During 2009 Garmin introduced a range of GPS receivers that feature OS mapping and touch-screen operation. The Garmin 550t boasts a 3.2 megapixel camera with geo-tagging so you can easily locate exactly where a photo was taken. The unit can be loaded with OS mapping via an SD card.
The smooth, curvy housing sits easily in the hand with just one button on the side that turns the device on and off. The back can be removed to fit the batteries as well as the SD memory card that contains the OS mapping, which has to be purchased at extra expense. The camera lens is also in the back of the camera. Slots in the back allow the unit to be fitted to a karabiner clip, so it can be attached to a rucksack for example. Like all Garmin GPS receivers the operation system is very intuitive and is driven by clear icons on a touch-sensitive screen.
On the hill
The unit located itself in the Peak District extremely quickly and soon pinpointed my position on screen. The operating system is extremely easy to navigate thanks to the large graphic buttons, which allow the user to effortlessly flick between functions by tapping the screen. The +/- on-screen buttons allowed me to easily zoom in and out of the map. However the screen does not regenerate the area of mapping as rapidly as some other units, which was frustrating. The maps can also be moved by pressing and moving your finger across the screen. Again, it was slow to regenerate the mapping compared to other units. Like the other touch-screen designs, a stylus would be useful to allow accurate route creation for example, but the way routes are created is extremely user-friendly and intuitive. The slow regeneration of maps on screen is frustrating when creating a route though. But the screen gives a clear view of the maps, although as the on-screen graphic buttons are quite large a bigger screen would be of benefit for this choice of interface.
The unit comes with a UK base map but you have to fit SD cards behind the batteries to load more detailed OS maps –not a problem, but a little more fiddly than other designs. There are lots of extras like a 3D view, elevation plots and an automotive mode that gives next-turn on-screen info.
Price £480 for GPS receiver plus OS mapping £120; titles include 1:50k National Parks of UK,1:25k National Parks and Trails, 1:5k GB in four regions, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Midlands, Southern England and Wales; Garmin Topo mapping is available for Europe and many other countries worldwide
Display 7x4cm, colour touch-screen
Power 2xAA batteries
Memory MicroSD cards
Computer interface USB port
Weight 198g (including batteries)
Made in China
Stockist details – tel. 0808 238 0000; www.garmin.co.uk
The Garmin Oregon 550t is waterproof; touch-screen; superb intuitive interface.
But the touch-screen is not as easy to use as buttons; relatively small screen; slow map regeneration. It’s a superb user interface but map regeneration is irritatingly slow.
Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine January 2010