Lowrance Endura Sierra GPS Review

Lowrance adds touchscreen functionality with its top of the line Sierra GPS. With a plethora of multimedia options, it comes across as more entertainment device than a dedicated navigational aid. How does it work for backpacking?

Overall Rating: Below Average

I give this rating coming at the Endurance Sierra with its primary usage in mind: navigation in the back country. The multimedia functions may appeal to some, but I found them to be unnecessary and battery draining. While the touchscreen is nice, there are other units available at lower prices with bigger and better screens. While quick to establish an initial signal it loses it easily when hiking amongst even sporadic pine trees.

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by Ray Estrella |

Lowrance Endura Sierra GPS Review

Overview

BPL Measurements Summary
Weight: 6.2 oz (176 g) without batteries
7.9 oz (225 g) with alkaline batteries
Battery Life: Tested up to 8 hours with alkaline batteries

Note: I received a previously used sample GPS to use for a couple of months. This review reflects the limited use I had with the unit.

The Lowrance Sierra is the top of the line of the company's Endura series of touchscreen GPS units. It comes with 4 GB of built-in memory and has Intermap's Accuterra high-resolution topographic maps and the NAVTEQ road network for the contiguous forty-eight states preloaded.

Working with the Sierra was a mix of highs and lows for me. It kind of made me think of one of my favorite Clint Eastwood westerns, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Cue the music.

The Good

As can be seen in the picture below, showing the size of the Sierra compared to my Garmin GPSmap 60C and etrex Legend, this is not my first color screen. It is the first touchscreen GPS I have used, and I loved it. The screen is very bright and the maps looked great. While all of the GPS functions may be accessed by way of the touchscreen, Lowrance chose to keep the standard buttons on the face of the unit as well. I found the touchscreen to be much faster than using the buttons.

lowrance_sierra_review Review - 1
As a size comparison I have the Lowrance Endura Sierra bracketed by my Garmin GPS units.

The included Accuterra maps are a nice feature. The display will alternate between the Base map, which shows streets, Imagery which shows topographical lines trails, and Hybrid which seems to show all.

A peek into the Tools menu shows the multimedia options available: MP3 player, Photo Explorer, and Video player. When the Sierra is attached to a PC, the unit is displayed as an external drive with assorted folders. To add multimedia content, one just drops photos, songs, or videos into the appropriate folder.

Folders for Routes and Geocaches let you do the same with downloaded route and geocaches as long as they are in GPX format. I easily downloaded a GPX route of a hike in Joshua Tree National Park and added it to the routes folder. It pulled up the route later with no problem.

On the right side of the unit is waterproof rubber door/flap covering the jack for a headset to plug in for listening to MP3s or video. On the bottom is another door/flap covering the ports for a USB cable and a Mini-SD card. The Mini-SD supports up to an additional 32GB of storage for mapping, pictures, and MP3 audio files.

Satellite acquisition is pretty fast, under two minutes and sometimes in as little as one minute.

The basic functions of the Sierra are very easy to use, as was borne out by letting my ten-year-old children use it on a three-day camping/hiking/waterfall hunting trip to Minnesota's North Shore area. I only explained how a GPS works and what the screen shows and demonstrated the touchscreen, then let them see what they could do. Within thirty minutes both were zooming in and out and telling me what river or stream we were going to come to next. Next, my little electronics nut Raymond discovered all the various screens and pages and would inform me when I was going over the speed limit... Time to give that back to Dad!

The Bad

Unfortunately, I found more shortcomings with the Sierra than I found things to like about it. The most glaring (and a deal killer were I buying this unit) is the lack of software for a computer interface. There is no way to build my own route and add it to the Sierra unless I have my own software that saves in GPX format. I've worked with a number of other GPS units, and all of them have software to allow me to place waypoints and create routes that can be saved to the GPS.

I can build a route by manually adding waypoints, but I found this to be an excruciating process. Even though the built-in map has a cursor that can be scrolled around, there is no way to use it to add a waypoint. Pressing the Mark button will just add a waypoint where the GPS actually is geographically. Adding by hand brings up a pre-set waypoint that must be edited to the numbers you want. OK, but to do so means back-spacing with a tiny keyboard displayed on the touchscreen. The backspace button works about 50% of the time, so it takes lots of clicks to get the numerical string blanked and ready for new numbers. The tiny virtual keys are so small that my big fingers wanted to hit two numbers at the same time resulting in mistakes that needed to be fixed... with more backspacing!

