The SNEWSÂ® team -- which included eight editors -- spent the entire four days of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2004 scouting out the trade show scene from the paddle tank to the climbing wall and even around the dusty and quiet corners of private rooms and hidden booths. Each week, through mid-September, we'll be publishing our take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations that caught our eyes. No, each report is not complete and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned when it should have been. We're only covering product that stood out to us and was ready for prime time, so if you're not mentioned, we either did not see you, we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, you were showing the product behind closed curtains which implied you didn't want us to talk about it, or we were just plain clueless -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on what's moving and shaking in the world of navigation products:
Magellan -- Those who attended the Little Dell Lake demo could hardly miss all the retailers wandering around with the brightly colored Magellan GPS units. To roll out its new Explorist series, Magellan created a simple geocaching course with three locations to find. It also sent out representatives with searchers to explain the new receivers that are designed for simplicity.
Unfortunately, the event also pointed out one of the drawbacks of the new Explorist models: they cannot be hooked to a computer for transferring waypoints. This hit home when one of the test models was sent out and neither our SNEWSÂ® reporter nor his escort could find the cache. Turns out somebody had transposed some of the numbers in the coordinates while manually entering them, oops, something that is less likely to happen using a computer and a larger screen and a keyboard to set up the course.
Aside from the lack of an interface, the Explorist GPS receivers have all the standard features you'd expect at a reasonable price point. They have a nice form factor and, though a tad bulky, easy-to-read screens.
The best value is the yellow Explorist 200 ($150 MAP), which includes a nationwide basemap. The orange Explorist 100 ($100 MAP) is the same but lacks the mapping feature; most consumers should be advised to go for the upgrade. The blue Explorist 300 ($200 MAP) tosses in a built-in altimeter and compass. However, contrary to its advertising which reads "No need to carry another piece of equipment," carrying a backup map and compass is always recommended!
Garmin --The most recent introduction to Garmin's extensive line are color versions of the popular eTrex Legend and Vista.
The new Legend C ($380) and Vista C ($430) sport 256-color TFT screens that are easy to read even in full sunlight. Compared to their grayscale (four shades) predecessors, these have longer battery life and faster USB instead of serial connections. The new models also offer automatic route generation, a feature usually found on GPS units made for driving. Yet they still only weigh 6 ounces.
Also relatively new is the Forerunner 101 ($139), which is a basic version of the wrist-mounted Forerunner 201 ($182). The new model uses two AA batteries instead of built-in rechargeables. And it has no computer interface for exchanging data.
Lowrance -- While its main forte is in the marine GPS industry, Lowrance has made some credible handheld units for consumers. Expanding the iFinder series, it's added the H20 ($230) and Pro ($200).
Both new models have 16-levels of gray with dual processors for faster screen drawing. They can also accept memory cards containing high-detail topo maps; the H20 is completely waterproof, of course.
Suunto -- The big rollouts for Summer Market were the X9 GPS watch and the T6 training watch, both of which connect to your computer to exchange data. The X9 ($760 retail) is a full-on navigation system with a 12-channel GPS, altimeter and compass. Some performance compromises have to be made to fit a GPS nicely on your wrist but it's an impressive package that will certainly interest techies and some outdoor professionals. We'll be reviewing both in the coming months.
Brunton -- Offering a more complete line of navigation products for the outdoors than any other brand, Brunton could certainly be viewed as a leader of this market segment.
Brunton's latest is a combination of the current Atlas GPS and the old, and rather cumbersome-to-use MultiNavigation System. The new Atlas MNS ($360) is essentially a standard GPS with a couple of unique features.
Although many GPS receivers offer an electronic compass, this feature cuts battery life almost in half. With the Atlas MNS, the compass can be used alone and last up to two weeks. It features 16-level grayscale, dual processing and expansion with memory cards for adding topo maps.
Even the standard handheld compass is starting to go digital, though good old magnetic compasses will never disappear. The Brunton Nomad V2 ($60) and V2 Pro ($120) are sleek in design and simple in function. The V2 provides easy-to-read forward and reverse bearings even in the dark plus a few bells and whistles. The V2 Pro adds an altimeter.
Silva -- Another leading name in navigation (though this Silva is not the European Silva, but rather the Johnson Outdoors-owned Silva manufactured by Suunto), Silva is also introducing a digital compass. The new Cobalt ($60) is unique in having a baseplate so you can take bearings directly off of a map. This makes it super simple to line up the map to north, take a bearing, and then have the compass tell you when you deviate. Of course, a competent navigator can do this just fine with a standard magnetic compass but it will appeal to the gadget addicts. And the Cobalt screen does light up -- useful when the natural light is fading.
Timex -- Perhaps the coolest new navigation product comes from the powerhouse watch company, Timex. The Timex Expedition ($100) is just a metal-cased analog watch at first glance. However, press a button and the built-in electronic compass gives an analog readout. It's easier to read than many digital displays and still has its famous Indiglo nightlight.
Nike -- The Nike Timing division has certainly made an impact in the performance sports watch market. The newest offering is the Oregon Series Alti-Race ($160), which is designed for adventure racers. In addition to a compass and altimeter, the Alti-race has a 1,000-hour stop watch and a hydration alarm.
Speedtech -- They were easy to miss back in the great white tent, but Speedtech is a serious supplier of weather instruments. Its new Windmate 400 ($175) is a compact windmeter that also contains a digital compass and altimeter. So you can not only tell where you are, but brag about how nasty (or nice) it was when you get home!
Kestrel -- Most would agree that Kestrel remains the current leading supplier of windmeters (Brunton and Speedtech are the others and have certainly chewed into the market share of Kestrel). It has redesigned the case of its entire product line and introduced some new models. Although it doesn't have a compass, the Kestrel 4000 ($330) has practically every other feature you could ask for including altimeter and an interface ($80) for uploading data to your computer. This could be a great tool for professionals such as avalanche forecasters and firefighters, as well as sailors and gear geeks.