In mid-July, Garmin released an update to their eTrex Legend line with the eTrex Legend HCx, which is basically a Legend Cx with a high sensitivity chip. Garmin isn’t using the SiRFstar III in this unit, instead, they’ve gone with the MediaTek MT3. You can see a comparison of the two chips here. Basically, the MediaTek chip provides better accuracy while requiring less power. A real win for portable devices like the eTrex line.
I knew going in that Garmin has horrible support on both Linux and OS X. In fact, basically the only thing you can do on OS X is upgrade the GPS receiver’s firmware. On Linux, well… don’t even bother. What I didn’t anticipate was the difficulty I’d have figuring their software out once I had it installed in Parallels on my Mac. While I got it working eventually, this isn’t something I’d expect my parents to figure out. What’s more, Garmin’s GPS receivers that use USB interfaces (like the Legend HCx) don’t output NMEA data streams. And of course, it’s a closed spec, so don’t expect to hook your GPS up to anything besides Windows and get a data stream. So yeah, Garmin ignores everyone who doesn’t run Windows. Those of us who have been free of it for a while are used to that though.
How does the unit actually perform? That’s the important thing. Simply put, the reception is amazing. If you need to know the exact position of your toilet in a windowless bathroom to within 3 feet, this is the unit for you. The reception is great, the only place I’ve been with it where I can’t get a fix on my location is the basement of an 8 story building. That’s no surprise though as it is basically a concrete bunker. It handles my car, the woods, valleys and even canyons remarkably well. Besides spelunking, I wouldn’t hesitate to take it anywhere with me.
What about battery life? It’s pretty good as well. The Legend HCx runs on two AA batteries (I use rechargeable NiMH ones) and Garmin says you get 25 hours on a set. I’m seeing closer to 30 hours per charge, but I’m using 2650 maH batteries.
Storage isn’t a problem either. While the unit doesn’t have much built in, the microSD card slot in the battery compartment means effectively unlimited storage space for maps, tracks and routes. You’ll definitely want to take advantage of this storage to put better maps on the unit. The Legend HCx basemap is incredibly sparse and only shows major highways. Features on the landscape are often out of place as well… more than once the GPSr claimed I was walking in Lake Superior as I drove along the highway.
Auto-routing with the unit is pretty good… though it has it’s moments of sheer frustration. On a recent trip to Green Bay, the GPSr really wanted to route me over a particular bridge. There was only one problem… the bridge had been torn out to be replaced. I obviously couldn’t drive over it and the Legend HCx doesn’t have a way for me to tell it the bridge is gone (like on a Tom-Tom). So, I backtracked, drove to another bridge and crossed the river, at which time the Legend recalculated my route… and directed me back over the bridge. Luckily traffic wasn’t heavy at the time and I was able to use the street maps on the device to navigate my own way the last few miles. Beside that one incident though, the unit has been spot on using maps from Mapsource Metroguide (Garmin’s mapping software). Once a newer version of City Navigator is out, I’ll put out the $150 for that.
All in all, I’ve found the Legend HCx to be a good product, and it is probably one of the best GPS receivers I’ve ever used. Garmin’s interface is easy to learns, the auto-routing is pretty good overall and it’s performance under cover (outside and in) is outstanding. This is a solid win for Garmin. For those considering buying one solely for auto-navigation: look at a Tom-Tom, you’ll probably be happier with one of those.