Garmin eTrex Legend C

The classic Legend was good

Garmin eTrex Legend, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

The classic Garmin eTrex Legend - loved all over the globe.

When I first started researching GPS' I quickly found the Garmin eTrex range. These GPS' are very compact and come in a huge range of features. One will almost certainly suit you. I opted for the cheapest one that does mapping; The eTrex Legend. This little fella has a greyscalle screen and uses two AA batteries. It's completely waterpoof so I had no problems using it on my motorbike.

I was very happy with this device. I like the fact that it was preloaded with maps that included even the small B-roads of UK. It wasn't a very accurate map, but you could be fairly sure of what road you were travelling on. I also loaded it's 8mb memory with the detailed map of London. This allowed me to look up locations based on streetnames etc.
Quite cool for a device that's the same size as a mobile phone. This device did not do automatic routing. Automatic routing is when the GPS calculates the route between two or more points and can then guide you to your destination.

I loved this little device and I used it on my motorbike, in the car, in airplanes and even while walking around in London. Sadly I lost the device when I moved house.

Why GPS?

Around 2001 I thought that it was quite silly to have a GPS. I mean you can use a compass if you ever need it, usually you get along just fine with a map. And the map costs under £10 and a GPS about £200 and upwards.
This was my way of thinking until I spoke to another gadgeteer, namely Ben Lovejoy. He said he used a GPS both in his car and on his bike. He also said that he's found more roads to ride on after he got the GPS than he had done uptill that time. Interesting.

What made me absolutely sure that I wanted a GPS was riding through Holland on my bike. These guys don't do signposts the way I was used to and it was virtually impossible to stop and look at a map. I was really frustrated because I didn't remember which cities to ride toward, even if I stopped and checked the map, I had soon forgotten which city was beyond the next one. Frustrating!

What GPS?

I roughly estimate that there's about 500 different GPS' for normal consumers that you can buy today. That's not too many, but still too many to look at them all.
That's why you need to figure out what you want your GPS to do first.

You can stick the GPS' into a few rough categories.

  • Outdoor and Non-outdoor ones. Outdoor ones are usually completely waterproof and a bit more rugged than the non-outdoor ones.
  • Mapping and non-mapping ones. Some GPS' can display a digital map, some are just about coordinates and straight line directions.
  • Routing and non-routing. Combine a mapping GPS with an "intelligent" map and the GPS can not only tell you where you are, but how to get where you want to go. Neat!
  • Dedicated and non-dedicated. Some devices have an "also-gps" or some devices can be connected to a GPS reciever. Typical examples of "also-GPS'" is speed camera detectors. PDAs are typical examples of devices that can have a GPS reciever connected to them. There are even PDAs that have a built in GPS reciever.
  • Strange GPS', such as the Geodesy which is a GPS based speed camera detector with no display, just a bunch of LEDs. Or you have the fitness GPS' whose task is to see how far you have been running.
  • Professional GPS'. Such as land surveying GPS', aviation GPS' etc.

From that list I clearly know what I don't want. I don't want a fitness-freak GPS, I don't want a professional GPS.
I do want a dedicated device, that's waterproof. I do want a mapping GPS. If it can do routing, it's a bonus. I also want it to run on batteries, so that I can take it with me anywhere without worrying about finding a power supply. It also makes the installation easier.

My shortlist

Garmin GPSMAP 60C, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

The rugged Garmin GPSMAP 60C.

Garmin Quest, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

The versatile Garmin Quest

My requirement narrowed my selection down to these devices (note that this list was compiled at the end of 2003, and that there's constantly new products surfacing):

As you probabaly notice I'm quite fond of Garmin devices. I also like the TomTom products, but at this point they didn't have any viable product.

The 60C is quite a cool device, it's got 56MB internal memory and is very rugged. Unfortunately it doesn't come with detailed maps, and it is quite expensive for it's specs. The Quest was at the time about to be released and was a bit of an unknown player. To its advantage it comes with full European maps and a whopping 243MB memory. For a biker the controls are a bit wrong way round as you use your right hand on the throttle and brake. The Quest runs off an internal rechargeable battery, this is a bad thing because it'll mean that one day that battery is going to have to be replaced. The Legend C on the other hand was an evolution of the eTrex Legend I used to have. The pros of the Legend C is that it's very small, and it runs on standard AA-sized batteries (as does the 60C). This is a good thing because I can get those batteries very cheaply and pretty much everywhere.