Giving the waypoints a name is more of the same. The unit automatically assigns it a name of Waypoint 00001 and so on. To change it, I chose Edit. But instead of giving me a blank space, I must go through the backspacing again. This is an easy software fix that I think should be implemented.

I never used the multimedia features of the Sierra. I cannot see myself wasting precious GPS battery life to watch a video on a tiny screen in the wilderness, and I really do not see the point in using my $500.00 GPS as a $30.00 MP3 player.

While satellite acquisition was fast, it dropped them easily too. I had real problems in the trees on the Pacific Crest Trail near Lake Tahoe. It was impossible to use the GPS while walking; I had to find a clear spot and hold still to keep it dialed in.

The USB and Mini-SD ports have a rubber cover to seal them from moisture. The cover wouldn't stay closed for the entire time I had the unit. I was always cognizant of this fact while crossing streams and rivers. While the unit is supposed to be waterproof, I don't think it can be, so long as this cover doesn't seal.

lowrance_sierra_review Review - 2
The rubber port cover above hides and protects the USB and Mini-SD ports. It refused to stay shut more than a couple seconds and would pop open as seen to the right.

The Ugly

Battery life was not good when I got the unit, and it got worse with use. As I noted earlier, this was a sample unit sent around to other writers and reviewers, so there could be something wrong with it.

While Lowrance claims fifteen hours with alkaline batteries, I found that my first three days, using it to place water caches in the desert, I would get about eight hours from a set of Duracell batteries. On the road trip with my children I let them use it, knowing that they would keep it much more active than I normally will and tracked two sets of batteries over the course of two days, only using it while driving to the next waterfall location. Even with the screen being kept on quite a bit I got 6.3 hours and 6 hours.

With this in mind, I brought the Sierra on an 82-mile hike near Lake Tahoe, loading it with new batteries and carrying two sets of spares. I turned it on only when I needed it and with just four uses, none of which lasted for more than 15 minutes, it went through a new set of batteries. As I carry a GPS for use in snow to find the trail, the short life had me pretty concerned.

My friend hurt his back, and we had to bail early, right before a big snow storm too, whew! When I got back in the office and sat down to write this review, I put another new set of batteries in. They too did not even last an hour. All the batteries used during the entire time came from the same twelve-pack purchased the first trip with the Sierra.

lowrance_sierra_review Review - 3
The batteries are easy to access and change out. Unfortunately, due to rapidly declining battery life, you could be doing this far more often than you'd like.

What's Good

  • Quality touchscreen
  • Multi-tasks with plenty of multimedia entertainment options
  • Fast satellite acquisition
  • Fast basic learning curve
  • Easy to add downloaded geocaches and routes

What's Not So Good

  • No included software for direct input of routes and waypoints
  • Manual input is a pain
  • Virtual keyboard is hard to use for adult fingers
  • Battery life kept getting worse
  • Very limited owner's manual

Specifications (as stated by Manufacturer)

DISPLAY
Display Size 2.7 in \ 68 mm
Display Resolution 320 x 240 (H x W)
Display Type QVGA Touchscreen
GPS / NAVIGATION
GPS Antenna Type Internal GPS+WAAS
GPS Receiver Channels 42 channels
Background Map Premium outdoor content pre-installed, including Accuterra high-resolution topographic maps, extensive outdoor trails and POIs, as well as NAVTEQ road network for contiguous 48 states
Custom Mapping Optional full-featured turn-by-turn navigation
Waypoint Storage 2000
Routes 60
Plot Trails 30
Graphic Marker Icons 194
TECHNICAL / ENVIRONMENTAL
Built-in Backup Memory Yes
Sealing Waterproof to IPX7 standard
Width 2.4 in \ 60 mm
Height 5.1 in \ 130 mm
Depth 1.2 in \ 31 mm
Weight 0.36 lbs \ 0.165 kg
POWER
Battery Lifetime 15 hrs (alkaline batteries)
Battery Type 2 AA (not included)
OTHER
Memory Card Capable Micro SD card slot for up to 32 gB cards
Memory Size 4GB
Other Features Directly accepts GPS trails and geocaches, as well as POIs from web communities or other sources - store up to 3000 geocaches; Sensor enhanced navigation with digital, stabilized 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter; Trip computer records trails, altitudes, trip times, speed and distance travelled; Multimedia MP3/voice notes, picture, and video players - for entertainment or viewing trail camera photos; Power standby mode saves battery life while allowing ultra fast startup; Speaker, headphone jack and microphone; Mini USB port for power and data cables
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and the author/BPL has returned or will return this product to the manufacturer upon completion of the review. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.

