks to the lack of physical buttons and candybar-shaped design.

You'd have your GPS, mp3/audiobook player and phone in 1 gadget.

And if the iPhone does not include GPS, the recently announced HTC Diamond will (right now the only contender to compete with the iPhone). This is also a rugged-looking phone, and there is great topo software written for it (Pocket PC).

Edited by jcarter1 on 05/22/2008 01:13:03 MDT.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Garmin Colorado... on 05/22/2008 01:12:19 MDT Print View

I did a lot of research before replacing my GPSMap 60Cx with the Vista Hcx (excellent review of the Vista here on BPL). The Vista Hcx has the exact same feature set as the 60Csx and the signal holding ability is about the same. The fact that the Vista Hcx is lighter, has longer battery life and a brighter screen makes it the best choice for backpacking in my opinion.

I looked seriously at the Colorado but it's really aimed at the Geocaching market. I think Garmin rushed the release of the Colorado to try to keep up with Magellan's release of the Triton. Both of these company's "high end" units are a real disappointment if you are after a good backpacking GPS.

I think Garmin will eventually get the bugs out of the Colorado series but I suspect it will be a couple of more years before they get it to the point where I'd buy one for backpacking.

Steven Nelson
(slnsf) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Re: re: other GPS options on 05/22/2008 01:23:51 MDT Print View

John - one problem with the current iPhone for field use is its built-in, non-swappable battery. I own an iPhone and enjoy it - but would find it problematic for a multi-day backpacking trip if I were using it as a GPS.

John Carter
(jcarter1)

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: re: other GPS options on 05/22/2008 02:36:22 MDT Print View

Here are some of the examples I refer to in paragraph 3. This one accepts 6 AAA batteries:
iPowerRush

This one accepts either 2 or 4 AAA batteries:
USB Fever

This one accepts 4 AA batteries:

Gomadic

Sure, these chargers would add some weight, but consider that the Garmin 400t weights 7.5oz with batteries, whereas the current generation iPhone weighs 4.8oz, and you might end up with a lighter system. I would also argue that a AA or AAA charger would be better than a replaceable proprietary battery for thru-hikers.

I won't compare lighter Garmin GPSs because they don't offer the topo mapping feature of the 400t. Am I correct that the 400t cannot import national Geographic 24K maps like the Magellan Triton? GPS cellphones have had 24K scanned maps for years now.

Anyway, so the extended battery problem can be solved at a lighter weight (assuming iPhone v2 weighs the same and these chargers are no more than 2.7 oz). The real question, then, would be which device is more efficient. We'd have to turn off the iPhone radios and run some tests. Even if the iPhone were less efficient, if it replaces other devices you'd be carrying (mp3 player, cellphone), you'd still be lighter.

Oh, and don't forget the current gen. iPhone is $130-$230 cheaper than the Garmin, and the iPhone's screen has approx. twice the resolution.

So back on the main subject, I guess I just get a little worked up when I see Garmin touting these bulky, expensive, proprietary devices with very poor mapping ability and non-intuitive UI, when for years GPS phones have been able to do better. GPS phones were 2 years ahead of Garmin with high sensitivity receivers, 5 years ahead of the 24K topo maps, and are still ahead with the high resolution screens. You can complain that GPS phones aren't as rugged, but then neither is your cuben shelter. I say if you have to have a rugged GPS with long battery life, stick with a Garmin Geko 301. But if you want all the frills of digital color 24K topo maps, don't go spending $630 (the price of a decent laptop these days) on a uni-tasker that will be outdated as fast as a cellphone, when several cellphones have for years been doing better than even Garmin's latest model.

Edited by jcarter1 on 05/22/2008 03:54:44 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: still waiting on 05/22/2008 05:17:51 MDT Print View

> - a GPS allowing easy uploading of scanned maps.
> - a watch size GPS that only gives coordinates but with good autonomy.
Neither is very likely imho.

A scanned map is NOT in a form which the GPS can use. It is just a jpg.

A watch is simply too small for any decent antenna or any decent battery.

Cheers

Gregg White
(gewhite) - F

Locale: WA State
GPS alternative on 05/22/2008 10:55:31 MDT Print View

Sorry if I am taking this off track. Has anyone considered or used the weatherproof paper on the market, and printed just what they need. that seems pretty light.

