Published on August 23rd, 2011 | by Greg0
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.