(Price: $399 - $540, depending on source, and which of the four bundles you choose)
- Fast map/image rendering and screen switching.
- Fast satellite signal acquisition.
- All-you-can-download $29.95-per-year subscription for obtaining 7.5-minute quad maps, charts, and images.
- You'll invest manual study and practice time to become proficient with the receiver and Topo USA PC software. Some Topo USA features challenging to learn.
- Screen small (2.3 inches diagonal) compared to some newer handhelds.
Sturdy, Fast, Map-rich Handheld GPS
The DeLorme Earthmate PN-40 handheld GPS is sturdily built and waterproof; accurate, very fast at rendering maps and images; comes with loads of maps, and can download highly detailed maps from the vast online DeLorme library - all great traits in a handheld GPS. It has its drawbacks, as well, such as a smallish screen, compared with some of the newer models from Garmin, and controls that require a bit of a learning curve. Overall, however, It's an outstanding receiver that I'd depend upon in the most challenging outdoor conditions.
The PN-40 is the second PN-series handheld in the DeLorme line, preceded by the PN-20, which I review here. The PN-20 is yellow and black, while the PN-40 is international organge and black. The PN-20 pioneered map and image display layering, and kicked off DeLorme's consumer-friendly map bundling packages. The PN-20's processors are a bit under-powered, however, for its advanced rendering features, slowing its response.
DeLorme cured that in the PN-40 by equipping it with a dual-core processor. Satellite acquisition duties are handled by a fast, high-sensitivity 32-channel STMicroelectronics Cartesio chipset. The result is fast startup, fast position fixes and updates, and near-instantaneous rendering of maps and images as you change position or zoom the display in and out.
Also on the technical side, the PN-40 has a new altimeter function that combines barometric pressure data with GPS data for smooth and accurate altitude readings. The PN-40 is WAAS-enabled, and classified for 3-meter accuracy, and I experienced outstanding accuracy to known points in the field. In support of the mega map library I describe below, the PN-40 supports high-capacity SD cards (up to 32 GB) for fast and direct map transfer and storage of a lot of map and image data.
Maps, and Hardware, Software Bundle Add Value
The PN-40 comes in four bundled versions:
- All include: PN-40 GPS receiver, Topo USA 7.0 mapping and upload/download management software (on DVD); 1:100k topographic and street maps for the USA; and a $40 download certificate for detail maps, including: high-resolution aerial imagery, USGS 7.5-minute quad maps, NOAA Nautical Charts, and more.
- $399 (suggested retail) version comes with 1GB of internal memory.
- $439 (suggested retail) version comes with a power travel kit, which includes a lithium-ion rechargeable power pack, plus a 1GB SD card.
- $499 (suggested retail) version comes with an 8GB SD card, for lots of supplemental map storage.
- $539 (suggested retail) version comes with the power travel kit and the 8GB SD card.
DeLorme is to be commended for including a lot of map value in each bundle; for the storage capacity for plenty of map, image, and chart data, and for the processing power to make it all quickly accessible in the PN-40.
Even better is DeLorme's "all you can download" subscription to its online map, chart, and aerial image library for $29.95 per year. You really need the detailed, 7.5-minute quad maps for backcountry travel, and having the full library available to you and easily downloadable is a boon to the outdoors enthusiast.
Field Test Results
I've applauded some of the newer, novice-friendly handheld GPS receivers such as the Garmin Oregon, which you can literally pick up and use without consulting the manual. The PN-40 isn't in that category, and you will be studying the manual and playing with the buttons for a while before you are ready to navigate. That said, I did become accustomed to its button and menu system with a little practice and rarely got lost in the menus after a brief ramp-up. Same goes for the Topo USA PC software. Topo USA, however, has a lot of route planning and other features that dedicated outdoor enthusiasts or professionals will appreciate.
I used the PN-40 for multiple hiking and geocaching trips, and its speed, accuracy, and usefulness of downloaded 7.5-minute quad maps and aerial images are outstanding. Its color dislpay (2.3 inches diagonal) is sharp and its brightness is adjustable and visible in direct sunlight. Its prominently raised buttons may be operated with a lightly gloved hand.
The PN-40 is rated as waterproof, and it survived my immersion test with no leaks. It is very sturdily constructed, with a rubberized back, and feels solid in the hand. The gasketed battery cover screws down with D-ring screws, and the compartment also protects the SD card slot from the elments. A flat-contact USB port is clog-proof and helps keep the shell waterproof. I had no problem quickly capturing and keeping satellite signals in thick tree cover and narrow rock outcroppings. Overall, it's a confidence-inspiring receiver I would trust in the most challenging conditions.