Bottom Line For Me
If I only ever used this device for walking speeds - it blows way the competition for functionality and value. However, I want to use it for on-bicycle and in-vehicle navigation as well.
Vendor and Product Info Link
I bought directly from Delorme using some discounts for current customers (even if you're not a current customer usually phoning in an order results in the same discount if you just ask). I returned the product as well. I have always had good experiences with buying directly from Delorme.
I bought the "Power Kit" bundle. I suggest you don't do this because it only seems to add a garden variety USB charging kit for the car and wall that you can get at Walmart much cheaper - and after you decide to keep the unit. I know vendors can make USB charging in a way that prevents third party charging cables and I must admit I didn't test other options - so you might find out what other people's experiences are on Delorme's forums at http://forums.delorme.com
My Relevant Product Background
I own the following GPS Units and have tested numerous others:
Magellan Sportrak MAP
GlobalSat BU-353 GPS Mouse
What I Like
Whole New Handheld GPS Device Class
I knew it would happen one day - and couldn't understand why it was taking so long. Mobile device memory is cheap. Rich processors are cheap. Why does there have to be special PC software and special "crunching" procedures to fit maps into itty bitty device memory? Why can't I upload maps directly from a PC product (or for that matter from Google - but that's another topic ;).
This product is a break into that market. More than just being able to upload maps that look identical the PC version, you can also upload six different layers of maps! Actual satellite maps, USGS quads, etc. You can also upload objects you have drawn on the maps!
Most of my review is going to focus on my dissatisfaction with the device for a single purpose because I wanted it to serve all my needs in one device - but make no mistake I am very excited this type of device has arrived because it will create a whole new device type in the handhelds arena. Please also see the Delorme link above for exciting capabilities they claim - because there are other differientiators.
Power Source Flexibility
The PN20 supports BOTH a proprietary rechargable battery and AA batteries. The recharagable can be recharged in the unit. This is a unique and very flexible approach. By contrast Magellen's Explorist series gives you proprietary, integrated batteries on part of the product line and then AA batteries on part of the product line. The really weird (engineering wise) part of the Explorist product is they remove the SD card slot on the units with AA batteries. The reason I would want AA batteries is because I won't be around a lot of power sources anytime soon - which would ALSO be why I would want an SD slot - for extra maps and track logs because I also won't be around a PC anytime soon.
What I Don't Like
First Attempt Against Some Strong Competitors
It bears mention that Delorme is very experienced in mapping software, but this is it's first "real" GPS that is not a GPS "mouse" (small unit with no screen that only provides GPS data to a computer). It's an awesome market entry - quite impressive and likely an outgrowth of the fact they actually listen to their customers on their suport forums.
Compared to Magellan Sportrak MAP
I will be mainly comparing this product to the robust Magellan Sportrak MAP since I have long experience with this unit. I also like doing reviews by comparing to my past experience because I think we all do this when approaching a new product where we have experience with the product area - for those who don't have experience it illuminates the critical product criteria for a given use of the product. There are many advantages that PN20 has over the older Sportrak MAP - but some capabilities I have come to expect as a baseline and the PN20 does not meet these baselines.
Size, Shape, Construction, Available Cases (Form Factor)
The manual says "hop on your bike", yet Delorme does not produce a handlebar mount. The actual physical shape of the PN20 has no obvious methods for mounting built in. By contrast the integrated mounting features of the Sportrak are built right into the water proof unit. They are rock hard plastic of some type and casual visual examination leads you to believe that any impact that would break the mount, would have to destroy the device.
The soft case made by Delorme does not allow GPS operation while in case. With the Sportrak I am able to use the device with the soft case due to a clear vinyl area over the screen and buttons. This also allowed me to use a simple stiff, plastic coated electrical wire to rig it to hang off the rearview mirror. This rigging is much lighter and more compact than the an official "car mount" when doing air travel. The sportrak softcase also has a belt attachment with a swivel for using the GPS while walking - the swivel allows extremely quick reading of the device without removing it from it's case or your belt.
The battery compartment closing mechanism does not seem well thought out. It is a single thumbscrew - but you are only supposed turn it a certain number of turns to an exact spot. It seems if the seal gets weak or the cover plate starts to bend with time, it will either not seal, or you'll risk overturning the screw to get it water tight.
