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Published on August 23rd, 2011 | by Greg


Magellan eXplorist 310: Lighter, Smaller, Handy

Ev­ery­one ap­proached the out­doors a lit­tle dif­fer­ent­ly. Some peo­ple see moun­tains as op­por­tu­ni­ties; oth­ers as im­pres­sive ob­jects best seen at a dis­tance. Some of our staff love rock climb­ing, while oth­ers pre­fer a qui­et beach day. Whether it’s back­coun­try hik­ing or sim­ply go­ing to a small na­tion­al park, spend­ing the day at Gold­en Gate or wake­board­ing, a few of the de­mands are the same. We want lightweight, durable elec­tron­ics- and as few ex­tra things to wor­ry about as pos­si­ble. Tak­ing your smart­phone with you sounds good in the­o­ry, but even with a tru­ly wa­ter­proof case like the ones we re­cent­ly checked out, it doesn’t take long un­til you are out of sig­nal range or you are wor­ried about drop­ping it, crack­ing it, or los­ing it.

The Mag­el­lan eX­plorist line was de­signed around the out­doors, and is best put to use in that fash­ion. If you need an au­to­mo­tive GPS like the 9055 we test­ed out, or even one for walk­ing around in ur­ban ar­eas, these mod­els are not your best best. Their bat­tery life is on­ly so-so, and they are best used in the hand in­stead of mount­ed. To­day’s mod­el, the 310, doesn’t of­fer turn-by-turn di­rec­tions and, com­pared with the iPhone 4, left us an­noyed when try­ing to map any­thing in the city.

Tak­ing it up to Muir Woods was easy, if not par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful- it’s hard to get lost up there. But when we went beach hop­ping on foot around the coast, the eX­plorist 310 def­i­nite­ly came in handy. Our phones lost re­cep­tion, but the eX­plorist made it easy for us to see ex­act­ly where we were. We were used to the big broth­er mod­el- the eX­plorist 710- and won­dered how it would be nav­i­gat­ing with­out the touch­screen. The 510 and 610 al­so have a touch­screen, and though we did ex­pe­ri­ence some prob­lems with the in­ter­face in our pre­vi­ous test, the touch­screens were a bit eas­i­er to use. With but­tons alone, the sys­tem felt a bit clunky at times. We al­so wouldn’t call it speedy- there was still a wait lock­ing in­to our sig­nal, boot­ing up, and some de­lays when zoom­ing in or out. But it felt good in the hand, and took some drops and falls with­out wor­ry. It’s wa­ter­proof to IPX-7 stan­dards as well as dust­proof, and runs on AA bat­ter­ies so that you don’t need to wor­ry about be­ing able to find an out­let to recharge.

Bat­tery life was al­so an im­prove­ment, of­fer­ing up to 18 hours (clos­er to 11 or so in our tests with fre­quent use). The screen is fair­ly small (2.2 inch­es, 240×320 res­o­lu­tion), but rea­son­ably bright- not im­pres­sive in day­light but not suf­fer­ing from too much glare ei­ther. Geo­cachers can de­light that Mag­el­lan has in­clud­ed the fun pa­per­less geo­caching fea­tures of the GC edi­tion, and there is am­ple space (500 MB) for records and way­point paths/tracks. We didn’t find our­selves miss­ing the cam­era, but did miss the to­po­graph­i­cal maps that are in­clud­ed on the 710.

Which one should you choose? Well, Mag­el­lan of­fers mod­els be­tween $149 and $549, so there are plen­ty of op­tions. Pri­mar­i­ly, you should con­sid­er your most com­mon use case- if all you need is a nice geo­caching GPS then the en­try-lev­el GC is per­fect. We’d sug­gest spend­ing the ex­tra $50 or so though for the step up to the more prac­ti­cal 310. And peo­ple who want a cam­era, al­time­ter, barom­e­ter, or com­pass should con­sid­er step­ping up yet fur­ther. We didn’t find those ex­tras nec­es­sary for our use, so end up pri­mar­i­ly us­ing the light and durable 310. We like the de­sign of the hard­ware, but wish it was a bit eas­i­er to use, and that we could change the too-large “you are here” icon. Over­all, at $180 or so, it’s a good choice for a spe­cif­ic group of peo­ple- those look­ing for a low-cost hik­ing or back­pack­ing GPS or geo­caching fans that want a bit ex­tra.

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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