Steven Nelson
(slnsf) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Re: Re: Re: re: other GPS options on 05/22/2008 13:39:41 MDT Print View

John - looks like you added that via edit after I read your first post. Yes, that's a potential solution; do you know the weight of the various options you show? Do they provide instant power, or do they have to charge the internal battery, and if so, how long does that take?

Regarding cost - if you factor in the required phone contract, the iPhone is a lot more money. Also, the Vista, Colorado 300, and GPSMAP series are a good deal less than the price you quote.

Of course, the iPhone does many more things - and I'm completely in agreement on "unitaskers" versus multitaskers. I'd happily carry the iPhone as a single device if the battery and charging options are light enough, it gets a real GPS with reception and tracking that matches the newest Garmins, and it has good software that allows the same manipulation of tracks and routes as a dedicated GPS.

No doubt that is all coming - just hard to say when. It will be interesting to see what's announced next month regarding the 3G iPhone, and what starts to show up on the iTunes app store. Garmin has done some nice software for the Blackberry, and perhaps they or Tom Tom or NG or others will do the same for iPhone.

Edited by slnsf on 05/22/2008 18:18:51 MDT.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Re: still waiting on 05/29/2008 16:46:29 MDT Print View

The new Garmin Forerunner 405 is a watch size GPS, but it apparently doesn't show coordinates, and the battery life would be difficult to deal with for backpacking purposes.

Steve O
(HechoEnDetroit) - F

Locale: South Kak
Re:Garmin eTrex Vista HCx GPS REVIEW on 06/02/2008 00:35:23 MDT Print View

There is a table in the review that isn't self explanatory:

First Fix Fix at 5 min
GPS Min Acc ft Sat Acc Sat
Garmin Colorado 400t (1) 0:47 200 4 24 8
Garmin Colorado 400t (2) 3:10 140 4 30 6
Garmin eTrex Vista HCx 3:30 160 3 24 6
Garmin eTrex Venture Cx no fix no fix 0 no fix 1


Am I missing some sort of explanation for what these data represent?

Edited by alandixon on 07/29/2008 14:30:17 MDT.

Christopher Williams
(clwilla) - F

Locale: The Bluegrass
Screen Shots on 07/04/2008 10:44:08 MDT Print View

I own the Colorado, and find it adequate for my needs, although I wouldn't consider myself a heavy user.

I do have a question, however. How does one take screen shots? I've been looking for that feature and simply can't seem to find it. Is it through the unit software, or the PC software (I use a Mac, and as you note the software has left tons to be desired)?

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
xImage... on 07/04/2008 13:51:26 MDT Print View

This is one of Garmin's best kept secrets. For some reason they make it hard to find on their site. It's a great little tool that allows you to take screen shots from your GPS as well as upload custom waypoint icons to your handheld unit. Ximage worked with my last couple of GPS units (including the Vista Hcx) but I've not heard whether or not it works with the Colorado (let us know).

http://www8.garmin.com/support/download_details.jsp?id=545

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
Colorado Screen Capture... on 07/04/2008 14:02:55 MDT Print View

Did a quick check on a GPS forum and the answer seems to be:

"press and hold the right soft key when you get to a screen you want to save. The screen shots get saved in [drive]:\Garmin\scrn as .bmp files"

I still don't know if xImage works with the Colorado but this sounds like a more direct method anyway.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: Re:Garmin eTrex Vista HCx GPS REVIEW on 07/29/2008 14:33:05 MDT Print View

Sorry for the late response. The table headers seem to be messed up in the review:

First Fix
. Min = minutes:seconds to first get a fix
. Acc = accuracy (ft) of of the first fix at time acquired
. Sat = number of satellites (with good communication) of the first fix at time acquired

Fix at 5 min
. Acc = accuracy (ft) of of 5 min after powering up unit
. Sat = number of satellites (with good communication)at 5 min after powering up unit

-Alan

First Fix Fix at 5 min
GPS Min Acc ft Sat Acc Sat
Garmin Colorado 400t (1) 0:47 200 4 24 8
Garmin Colorado 400t (2) 3:10 140 4 30 6
Garmin eTrex Vista HCx 3:30 160 3 24 6
Garmin eTrex Venture Cx no fix no fix 0 no fix 1