Data connectors on waterproof devices must necesarily be surface contacts. This leads to connectors that are difficult to attach because they require a screw. Delorme tried to improvde on this design with a connector that has wings that slide into the physical case. It's a good idea, but the wings seem about half the thickness they really should be for robust, long term operation. Even on the first insertion they seem stressed.
I wish all devices with surface connectors came with a non-waterproof version that simply had a surface connector with a mini-usb jack. This way when compactness of cables is more important than waterproofing (using this for a vehicle navigation system combined with air travel) I could provide my own 3 inch mini-usb cable, rather than the 10 feet all vendors include in case you are attaching it in a boat.
As a Navigation Device
I had hoped this device could be my outdoors handheld and completely function as an in vehicle navigation system since it has routing and rich color maps that I can update - but it turns out it can't be for me. To be sure someone could just tell me "Just get a navigation system!" - but I really don't want to have 1000's invested in 10 GPS devices when this one seemed so close as to beg the "single device does all" label.
Also, I use a GPS "mouse" attached to my laptop running Delorme Streets Atlas and Topo for times when I need a "high function" navigation system (with voice directions and voice control!) - so my use of a handheld for navigation is for when this effort is not meritted or bringing a laptop is not feasible.
For hiking I think the PN20 is excellent. The redraw keeps up just fine and most of the time you aren't looking at the device and aren't asking the GPS to route you somewhere (you can draw a hiking trail or upload one and follow it on device - which is different than routing). A friend was mentioning the difficulty in hunting and not going onto other people's property - I immediately recommended the PN20 because he could download his own custom drawn map polygons and he'd be walking.
However, when you are driving a car, you are frequently looking at the device and trying to make turn decisions based on it. When riding a bike you may not be navigating by it, but would like "at a glance" updates on where you are or have been. This is where the slow redraw of the PN20 and some additional design issues make it less competitive.
As a quick side note when I use a GPS for navigation I configure them to display my direction of travel as the "up" orientation - so that I appear to be moving "up" the map as I navigate. I think this is most natural - but it does provide context to some of my comments about screen aspect ratios (square versus rectangle orientation).
Another note for context - when navigating with a handheld I upload a route since my device does not support on device routing. I find that I get off route for a variety of real-world reasons like a road not looking "main enough" to be the correct turn or non-existent signage. When this happens I start navigation "real time" on the device - glancing to see alternatve route and catch street labels so I can get back on track. I currently do this with my Magellan Sportrak with a reasonable amount of success - and no accidents :) The PN20 has several weaknesses that combine to make this impossible - and it's something I've come to expect as a baseline since my device is over 5 years old and works just fine when using it this way.
Screen Visibility and Size
When the backlight is on the screen visibility is exceptional. However, when it is off, I can't see anything even in the most favorable lighting conditions, it might as well be off. Backlighting really needs some intermediate settings of some type.
I found routing fairly non-functional. It didn't seem have (or I couldn't easily find) a way to search Points of Interest (POI), addresses, city names, etc. The only mechanisms for indicating where you want to go are to choose from a preset list which is VERY slow. Or to pick a spot on the map - this is also very slow due to the redraw issues discussed under "Navigation" below.
On device routing (pick start and end and the device routes you) frequently failed saying it could not complete the routing process. To add to this irritation, if you "reverse a route" (a common GPS feature) the device actually tries to recalculate a new return route. This is frustration because I actually just want to go back the way I came and because this then frequently fails as well.
The PN20 is very slow at redraw for speeds much above walking speed. I didn't do enough testing, but it seemed that map layers that were configured for use were slowing the device down even if they contained no data. That's not too bad if: a) it was self-evident this was impacting redraw performance, b) was reconfigured easily via the menu or PC software.
You can also zoom out to reduce the feature details and speed up the device - but I found that when I zoomed out far enough to have reasonable performance, the street labels dissappeared. Although this can be adjusted in the software before uploading - it's not the default and not simple to configure.