As the Legend C was the cheapest one, a known development of the Legend and also smallest, that was the one I got.

Is the Legend C any good?

Well, well, what should I say. It's quite a good GPS, but in hindsight I should have gone for the Quest.
The Legend C is extremely good in these cases:

  • Battery seems to last forever if you use good quality high-capacity rechargeables.
  • You can use it anywhere; Car, bike, walking, plane, boat, etc.
  • It's very small; there's no reason to leave it at home.
  • It has got a USB connection (compared to the serial connection on the 'old' Legend)

It's fairly good in some areas, like the screen is really good, but in most cases you have to use the backlight, even f it's just on the really low settings. Whichever seting it's on: it drains battery. The rubber that goes all the way around it loosens up over time. This is annoying as I have a R-A-M mount on my bike and I stick the GPS in there and because of the snug fit of the mount the rubber around the GPS gets loose and slides around - annoyingly it's glued on with a very sticky glue that can get anywhere.

On the software side it's true Garmin. It might be a bit crude in some places, but once you get to know the user interface it's really easy to use. Sometimes it can be a bit of a hit and miss to find the right sub menu or how to select something, but it's usually OK.

However the GPS' biggest flaw is in the bundled software - or should I say the lack of it. As I've mentioned above, the original Legend came with a pretty decent basemap which showed all B-roads of UK. I seldomly travel on something smaller than a B-road so I think it's a very good compromise. The Legend C on the other hand comes with a basemap that doesn't even include the A5! Yes, you read it right - not even the A5 is included in the Legend C basemap!. This is a really bad move from Garmin. This renders the GPS virtually useless for most scenarios where you would want to use a map - and I can tell you this is in most cases. Sure it has got the motorway network in it and most major roads which means that if you are going to travel from Dover to Birmingham then it will be able to calculate your route and guide you, but most of the times your destination doesn't end where the map's details end. Also due to the lack of details in the maps, the GPS will go haywire when trying to recalculate the route just because you're driving down a road that doesn't exist.
A typical example of this is when I travel south to Bicester on the M40 and I come off the motorway at junction 10. The GPS is unaware of the B4100 that leads into Bicester from the A43, and as I'm travelling quite parallell to the M40 it goes absolutely haywire constantly trying to recalculate the route. sigh

But wait, the story gets worse. To make the GPS useful, by buying the maps for it, I would have to pay £144 for the Auto Navigation Kit... Yes, hundred and forty four pounds! Add the price of the GPS £191 (I paid about £220 for mine). That's a total of 355 smackaroonies... Seriously Garmin - it's not that good! Especially as the Garmin Quest costs £319! Or, if you managed to get a Quest from PC World when they got rid of their End-Of-The-Line stock for £199 then you got a bargain!


Garmin eTrex Legend C - the successor to the classic Legend, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

The eTrex Legend C - Successor to the hugely popular eTrex Legend. Sadly the Legend C has got a lousy basemap and doesn't come bundled with detailed maps.

While the Legend C in its own right is a very cool piece of hardware, the lack of detailed basemap or bundled maps make the GPS virtually useless on the road network. If you on the other hand travel by air or sea, or where there are no roads in general, then the Legend C is quite sufficient.

About a year after buying the Legend C I still find it hard to believe that Garmin has shot themselves in the foot with the marketing and placement of the Legend C. They could have created a little nifty every-persons-GPS, they could have made a serious dent in their competitors low-end product line. But they've decided that the Garmin eTrex Legend C ships with a crappy basemap and no bundled mapping software. This is the greatest flaw with an otherwise quite perfect product.

At some point I'm going to switch to another GPS; maybe the Quest, but most likely the TomTom Rider which is a very neat gadget with features such as Bluetooth mobile phone calling. You didn't think of that now, did you Garmin?!?

Who should buy the eTrex Legend C? It's perfect for anyone that's not using their GPS mainly on roads. For a small boat it's fine, for a light aeroplane it's fine. For your scrambler or ATV it's fine. Or if you already have a Garmin GPS unit that has got the cartography product that you want to use then Garmin, funnily, allows you to register a 2nd GPS device in your name to unlock a 2nd licence. This means that you can get a free licence for your Legend C if you for example already own the Quest. I don't, so I don't have the maps. A sneaky way to accomplish this is to ask a friend that has got a "spare" licence to register your GPS under his name... But that's not really right, so let's ignore that.

Would I buy one again? Yes, but only if it came with better maps!