Citation

"Lowrance Endura Sierra GPS Review," by Ray Estrella. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/lowrance-sierra-review.html, 2009-12-22 00:00:00-07.

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Lowrance Endura Sierra GPS Review
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Lowrance Endura Sierra GPS Review on 12/22/2009 11:56:50 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Lowrance Endura Sierra GPS Review

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Feeping Creaturitis on 12/22/2009 14:16:38 MST Print View

Hi ray

Valuable review. What NOT to buy.

{rant}
That's what happens when the marketing department works by committee - you get every conceivable bit of useless electronic junk jammed into the box. When will these guys realise that when someone wants a GPS, that's what they want - not a complete circus tent?
{/rant}

Cheers

Edited by rcaffin on 12/22/2009 15:16:24 MST.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Feeping Creaturitis on 12/22/2009 15:19:43 MST Print View

"That's what happens when the marketing department works by committee... When will these guys realise that when someone wants a GPS, that's what they want - not a complete circus tent?"

Methinks you've got Sales and Marketing confused. Sales wants to put a GPS into the hands of everyone who wants one and can pay for it.

In the interest of ever-increasing earnings growth which stockholders demand, Marketing's job is to "increase the pie" by convincing people that they need a circus tent and not just a GPS.

By and large, Marketing usually succeeds. :)

Mark McLauchlin
(markmclauchlin) - MLife

Locale: Western Australia
Re: Re: Feeping Creaturitis on 12/22/2009 17:12:01 MST Print View

Great review Ray,

Think I will stick with my old trusty 60CSX

Cheers

Erick Panger
(eggs) - MLife

Locale: Mid Life
Thanks for the review Ray on 12/22/2009 18:36:35 MST Print View

I bring an iPod/MP3 player on some trips as well as a GPS. Combining these would be nice but inevitably when these combination take place compromises have to happen and each feature suffers somewhat. I suspect this unit is suffering from many compromises.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Feeping Creaturitis on 12/22/2009 18:38:06 MST Print View

Hi Ben

> Methinks you've got Sales and Marketing confused.
Yeah, you might be right. Sigh.

Cheers
(the circus jester)

Samuel C. Farrington
(scfhome) - M

Locale: Chocorua NH, USA
GPS Review on 12/23/2009 17:23:00 MST Print View

Ray,
Thank you for the valuable work on this review. Is there any chance of your reviewing the Garmin Foretrex 301 or 401?
Sam Farrington, Chocorua NH

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Lowrance Endura Sierra GPS Review on 12/23/2009 17:55:30 MST Print View

Ray - good review.

Rog/Ben -

electronic business: add features -> marketing -> sales -> repeat

targeted customer: grab new -> toss old -> repeat

All -

For me, electronic gadgets can create unpleasant 'noise' and therefore lessen the benefits of some backpacking activities. I'm not a Luddite, but am actually working on texting and drawing with a pencil to record some hikes. I've found this low-tech product to be refreshing. Try it sometime.

Keith Selbo
(herman666) - F - M

Locale: Northern Virginia
No GPX routing software on 12/23/2009 18:14:29 MST Print View

I'm not sure I get this. Isn't there free software that generates route files? Is it that you can't load a gpx file into the GPS from a computer?

Raymond Estrella
(rayestrella) - MLife

Locale: Northern Minnesota
Re: on 12/23/2009 20:15:49 MST Print View

Thanks guys,

Hey Keith,

It takes downloaded GPX files with no problem. Drag-and-drop simple. Works for routes and geo-caches quite well. I was talking about making my own routes. I have not seen any "free" GPX topo programs out there. There are some free front ends, or transfer programs, but they all want you to buy the mapping software.

Which is fine, Lowrance sells it too. I reviewed what they sent me.

I spend a lot of time in Minnesota and they are big there with the fishing folks. I hope they continue to refine their GPS units towards our use. Competition is good...

Patricia Combee
(Trailfrog) - F

Locale: Northeast/Southeast your call
RE: Lowrance Endura review on 12/24/2009 15:53:46 MST Print View

Very nice review. Makes my Cheapie $100, 5 year old Magellan look pretty good. I was actually wanting to check this GPS out, I think perhaps I will skip it.
Again, nice very informative review.