Also I immediately discovered a key different between the handling of screen updates on my Magellan Sportrak and the PN20. The Magellan keeps your position indicator in the middle of the screen and moves the map under your position. This is possible, in part, due to the techniques applied to the map data to compress the amount of data required to dispaly maps and the fact my device is not color. However, the PN 20 allows my position mark to move across the map and when it nears the top, to redraw the entire screen - much like the PC product. When reaching fairly normal driving speeds of 35-55 mph, the device is constantly redrawing and as soon as it is done you are already off the screen and it starts redrawing again. The solution - unzoom a little and now you have no street labels!
It is also a very different cognitive experience to hunt for the position marker. The Magellen provides a true "at a glance" experience because you know where your position will be on the map, you can just examine map features to figure correlate the map with the real world you are in - which is ultimately what you are trying to do. The extra step of hunting for your map indicator is unnecessary.
The "moving position indicator" also causes your lead time on changing routing or getting back on track non-existent. If anything even on the Magellan the position indicator should be 2/3 or 3/4 down the screen - because I can't make a turn I've already past. The PN-20 obviously is languishing on this issue.
The screen aspect ratio of the Sportrak is also nicer because it is fairly long, but wide enough - so the money dedicated to this part of the device build is well spent when navigating at speed above walking speed because I get maximum forward view. The PN-20 has a more square screen - so I get more view of the sides, but for higher speed navigation this does not provide as much help as the length.
Another feature of the Magellan that show's it's maturity in the area of on device software is the dynamic nature of street labelling. In the Sportrak the street labels for all streets on the screen move to the screen so you can see them. You don't have to move around the screen to know what a street is because it's label is not in a fixed position like a paper map - it moves to the screen to be seen. The Delorme maps don't do this or they don't do it well enough. When combined with navigation at higher speeds, you can't see road labels in time to turn and you obviously can't play with the device while driving. Perhaps this is a historical artifact left over from their PC products where screens are much bigger. If Delorme does not address this issue at the same time as fixing redraw, the device will continue to be unnecessarily hampered for realtime route decisions.
A Note to Delorme
I really feel that your product should be engineered with "Speed (and Altitude) Aware Detail and Redraw"
Here are some possible "modes" for this feature:
- 0-5 Mph - walking - high detail
- 5-15 Mph - biking - medium detail
- 20-60 Mph - car navigation - focus on road redraw and road names
- 100 and over + altitude = airplane usage
It would be very nice if the above modes were simply presets so I could adjust them and/or add my own modes.
I understand your product allows some of this at the time I upload the maps - but I don't want to reupload maps based on how I'm going to travel today. And many times I have multiple modes, for example, find the trail head via car then hike the trail. It really needs to be a dynamic, device base option.
It would also be great if I could configure the speed ranges that applied to various modes or force a specific mode on.
I would also like to see Canadian Topo maps soon - even if I have to pay for them.
Hidden Gems and Tips
I am a Topo USA user and already had the Topo software. To see it bundled with the unit free is fantastic - I have had to buy the topo maps for my Magellan for an extra $100 and Topo Canada for another $100. This brings up another advantage for traditional handheld manufacturers - many of them have been working hard over the last 2-3 years to get more Topo maps around the world. Canada is an obvious choice for the US market since it is accessible and a rich destination for anyone interested in outdoor activities. Delorme did recently update Street Atlas with Canadian roads - but because Canada's road data is inversely proportional to it's Topographic data - I'm not going to assume Canada Topo maps are going to happen automatically.
Another hidden gem in this area is that Delorme's software allows you to create your own routable roads and in Topo routable trails! Most competitors don't even support this in their software - let alone uploading this data to your handheld. Although the user interface is rightly criticized as not easy to use, it also has other very differientiating features such as importing GPS track logs, converting them to drawing objects and re-exporting them to a GPS as a track or route to "reuse" an activity you have previously logged. Topo also has a usable
Add Mouse GPS To Bundled Software
If you install the Topo software that cameyou can add a $50 GPS mouse (like the excellent GlobalSat BU-353) and use it for in car navigation. Also, if you have another handheld like me, you can use it to upload/download tracks, routes and waypoints. The only unhappy part of this scenario is that Delorme has decided not to support Voice Navigation and Voice Control on their Topo products - but it's still nice to have this secondary use of what you already get with the product.