Rating: 5 / 5
Note: This review reflects using Beta Firmware v. 2.86 released Feb 4, 2009.
My wife bought me the 400T as a birthday present. Now that I've had time to use it in the field tramping around Rocky Mountain National Park, in Boulder Canyon, out in the Eastern Plains of Colorado and various other locations while driving around I've got to say, this GPS unit is what I've been waiting for.
The touch screen with panning and 3d mapping is blissful. No longer do you have to simply pan out losing details to see the big picture, instead you can just swish your finger around and see the entire trail with 40 foot contour line detail.
It supports tons of geocaching features that extend well beyond my needs and the device is highly feature rich. Things like the Alarm clock, elevation plots, caledars, calculator and stopwatch features are welcome additions and all work as they should.
The feature for saving profiles for certain uses is a very welcome feature. Basically, you can set the device up very specifically for hiking, save it as a profile, then change the menus and settings for driving and save that as a seperate profile. Switching between them once set up is very simple.
As a side note, I do not think the device is stellar for road navigation compared to devices such as the TomTom or Nuvi units, but it gets the job done. The feature works, but to get the most out of using it for auto navigation you would likely need to load 3rd party street maps (some free for download) or purchase the Garmin City Naivgator software / SD card.
Accuracy wise, the High Sensitivity receiver is just that. Even in deep canyons my tracks have yet to have any spots that it didn't keep up a perfect sync. I get a decent signal in my basement, which is pretty unusual considering it's surrounded by concrete. My results have been highly positive. If I zoom up on my tracks I can see where I stepped to the north of a small puddle on the trail rather than to the south which I did on the return trip.
Battery life has been on par with my Gecko 301. Not the best of all units out there but good. The generic alkaline batteries that came with it have lasted 15 hours and I still have a bar of life left.
Initial reports and reviews on the 400T had a couple negative points in common. Most notably was readability in direct sunlight as well as complaints on the uncertainty regarding detailed maps for the 200 and 300 models (or questions regarding if those were needed at all for the 400T). Thanksfully, I beleive these issues have been addressed. I've only had the unit for a month and a half and already Garmin has released several firmware patches that have drastically improved an already great performing device. I'm not sure what they did but the lighting seems so much better in direct sunlight compared to my initial testing of a demo unit.
In addition to the 400Ts 40 ft contour vector maps, thanks to google, I found a plethora of free maps that can be loaded from 3rd partys, making the $100 / state for 24K maps unnecessary as well as paying for the $100 for the US 100K map series. There are even software packages that let you add seamless USGS maps to your 400T if you have a preference for the raster maps instead of the pre-loaded vector maps. Overall it takes some tinkering to get the right maps just the way you want them but overall, my testing of these applications and 3rd party maps have been very positive. They may take some playing around with it to find exactly the map layers you want but they show a great hidden potential in the device as already there are country maps for locations all over the world free for downloading, and may offer great detail levels.
One strange oddity of the device from my perspective is the lack of being able to use the "send to gps" or "receive from gps" feature in almost any software on the market. Since the gps attaches to a PC and shows up as a seperate drive, you can copy, export or import .gpx files directly to the folders on the device, but the software packages I've tried don't seem to be able to use the auto import/export features. Annoying, but easily remidied by exporting the files directly to the correct folder on the device.
Another software piece that offers more flexibility in the unit is the Garmin Custom POI or Point of Interest loader. You can download large collections of points of interest online (many mimicing those on USGS topo maps) or allowing you to create your own for items that you'd like to display but do not want to add as waypoints. Typical examples are things such as Coal Mines, Camp Grounds or Visitors Centers.
To sum up, the device works great in my opinion. Being a software geek, I find the 3rd party maps and customization software fantastic as it will likely increase and prolong the usefulness of the unit. The seeminly constant firmware upgrades have all been a positive experience, each one improving the speed of the unit as well as any bugs that were in the prior release.
Cost wise, yes it's an expensive unit. The device is basically a lightweight, waterproof, fullcolor PDA. I would suggest doing your research first, but depending on your needs it may be possible of purchasing the 300 and loading 3rd party maps to get the detailed topos necessary for your area, thus saving you $100.
Oh, and for those wondering, it works just fine with most gloves. I worked somewhat with my bulky ski gloves but with fleece or leather gloves it worked 100%. The touch screen did not seem to be affected by 10 degree F cold and the device seems to work just fine.
The onboard altimiter/barometer seems to work about as well as can be expected and isn't really worth writing home about. It drifts some at camp as the weather shifts, but that can be expected from any unit.
The electronic compass is a twitchy little thing that I do not recommend actually using for land navigation. It is find to shooting a bearing if you are extremely careful about keeping it level, away from metal and re-calibrating it since your last battery change but otherwise, it isn't practical. Unfortunately, this is my opinion of all electronic compasses, so it's actually just average in that capacity.
Room for improvement: Battery life could be better, but the firmware improvements have already helped. It's very pricey considering Garmin expects you to drop another $100 - $300 on software to get full use of all the features on it (you don't have if you do research thankfully).